Thursday, June 19, 2014

Keys to understanding the developing situation in Iraq

I wanted to write this post because I'm tired of having to read all these analysis and watch all these self claimed experts on the situation in Iraq once hell broke loose. As always, most of the writers and commentators on the situation are westerners, non-Arabs, non-Iraqis. Most of the writings and analysis are reflective to their authors and this is problematic.

I do an effort to look for sources on the ground and I fortunately speak/read both Arabic and English and that makes things a lot more easier. I still prefer to keep my opinions for myself when things are complicated and when my sources are not adequate. Unfortunately, so many people don't choose to do this. That's why we are witnessing an analytic circus on Iraq these days because everyone thinks they're entitled to saying something even while they don't know enough to form an opinion about the matter.

So, I'm not offering a whole other analysis here, it's more like a guideline based on my observations and readings. These are things I think you need to be aware of and keep in mind while looking at the situation in Iraq right now. It might help you understand a little bit before jumping into conclusions you have already.

The historical context: The peaceful uprising of 2012 that turned into an armed rebellion:

A Friday rally in al Anbar Jan 2013

I started paying close attention to Iraq again in early 2012 after I found out randomly through some of my contacts in Iraq that a popular peaceful uprising started in February 2012 in most of the Sunni major parts of Iraq. The whole thing started in Al Anbar. This came as a response specifically to the targeting, imprisoning, and raping of women in Al Maliki's prisons and the general targeting of the Sunni Iraqis using terrorism laws to persecute the Sunni population. 

 These designs on several days of actions and event are from Herak English, one of the Iraqi English Facebook outlets I followed closely. 

The mobilization was widespread across more 13 major Sunni Iraqi regions, it was incredibly inspiring and was met with so much aggression but for some reason it didn't pick up any media attention. I coordinated with some revolutionary Iraqi Facebook pages and started an English page to translate and post updates from there on a weeklybasis.

We don't give up, we win or die. From an anti-Maliki rally in 2013

A series of attacks and massacres took place at some of the protesters camp sites, and Al Maliki's armed forces used excessive force against protesters. Al Hawja massacre is one example. The situation escalated and eventually several insurgent groups were formed and people picked up arms whether individually or through their clans and tribes. You can check this interview with an armed rebel in Ramadi on why this ended up happening.

  In July 2013, more than1,000 Iraqis were killed in several contexts whether in attacks by the regime forces or in explosions. This is the largest number of deaths the country has witnessed in years, yet it didn't pick up enough attention. Check out this figure.

Civilian Deaths in Iraq from 2008-2013

The conclusion here is: People need to consider the uprising in the Sunni major cities in 2012 and the context in which this uprising emerged and how things were under the US installed puppet regime of Al Maliki.

Contextualizing Syria and Iraq: Shared borders, history, and present:
Guess what? Iraq and Syria share geographical borders. You can look at a map and make sure this is a fact. The development of the Syrian revolution has definitely reflected on the Iraqi scene. Al Malik's regime is allied with Bashar Al Assad's, and Al Maliki's security forces have been involved in operations with Bashar's against the anti-Assad protesters and rebels since 2011. Naturally, several groups and individuals from Iraq were also allied with the anti-Assad Syrian rebels.
The formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham came through some of these shared efforts. A while before that the Islamic State of Iraq was operating in Iraq. This was the mother group from which (ISIS) was born.

The conclusion here is: Syria is relevant to Iraq. Iraq is relevant to understanding Syria. If you can't fully understand what's been taking place in Syria (And I don't blame you, it's complicated), then you shouldn't expect yourself to fully grasp what's been taking place in Iraq. But at least make sure you're connecting the dots.

