By Olga Rodriguez originally published in Periodismo Humano on 5/15/2011 (translated from the Spanish by Lesley Pairol.)
Uday al-Zaidi, 32 years old, is the brother of Muntazer al-Zaidi, the journalist who was incarcerated for throwing his shoes at Bush.
But Uday al-Zaidi is also the president of ‘The Popular Movement to Save Iraq’ and one of the organizers of the protests against the occupation that have been taking place for the past several months in 16 out of the 18 provinces in Iraq.
Periodismo Humano spoke with him in Madrid, where he has come on an invitation by the Madrid-based “State Campaign Against the Occupation and for the Sovereignty of Iraq.”
As soon as he welcomed us he showed us dozens of photographs of victims of the military occupation and the war.
“Look: killing of children, raping of women and men, secret prisons, daily humiliations, families assassinated by U.S bombs. An image is worth a thousand words. These images show what the occupation has done for us.”
He stops to catch his breath while his finger continues to click the mouse in search of more photographs.
“Since 2003, there have been a million deaths and four million orphans. And the big joke is that Iraq is a wealthy country. But its people, us, have to dig in the garbage to try and survive.”
Uday al-Zaidi’s wife and 3 children have been living in Syria for the past 3 years. His brother Muntazer is in Lebanon, to which he escaped after being freed.
“My brother has been prohibited from entering Iraq. They have marked him with an X, him, me – all of us. I worked as an employee for the Ministry of Culture, but they fired me when Muntazer threw shoes at Bush.
From that moment on, my whole family started to suffer terrible harassment. They registered our home and watched us. So I decided to send my family to Syria for safety reasons. We see each other once a month. I don’t want to abandon the fight for the independence of my country.”
PH: When and why did protests start organizing in Iraq?
UZ: We held protests all the time, but the protests gained strength after the protests in Tunisia and Egypt started. If they can bring down a dictatorship of more than 30 years, then we can kick out the occupation. So we organized a protest on February 25, and got a great response from cities like Mosul, Basra, Bagdad and Diwaniya. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Turkmen participated. They are not sectarian protests. Sectarianism does not exist in the population, only in the minds of Iraqi politicians. For example, I am a Shiite but I protest along with many Sunnis against the government that is dominated by Shiites.
PH: Do you think it is possible to keep going as you have, with protests every week in various Iraqi cities?
UZ: Of course, and not just that. It is possible that these protests will grow in the number of participants and that the movement of civil disobedience that started in Mosul will grow, with coordination and support of colleges, of professionals, of doctors, lawyers, engineers.
PH: Have you given yourselves a deadline?
UZ: Yes. February 25 Prime Minister Maliki said that he was giving himself a deadline to meet his promises and end the corruption. That deadline is June 5th. The 5th of June is when, if nothing changes, we will strengthen the protests and call for civil disobedience.
PH: What has been the response of the government and of the army to these protests?
UZ: In some cities they’ve dispersed the protestors with tear gas and even live bullets that have caused at least 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries. I myself was attacked and arrested on February 25th. I was in jail for 5 days, where I received electric shocks. They broke my clavicle and dislocated my wrist, and broke my left leg [he shows that his leg is still bruised.] The U.S armed forces have given their support to the Iraqi army in this repression against peaceful demonstrations. In fact, low-flying U.S helicopters often monitor the protests, and have even thrown garbage at us.
PH: Are all your demands centered on the end of the military occupation?
UZ: No, though while there is an occupation it is impossible for the rest of our demands to be met. We ask for an end to the sectarian quota system established after the occupation. This system requires, among other things, that the Prime Minister be Shiite, the Speaker of the Parliament be Sunni and the president of the Republic be Kurdish. We also demand the release of the innocent people that have been detained, which are in the thousands: men and women who do not know what they are being accused of. But our priority is to live with dignity, with freedom, with independence. Only then can we ask for other things, like jobs, electricity, an end to corruption and a better level of life.
PH: Do you receive any [financial] support?
UZ: No, our only support comes from the thousands of protestors. Up till now, we have refused aid from countries, including political parties, so that we are not accused of working for the assistance. We only work for the people.
PH: Do you keep contact with the armed Iraqi resistance?
UZ: Yes of course. We share an equal objective with the armed resistance: to throw out the occupiers, but we resist peacefully, through protests. The [armed] resistance supports our peaceful alternative. That support has been used against us by the Iraqi government, which accuses us of having links to terrorists, when we are citizens marching on foot with no weapons other than our voices. We are simply people who do not want to stay home with our arms crossed.
PH: What role has neighboring Iran played in this Iraqi territory?
UZ: After the occupation of Iraq, Iran managed to gain control of a large part of our country. I am Shiite, the main religious group in Iran. Even so, I maintain that the role Iran plays is the same or worse than the one played by the U.S. Pro-Iranian groups exercise systemic repression. The Iranian militias have harmed this country and have infiltrated even the Iraqi government through the pro-Iran parties, such as the Superior Advisory for the Islamic Revolution, the al-Dawa party to which the prime minister Nuri al-Maliki belongs, and the Sadr Movement, of cleric Muqdata al-Sadr, whose armed wing is the Mahdi army. In all the provinces there are Iranian militias and even secret prisons controlled by these militias.
PH: What is your opinion of that role played by the so-called Awakening Councils, recruited by older fighters in the armed resistance and funded by the United States?
UZ: The Awakening Councils are part of the American industry. Some of its members have become part of the Iraqi Armed Forces, but a large portion of them have been fooled and abandoned. Prime Minister Maliki does not trust them because they are Sunni and he does not want a Sunni majority in the army. So some of them have returned to the resistance, while others have left the country and still others have come back home disappointed. These councils are an example of the U.S tactic; it’s divide and conquer. The occupation took advantage of the innocence of the people, and promoted sectarianism. It manipulated [them.] Since 2007 though, Iraqis have become conscious of this. Now sectarianism does not exist among the population, only in the green zone, where the Prime Minister and the rest of the government are.