The Cheapness of Iraqi Life

by Omar Aljaffal — a poet and journalist from Iraq

This piece originally appeared in Arabic on on 2.15.17 and was translated by Ali Issa.

All told: 8 dead and over 200 wounded at a protest that broke out this past Saturday in Iraq, demanding change in state elections commission. These protests surged after charges emerged that most of the commission is affiliated with the Iraq’s ruling party and were manipulating its role, to say very least. The warm blood of these victims ran red on the concrete, just like the blood of their neighbors runs after the daily violence of armed groups — across their types and sects.

The loss of life Saturday — number of victims still not confirmed — proves that Iraqi life is not worth much, and to most simply does not matter. Not even to those who urged people into the street to protest, encouraging them to dream of change for the better, imagining a path blooming towards the future, one in which justice — and justice alone — guides their lives.

Internationally, those killed were not blessed with the concern of nations that still sing the tune of Iraq’s “fledgling democracy”, and its efforts to advance the “political process.” These countries’ greater concern is supplying Iraq with weapons and ballooning Iraq’s debt (still called “rebuilding” projects) and push local communities to “integrate” into democratic policies.

The UN, for its part, did not acknowledge the protesters killed in any way, and limited itself as usual to expressing “concern”, while equating the protesters with security forces in calling for “restraint.” Even worse was when a UN delegation held a meeting with the elections commission and aided its work, while completely ignoring the protesters. This verified many Iraqi’s view: this global organization functions only to count the Iraqi dead.

On the home front, Haider al-Abadi, Prime Minister and commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces, initiated the formation of an investigative committee around those killed. According to the Iraqi political dictionary, this means there will be zero results, and none of the killers will be held accountable. There will not even be a pronouncement on the cause that led to the killings, or a look into who was behind them. (The protesters say that they are directly tied to a political party or allied with one.)

As for the Sadrist movement which led the call for the protests, and is headed by the religious figure Moqtada al-Sadr, for them the dead are mere fuel for its political battles. Battles that no one can figure out an end goal for. That’s because Sadr befuddles both his followers and his opponents. The movement is not in the opposition because it has several representatives in the parliament and officials in the government. It at the same time pushes for protests, never finishing what it starts (in either realm.)

Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, February 11th, 2017, AFP/Getty

As things stand, the demand to change the elections commission and its laws, remains a fair call for those whose votes are going nowhere, except dead-ends and corruption, meaning change could clear a path for smaller political parties to get into parliament. This should be supported — and not ignored — by the countries that sing democracy’s praises, resulting in support for the repressive government’s policies that get more and more ferocious with each passing year.

“Everything the government imports is corrupt, except for tear gas and ‘riot control’ gear.”

Since 2007, the killing protesters began to escalate. It started with killing one, and today has reached 8 or more. Perhaps in the coming years, protests simply will not take place because of the systematic terrorizing of those calling for the simplest of civil and political rights, guaranteed by Iraq’s constitution. The very same constitution cut to fit the ruling parties steeped in corruption and the ethno-sectarian quota system.

Perhaps the most eloquent commentary on the state Iraqi politics has reached, was what one protester said about the repression he witnessed, that “everything the government imports is corrupt, except for tear gas and ‘riot control’ gear.”

Iraqi life is indeed cheap, at home and abroad.