A surreal silence surrounds the topic of Iraq, while the country is going through an unprecedented popular mobilization. The media is giving these events very little coverage, if any, while European governments are saying nothing, despite the harsh repression by the government and the protesters’ demands for social justice and for an end to the sectarian system which has been imposed ever since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
On Thursday, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini finally made her voice heard, condemning the use of force by Iraqi police and saying that the EU “expects perpetrators of all violations to be held accountable.” The authorities have acted with brutal force, which has already claimed more than 260 lives, while Thursday saw four more victims killed in Baghdad.
However, the UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, failed to make any mention of the victims in a Wednesday tweet in which she criticized the protesters for blocking ports and oil installations, with not even a hint about the ongoing repression: “Disruption of critical infrastructure also of grave concern. Responsibility of all to protect public facilities. Threats/closures of roads to oil installations, ports causing billions in losses. Detrimental to #Iraq’s economy, undermines fulfilling protesters’ legitimate demands.”
With this tweet, Hennis-Plasschaert, who paid a visit to the protesters in Tahrir Square in a tuk tuk, is sending a disturbing message: that oil is more important than rights. The many thousands of Iraqis in the streets are showing just how much they disagree: after ongoing protests since early October, they have effectively occupied the city centers of Baghdad and the southern cities for the past 13 days.
There are indeed economic losses, as stressed by General Khalaf, the spokesperson of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who appears to have no intention to step down: $6 billion from the blocking of the commercial port of Umm Qasr in Basra alone. The general delivered more threats against the protesters, promising that the security forces will “immediately arrest any protester or individual who blocks the roads and bridges.”
The demonstrators gave their own (indirect) response to the threats by setting tires ablaze at the entrance of Baghdad airport. The protests are continuing—indeed, they’re growing: more and more people, Christians and Muslims, students, professionals, doctors, workers and the unemployed are joining the popular uprising.
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