On 1st October last month, precisely on the 70th anniversary of the second most important revolution of the 20th century, the Chinese revolution, the Iraqi revolution broke out in particular in the Shiite region of the country. The Communist Party of China has long abandoned the path of the revolution it had once led, but the working people of Iraq were saying, as it were, that revolution was not left out in the cold.
Iraq’s revolution is based entirely on the rightful grievances of its toiling population: joblessness, extremely poor social services, and immense corruption. The rate of unemployment has reached 30 per cent among the youth. The importance of this piece of statistics comes through when one remembers that 54 per cent of the population of 38 million of the country are under the age of 24. The lack of services bears bitterly ironic dimensions, since the supply of electric power is extremely unreliable even in the oil-rich city of Basra. There is also a lack of sanitation across the country: water is not available in potable quality and even agriculture suffers from this miserable supply of water. As for the corruption, this is a systemic ill through which the vast oil wealth of one of the countries with the largest reserves of petroleum in the world is siphoned off to the pockets of those in power and those with connections in high places.
These were in fact the self-same problems that caused the July 2018 uprising in the same Shiite regions (on this see our article “The Iraq insurgency” on this web site, http://redmed.org/article/iraq-insurgency). The country has since then been shaken by the ups and downs of the insurgency until, from 1st October on, the struggle gained a consistency, a continuity and a courage that now makes us speak no longer of people’s rebellion but a real revolution. For one thing, the unceasing revolutionary activity of the masses pushed the powers that be to promise all types of social expenditure and job creation, without, however, making any impression on the masses. The demands turned ever more political: the replacement of the current government by an interim government in order to organise new elections, with independent candidates rather than political parties; an independent investigation into the violence used by security forces during the demonstrations (at present the figure for deaths is close to 400 and the number of wounded 15 thousand!) and, of course, the elimination of corruption, which remains one of the major targets of the revolution. (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mec/2019/11/07/can-iraqs-revolution-succeed-reflections-from-a-protest-movement-at-a-crossroads/)
A major plank of the programme of the revolution is the elimination of Iranian influence on the economic, political, and military spheres of Iraqi society. This is a radical demand since Iran commands, directly and through its backers within the Shiite community of Iraq, a decisive influence in all these spheres. In particular, Iran's influence over Iraq's security forces is immense. The Popular Mobilization Units, as well as the Badr Organization and the Khorasani Brigades, all pro-Iranian Shiite irregular forces financed by Iran, are decisive forces in the security situation. It is common knowledge that these forces play a more insidious role in the brutal repression of the revolutionary masses than the regular forces, i.e. the police and the Iraqi military. Yet the latter are no choir boys. The tear gas canisters that are directly aimed at the demonstrators that penetrate directly into the brain of the victim come from the inventory of the armed forces. And the cold-blooded shooting of at least 25 demonstrators to death in Nasiriyah, thus bringing the death toll to over 400 as these lines are being written, was the dirty work of the police. To be crueller than the regular Iraqi forces is a feat. Yet the masked militia that kills Iraqi revolutionaries are of Iranian making and the whole of Iraq knows this.
And yet it is this regime that has dubbed the revolutionaries the “muharebeen”, i.e. the “disrupters”, pretty much along the lines of the term “çapulcu” that Tayyip Erdoğan labelled the rebels of the Gezi popular rebellion in 2013, translated duly into English as “chapulist”. If anyone in their right mind searched for “disrupters” in today’s Iraq, they would not need to go much further than point their finger on these masked militia that are the murderers of their fellow citizens.
In the earlier stages of the struggle, Baghdad was touched, but had not become the epicentre it now is. Tahrir Square of the capital city is now the symbolic and real centre of the revolution. It has, so to speak, taken over the mantle of revolution from its namesake in Egypt’s Cairo, which was, between 2011 and 2013, the paradigmatic venue of the first generation of the Arab revolution, until a second generation came of age in 2019 in Sudan, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon. The memorial on this square displays workers, peasants, and revolutionary intellectuals numbering 14 in all, in reference to 14th July, not that of the French revolution, but of the Iraqi revolution of 1958 that overthrew the monarchy and the hated premier Nuri as Said. Add to this the fact that Tahrir in Arabic means “liberation”. Such is the continuity of revolutionary traditions in the historical development of countries.