The over-generalization and bogey-men blaming:
The recent developments in Iraq reaffirmed the fact so many people in the west think of themselves as experts in Islamic groups. Way too many people think they can have a valid opinion about this subject, mostly non-Arab non-Muslim white males who reside in the northern American continent. The western narrative on Iraq hasn't been any different from the general narrative on the Middle East. This are some common mistakes:

1- Reducing the situation into black and white binaries and overlooking the diversity and the wide spectrum of parties involved and emphasizing the sectarian aspect of the conflict. (Islamist and secular, Sunni and Shia, Muslim brotherhood and military, rebels and state security forces.. etc).
Most of the time this results in the common Arab man who might be affiliated with neither parties not given any credit. It also doesn't give any room for imagining a third gray area.

In case of Iraq it should be recognized that The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) is not the only sole rebel group that's involved in the current conflict in Iraq with Al Maliki's army and security forces.

Although their role in turning the situation can't be neglected, claiming that (ISIS) is the only group involved is as ridiculous as the Egyptian military's claim that everyone in the Egyptian #AntiCoup movement is a Muslim Brotherhood member or a Morsi supporter. The Iraqi people should be given credit for their participation in resisting this US funded puppet regime and people should do an effort in finding more keys to understanding this.

2- The Bogeymen, the terrorists, the bad (usually bearded/Jihadi) guys who get all the attention, who are usually portrayed in an exaggerated representation and are blamed for everything.

In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham happened to be playing this role. I have my own reservations about the group based on the firsthand accounts I have heard and read from people in Syria and Iraq. I also have been following multiple (ISIS) supporting sources. In addition, like many Jihadi groups, (ISIS) does have a remarkable Arabic and English online media presence because they depend on this in recruiting and building a populace ground. The fan boys of (ISIS) are everywhere on the web, their HD youtube videos, statements, and articles get translated into several languages. While you can always read what the terrorist expert white dudes in Washington DC think about these people, I guess it could be beneficial to you to read their own productions to get more perspective.

I'm not going to get into details about what I think of it personally but I do think that people need to be doing more reading about it in multiple context. There's a need to be familiar with the older group (The Islamic State of Iraq), and the manner in which (ISIS) operates in Syria verses how it has been operating in Iraq and things like this.

3- Blaming the victim and undermining the role of the oppressor.

Just like with Syria and Egypt, the protesters, the rebels, the anti-government elements get more criticism than the forces they are fighting against.
The protesters in Egypt are violent, the rebels in Syria are foreigners, the Sunnis in Iraq are armed, the (ISIS) is torturing people, and thus as a result of this the whole body of the given movement is illegitimate and these people deserve to be punished. This is a very common trend in many of the analysis and in the news coverage about mobilizations in the Arab world.

In Iraq, while nobody said anything about what Al Maliki's regime has committed against his own people and against the Sunni population specifically for years, everyone is talking about the violations (ISIS) was involved in. Similar to the arguments about Rabaa's sit in being an armed sit in and what's been said about Syria that I don't want to get started about. The same thing appears in the argument “Both sides are guilty” with the Palestine/Israeli conflict.

I'm not saying we should remain quite about the mistakes of those involved in a struggle. This is important and necessary however, I'm against equating two sides when the power dynamics are clear.

The conclusion here is:

1- Undermining the real forces that are crushing their people and the international players while giving too much attention to the opposition leads to justifying the oppression on a larger scale.

2- Focusing on and amplifying the violations the (ISIS) is involved in while totally ignoring the atrocities committed by Al Maliki's sectarian regime that used terrorism laws to crackdown on civilians and fulled sectarianism to further its control is unjust.

3- Picking up on the mistakes of the rebels while totally ignoring the role of the American, Iranian, Syrian and other governments which have geopolitical and financial interests in Iraq have responded recently and in the last few years is unjust. 

I have been generally quiet about my opinions regarding what's taking place in the region even in my own country for a multitude of reasons but I felt the need to say something about Iraq especially because we all failed it in many way. As Muslims and Arabs and as anti-war advocates. All the people in the countries that supported the invasion of Iraq which started this all shouldn't act like it's over. Learn and educate yourself before talking. Speak a word of truth against injustice or stay quiet, and everything will be ok. We have so many struggles to deal with to be struggling with orientalist self proclaimed wannabe middle east experts.