Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sunni Protests In Iraq

Protest in Fallujah (Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Anti-government protests have spurred across various Iraq cities by the minority Sunni group in recent weeks calling for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down from his position. Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, is accused of monopolizing his powers through the violation of human rights and a lack of due process. Many of these human rights violations that many Sunnis have witnessed includes the arresting, torturing, and the incarceration of many Sunni young men on charges of terrorism.

           As these protests continues to grow, more accusations of human rights violations has come out, which made way for the United Nations (U.N.) envoy to become involved. The U.N. cannot help with the Sunni’s political demands, but due to the main concern over human rights violations, they are ensuring that Iraq’s government addresses this issue. Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, stated that, "We have the impression that a lot of the problems (raised by the demonstrators) are rule of law, human rights problems, the situation in detention centers. And these are all problems the government can solve tomorrow."

Protest in Ramadi (Ned Parker/Los Angeles Times)
Although these protests have largely remained nonviolent, there have been a slowly increasing number of suicide bombings by suspected Sunni insurgents, which has killed a number of people, with the latest attack leaving 33 people dead. This maybe connected to the fact that Al-Qaeda has strongly urged the Sunnis to take up arms against the Shiite led government. Only time will tell if the influence of Al-Qaeda will prove to be the downfall of these protests in turning violent.

           This event is important to follow because after a period of so-called peace following a well-known war in the region, instability has risen to the point where violence is slowly beginning to take hold. These nonviolent protests have spread out to major cities including Fallujah and Ramadi, which is important for the Sunnis because these protests will overshadow the few insurgents that has killed a number of people. Although Kobler is right that this will be an easy problem for the government to solve, it seems that the Sunnis want Nouri al-Maliki out indefinitely fearing nothing will be different even if he does make minor changes in the way he rules.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming weeks and months considering the fact that Iraq’s government is starting to feel the pressure by various actors from the protesters to the United Nations. There will be more questions than answers including, will this mass protest by this religious minority be successful? How will Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki respond to these protests as well as to the U.N. envoy?  How long will it take for these nonviolent protests to become more violent as groups such as Al-Qaeda becomes involved?



  1. Most of the time it seems like small violent acts of terror overshadow large peaceful protests. Instead of the other way around. An act of terror remains in people's minds for a long time which can cause them to change their everyday lives drastically. If this violence spreads further to more and more unhappy people who were previously using peaceful means. Soon those large numbers that were peaceful may stay home in order to avoid a random act of terror. On all levels these violent demonstrations will hurt the peoples chance of having their voice heard. First by making their voice less respected from violence, second by creating a more hostile society and third they may eliminate/intimidate peaceful protests.

  2. It's hard to say that "instability has risen to the point where violence is slowly beginning to take hold" or that Iraq has been anywhere near peace considering its longstanding position as the Middle Eastern country with the most suicide bombings per year. Otherwise, I agree. It will also be interesting to see how and if the nature of the protests in Iraq will change depending on the potential success of the Syrian opposition in overthrowing their Alawite (Shia) president, which would greatly change regional dynamics. Additionally, instability resulting from the inflow of Syrian refugees to Iraq could potentially shift the protests. Lastly, the Kurdish question remains an interesting one with the current volatility in Iraq and Syria and the increasingly powerful role of Turkey. It will be interesting to see whether or not Sunnis and Kurds will work together (violently or nonviolently) against the Iraqi government, especially since the (relatively powerless) current president Jalal Talabani is Kurdish.

  3. Given Iraq's recent history of sectarian bloodshed, this situation seems like it could escalate very quickly. I think it will be very important for Nouri al-Maliki to seriously address these human rights issues. If not, the protests could intensify, accompanied with increased bombings by Sunni insurgents. These large crowds of peaceful Sunni protesters could very well then be the target of reprisal bombings by Shia insurgents. A self-reinforcing cycle of violence seems dangerously easy to start. If the conflict in Syria spills over into Iraq, things could deteriorate even further.