The recuperation of the dignity of a nation
By this very act of the revolution, the working masses and the poor of Iraq are changing the fate of the nation of Iraq. The last for decades of Iraq’s history have been a period of unending plight and misery. The Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1989, in which there was a total casualty of one million people, saw Saddam Hussein become the proxy of Western imperialism against post-revolutionary Iran. Saddam was then pushed by the US, through the latter’s ambassador April Glaspie, to believe that his conquest of Kuwait in 1990 would be tolerated and yet later faced the unpleasant surprise of the 1991 Gulf War, in which he lost not only his new possession, but any control of Iraqi Kurdistan. The 1990s saw the death of more than a million Iraqis, many of them children, due to the US embargo on such items of necessity as food and medicine. Then came in 2003 the war unleashed by George W. Bush and Tony Blair, followed by the occupation of the country, giving rise to a resistance movement, particularly in the city of Fallujah, in the Sunni north, then a civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites, and finally the onslaught of ISIS or Daesh after the withdrawal of American troops, establishing in2014 the so-called Islamic State, with a self-appointed caliph as its leader, a political entity that conquered Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, Tikrit and a vast area in northern Iraq with 4.5 million people(https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/11/iraq-protests-beginning-end-post-saddam-era.html#ixzz66Zd74w00).
In the process, Iraq became the backyard of Iran. The web page of DIP (Revolutionary Workers Party of Turkey) featured an article in December 2011 at the time of the US withdrawal under Obama that contained (in Turkish, of course) the following observation: “Perhaps for the first time in history, an occupation force (i.e. the US) prepared the ground for the hegemony of a country it deems its main enemy (i.e. Iran) over the country that it has occupied (i.e. Iraq)! This was the brainchild that Bush was able to deliver!” (https://gercekgazetesi.net/uluslararasi/irak-ortadoguda-yeni-dinamit-ficisi). Today, the New York Times tellingly comments: “The notion that the Americans essentially handed control of the country to Iran now enjoys broad support, even within the American military” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/18/world/middleeast/iran-iraq-cables.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap)
So Iran is in fact gathering the fruits of the imperialist occupation by both funnelling, through knee-deep corruption, the wealth of the country to its partisans and controlling it politically and militarily. Even Moqteda al Sadr, a maverick Shiite cleric who, in the past, tried to stay independent of all foreign forces, has now given in to his patrons, the Iranian ayatollahs, spending six weeks out of the two months of the revolution in Iran. It is only Ali al Sistani, the most respected Shiite cleric, that supports the demonstrators and condemns the repression by the regime’s forces.
Despite occasional reference to Sistani, the revolution has been secular in its orientation, refusing the sectarianism of the past. In the Shiite majority region, it is joined by the Sunni as well. However, the Sunni-majority regions of the north have so far refrained from joining in the fray, given the fresh memory of the civil war and the still lingering influence of ISIS. So have the official Kurdish parties, the tribally based Barzani and Talabani clans, which once again proves the counter-revolutionary role they have been playing in the Middle East since the Gulf War of 1991. A testimony shows how far these counter-revolutionaries are prepared to go in order to defend their vested interests. A local observer reports on the lows these people can descend to: “…a senior official from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who told me that he was sent to Baghdad in early November on ‘mission impossible’ to ensure the survival of the current political system. To do so, he joined with former foes who had just a few years ago denied his party an independence referendum [of October 2017]” (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iraq/2019-11-20/iraqs-new-republic-fear).
Only a handful of Kurdish intellectuals and some opposition members of parliament have signed a petition. The statement called the protesters “courageous people who rose in the face of the bad management of the country at the hands of a group of corrupt parties and the armed militias and mafias controlling all political, economic and security [aspects of] life."
