By the 25th of April, the sit-in in Mosul calling for US withdrawal, release of prisoners, and change in Maliki’s government was approaching a mass scale. Some estimates put the crowds in the tens of thousands, artists of all types were joining in to create visuals with a message, and political poetry was being performed [see this Facebook link to political poem performed at the protest]. One poet began with a verse about George W. Bush greeted by loud cheers from the crowd:
“He came to Baghdad
and wanted the people to call him ‘Pasha’
the first call came
two shoes fired at him like bullets from a machine gun . . .”
Chants directed at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were interspersed with those ominous four words of the Arab Spring: ‘al-sha’ab yureed isqat al-nitham!’ (‘The people want the downfall of the regime!). [Check out this Facebook link to crowds chanting, “al-shab yureed isqat al-nitham!”]
Beginning the last week of April, Iraqi authorities attempted to impose curfew in Mosul and then violently cracked down on those defying the curfew. (See Amnesty International report on the repression against the Iraqi protest movement.) Interestingly, Atheel al-Najifi, the governor of Ninawa province (where Mosul is located) denounced al-Maliki’s violent crackdown. Al-Jazeera Arabic also reported on how al-Najifi and organizers imposed a general strike in Mosul on Tuesday, April 25th in reaction to the attacks on protesters.
Protest movement spreads to other cities
Finally on the 18th day of sit-ins (April 26), Mosul security forces loyal to al-Maliki were able to disperse the demonstrators and prevent others from entering the city. While this was a blow to Iraq’s protest movement, there had already been calls for similar sit-ins in Kut, Basra and Ramadi.
The Ramadi sit-in is ongoing and has reached large proportions. It is centered around another square, which has been renamed “Tahrir” (Liberation) square. Here is a video of the call to prayer recited in front of the square on May 5th’s “Day of Resilience.”
In the meantime, large Friday protests have continued in Baghdad’s “Sahat al-tahrir” (Liberation square), including Friday May 5th.
While not yet directly involved in the Iraqi protest movement, oil workers in the city of Basra have shown they are also part of the recent wave of defiance, when on Monday, May 9 hundreds of employees of the South Iraq Oil Company went on strike, protesting corruption and low wages.
Iraqi delegation travels to Spain
In an attempt to raise international awareness, members of the ‘Popular Movement to Save Iraq’ including prominent organizer Uday al-Zaidi, visited various cities in Spain as part of a delegation hosted by Campaña Estatal contra la Ocupación y por la Soberanía de Iraq (National Campaign Against the Occupation and for Iraqi Sovereignty – CEOSI)
Maliki’s ‘100 Days’ and massive protests planned for June 7th
Once protests began in earnest in Iraq on February 25, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that his cabinet had 100 days to address “corruption.” June 7 will mark the end of the 100 days, and Iraqi organizers, while never having much faith in Maliki’s promises to begin with, are gearing up for mass action to point out how inept and ineffective their present government is.
This issue becomes all the more relevant in the wake of the recent parade of U.S. officials to Iraq, (the latest being John Beohner) who have announced the possibility of the U.S. staying on past the December 31, 2011 deadline for withdrawal. Al-Maliki himself stated publicly as recently as last week that if 70% of the Iraqi Parliament agrees, he will consider keeping U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the deadline. This has inflamed the sensibilities of the Iraqi protest movement whose chief demand is complete removal of U.S. forces.