Iraqis were attempting the nonviolent overthrow of their dictator
prior to his violent overthrow by the United States in 2003. When U.S.
troops began to ease up on their liberating and democracy-spreading in
2008, and during the Arab Spring of 2011 and the years that followed,
nonviolent Iraqi protest movements grew again, working for change,
including the overthrow of their new Green Zone dictator. He would
eventually step down, but not before imprisoning, torturing, and
murdering activists -- with U.S. weapons, of course.
There have been and are Iraqi movements for women's rights, labor rights, to stop dam construction on the Tigris in Turkey, to throw the last U.S. troop out of the country, to free the government from Iranian influence, and to protect Iraqi oil from foreign corporate control. Central to much of the activism, however, has been a movement against the sectarianism that the U.S. occupation brought. Over here in the United States we don't hear much about that. How would it fit with the lie we're told over and over that Shi'a-Sunni fighting has been going on for centuries?
Ali Issa's new book, Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq,
collects interviews he's done of key Iraqi activists, and public
statements made by Iraqi activist movements, including a letter to the
U.S. Occupy Movement and similar messages of global solidarity. The
voices are hard to hear because we haven't been hearing them all these
years, and because they don't fit with lies we've been told or even with
overly simplistic truths we've been told.
Did you know that, at the time of the Occupy Movement in the United States, there was a larger, more active, nonviolent, inclusive, principled, revolutionary movement holding major demonstrations, protests, permanent sit-ins, and general strikes in Iraq -- planning actions on Facebook and by writing times and places on paper currency? Did you know there were sit-ins in front of every U.S. military base demanding that the occupiers leave?
U.S. troops eventually and temporarily and incompletely departed Iraq,
that was due, most Americans imagine, to President Barack Obama's
peaceful ways. Other Americans, aware that Obama had long since broken
his withdrawal campaign promise, had done everything possible to extend
the occupation, had left behind thousands of State Department troops,
and would be back in with the military as soon as possible, give credit
to Chelsea Manning for having leaked the video and documents that
persuaded Iraq to stick with the Bush-Maliki deadline. Few note the
efforts of Iraqis on the ground who made the occupation untenable.
The Iraqi media has been shut down when it has covered protests. Journalists in Iraq have been beaten, arrested, or killed. The U.S. media, of course, behaves itself without much prodding.
When an Iraqi threw his shoes at President Bush the Lesser, American liberals giggled but made clear their opposition to shoe-throwing. Yet the fame the act created allowed the shoe-thrower and his brothers to build popular organizations. And future actions included throwing shoes at a U.S. helicopter that was apparently trying to intimidate a demonstration.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with opposing throwing shoes in most contexts. Certainly I do. But knowing that the shoe throwing helped to build what we always claim to want, nonviolent resistance to the empire, adds some perspective.
Iraqi activists have regularly been kidnapped/arrested, tortured, warned, threatened, and released. When Thurgham al-Zaidi, brother of shoe-thrower Muntadhar al-Zaidi, was picked up, tortured, and released, his brother Uday al-Zaidi posted on Facebook: "Thurgham has assured me that he is coming out to the protest this Friday along with his little son Haydar to say to Maliki, 'If you kill the big ones, the little ones are coming after you!'"
Mistreatment of a child? Or proper education, far superior to indoctrination into violence? We shouldn't rush to judgment. I'd guesstimate there have been perhaps 18 million U.S. Congressional hearings lamenting the failure of Iraqis to "step up" and help out in the killing of Iraqis. Among Iraqi activists there seems to have been a great deal of stepping up for a better purpose.
When a nonviolent movement against Assad in Syria still had hope, the "Youth of the Great Iraqi Revolution" wrote to "the Heroic Syrian Revolution" offering support, encouraging nonviolence, and warning against co-option. One has to set aside years of U.S. neocon propaganda for the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, in order to hear this support for what it was.
The letter also urges a "national" agenda. Some of us see nationalism as a root cause of the wars and sanctions and abuse that created the disaster that now exists in Iraq, Libya, and other liberated lands. But here "national" is apparently being used to mean non-divisive, non-sectarian.
We talk about the nations of Iraq and Syria as having been destroyed, just as we talk about various other peoples and states, back to the nations of the Native Americans, having been destroyed. And we're not wrong. But it can't sound right in the ears of living Native Americans. So, for Iraqis, talk of their "nation" also seems to be a way to talk about returning to normalcy or preparing for a future not torn apart by ethnicity and religious sectarianism.
"If not for the occupation," wrote the president of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, in 2011, "the people of Iraq would have ousted Saddam Hussein through the struggles of Tahrir Square. Nevertheless, U.S. troops empower and protect the new Saddamists of the so-called democracy who repress dissent with detainments and torture."
"With us or against us" idiocy doesn't work in observing Iraqi activism. Look at these four points in a statement made in June 2014 by Falah Alwan of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unionists in Iraq:
"We reject U.S. intervention and protest President Obama's inappropriate speech in which he expressed concern over oil and not over people. We also stand firmly against the brazen meddling of Iran.