The statement added that the state has become divided along sectarian and familial lines — a jab at the powerful families in the Kurdistan region, such as the Barzanis, Talabanis and others. “The future of the country has been linked to the interests and power of corrupt political and economic elites. The country’s potential and sovereignty have been bent to serve regional and foreign agendas, which is another reason for the popular uprising and the anger in the streets” (https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/11/iraq-protests-shiite-sunni-minorities.html#ixzz66ZkqqfQO).
The Christian communities of Iraq are also supporting the revolution. In a certain sense, identity politics is ceding its place to working class politics in Iraq, with some resistance from the Sunni and Kurdish communities.
The leaderless revolution
We discussed the problem of leadership the Iraq masses suffered from in our earlier article of 2018, referred to at the beginning of this article. The Communist Party of Iraq is the only sizeable party that directly supports the revolution, although it allied itself with Moqtada as Sadr within the Sairoon alliance in the elections of May 2018. This is a party that, without any qualms, supported the invasion and later the occupation of the country by imperialist forces.
The revolution is an entirely spontaneous uprising, which is both its strength and its weakness. Its strength because it is free from the influence of any parties that side with and are responsible for the existing socio-political order. It is its weakness since the masses are under backward ideological influences that are rampant in all parts of the world since the failure of the various experiences of socialist construction of the 20th century, putting all parties, left or right, or even broad-based organisations such as trade unions of differing orientations, on a par and defending a useless, absurd and self-defeating kind of political individualism in the name of freedom.
Yet there are signs that more and more the requirements of self-defence are convincing the masses of the necessity of at least self-organisation, if not yet the building of revolutionary parties. The scene on Tahrir square is testimony to such self-organising. “Demonstrators ‘have established a daily newspaper called Tuk-Tuk,’ writes Ali Mamouri. ‘They repaired the streets, sidewalks and fountains. They're operating clinics and other public facilities and have set up public tents where scholars give lectures on the Iraqi Constitution and laws’" (https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/11/iraq-protests-beginning-end-post-saddam-era.html#ixzz66Zd74w00). The fact that trade unions have joined the action and at least one general strike has been organised is a further source of hope.
Yet it must be admitted that the Iraqi revolution, despite the admirable resilience and courage of the masses, suffers from many of the same problems that present-day revolutions are afflicted with, not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but in Latin America as well.
The key link
It is impossible to foresee the future prospects of the Iraqi revolution. However, one can say with certitude that the outcome of this revolution will be decisive for the fate of the entire region. The reason is that Iraq is not only part and parcel of the second generation of the Arab revolution (manifesting itself for the moment in Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, as well as Iraq). It also is the sole country that neighbours the gigantic regional power, the non-Arab country of Iran, which has itself been rocked by successive popular rebellions since at least early 2018 (see the statement http://redmed.org/article/iran-harbingeron this site) and has recently exploded in an unprecedented popular rage (see our recent article, co-authored with an Iranian comrade: http://redmed.org/article/burn-all-banks-iranian-brothers-and-sisters-until). Iraq is also a neighbour to the other non-Arab regional power of the MENA region, Turkey, which has been seething with explosive contradictions since the Gezi people’s revolt of 2013. It is the only Arab country that borders both Iran and Turkey.
In this heady period of revolutions and rebellions breaking out in a new country almost by the day, this revolution is candidate for the linking up of the Arab revolution with the revolution in other countries of the Middle East. We must remember that on the policy of Iran in the Middle East, the revolutionaries of Iraq are of the same mind as the Iranian masses. The former demand that Iran pull out of Iraqi affairs and the latter insist that Iran spend on the needs of the masses and cease to meddle in Middle Eastern affairs. What seems on the surface to be working in favour of US imperialism, Zionist Israel and the Sunni Arab reaction led by the house of Saud turns around to hit the socio-economic and political order established by imperialism a century ago.
This is the only road to salvation in the whole region suffering from exploitation, conflict, and reactionary politics. Only the Socialist Federation of the Middle East and North Africa will turn the fate of the peoples of this vast region around and create a space where Muslim, Christian and Jew, as well as Arab, Farsi, Turk and Kurd can live together in peace and egalitarian fraternity.