Iraq, which is looking to get out of its crisis, could turn into another Syria unless politicians, parliamentarians and military agencies address the situation and block the road before the “third party.” The campaign to target unarmed protesters is getting bigger and more violent, and will push the latter to turn to violence themselves. The masked and unidentified perpetrators now being described as the “third party” are, indeed, the Iranian-backed militias that receive their money — and the salaries of their tens of thousands of members — from the Iraqi government. So far, some 450 protesters have been killed and 20,000 injured in the two months since demonstrations began in early October. The attack on demonstrators on Friday was the most daring and violent, when unknown assailants killed about 25 people in the capital Baghdad as the security forces stood neutral.
Because no one is identifying the killers by name, although it is a secret known by all, whether it is Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq or any of the other armed groups, organized violence will continue and the Iraqi state will continue to lose control day by day.
These militias are daring to engage in confrontations because nobody calls them by name; there is no public warning against them and they are exploiting their semi-official character. These militias live on the government’s own money and do not abide by its orders, despite numerous attempts to tame them. The army — the official military establishment — simply watches and does not intervene, even though it is able to curb the militias. It also whines about the militias’ adoption within the armed forces, although they are originally irregulars and act as if they belong to a foreign state.
No one, neither from the neighboring countries nor the major powers, wants to push things in Iraq toward a clash; but everyone notes with concern how Tehran wants to control the country’s decisions and organs, because it is experiencing serious financial, economic and internal security hardship at home, and sees in neighboring Iraq the soft ground and weak regime.
What about those who promote the argument that civil protests are a project to change the Iraqi political system, and therefore must be suppressed?
In fact, those invoking fear for the regime from the protesters are the ones trying to impose change and take over the remaining state entities that represent Iraq, the homeland and the state. The protests, despite the chaos that has marred them and the unrealistic demands made by some, are in fact strengthening the legitimacy of government, because they call for change and correction from within, not for a coup d’etat. The protesters actually recognize state institutions and their maximum demands are early elections, accountability for those involved in corruption, establishing the rule of law, and activating the role of constitutional institutions that for years have been in a stalemate. The militias and some political forces, on the other hand, reject the protesters’ calls because they do not want to correct the faulty situations that benefit them.
Thus, the protesters represent the power of the legitimate state, and represent an opportunity for the political system to take advantage of their calls to reform the overall situation. This duty is impossible to achieve without the pressure of the street; therefore, to protect protesters is to protect the regime and to deter the killing of protesters is to deter the greatest peril threatening the modern Iraqi state, which is those militias whose co-option into the armed forces has failed and who continue to be a source of massive financial waste and destruction.