On the Background of the Popular Uprising of the Iraqi People

By Yossi Schwartz, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 04.10.2019, www.thecommunists.net

Since this Tuesday anti-government protests are spreading in Iraq. The pro-US government of Abdel Mahdi that came to power one year ago is facing the anger of the masses over unemployment, corruption and very poor services. In reaction the government has imposed an indefinite curfew in Baghdad and southern cities like Najaf (that is 160 km south of the capital) and Nasriya. The police are shooting demonstrators – at least 30 people were killed and hundreds have been injured. The protesters have occupied Tahrir Square in central Baghdad in defiance of the curfew. A curfew was imposed on Najaf on Wednesday following the shooting on protesters demanding an end to power cuts, water shortages and state corruption. In Nasriya the police killed eight protesters. In the city of Amarah, four protesters were killed on Thursday. At least 400 people have been injured by the forces of the government. The protesters are mostly angry young people who are not aligned to any political or religious party and who had enough with the youth unemployment that is around 25%. Last summer similar protests in Basra ended the government of Haider al-Abad. The powerful Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has called for a general strike. (1)

Thus like in Egypt, in spite of the bloody oppressive regimes our brothers and sisters are fighting for decent life. The real question is: is it the beginning of another wave of the Arab Revolution?

On Wednesday, the government deployed troops in Nasiriya after police lost control when gun battles erupted between protesters and security forces.

Iraq could be a great place for the people who live there but it is a nightmare for most of the 40 million citizens. It is a semi-colony super exploited by the imperialists who destroyed its infra structure and are making huge profits from the Iraqi oil. At the same time, the workers – the creators of the wealth – are poorly paid and many young people do not have a future in this rotten system.

Iraq has one of the largest oil reserves in the world and yet only a small portion of Iraq’s known fields are developed. Under Saddam Hussein the oil fields were nationalized, but after the US war on Iraq the oil fields have been going through privatization. This resulted only in enriching the foreign imperialist investors and a layer of rich Iraqis while many people suffer from lack of electricity and clean water.

The robbery of the Iraqi oil

While the US military ended the direct occupation of Iraq, the largest western oil companies, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell are still exploiting the oil of Iraq. On November 2012 Royal Dutch Shell signed a contract s for a $17bn flared gas deal. Three days later, the US-based Emerson submitted a bid for a contract to operate at Iraq’s giant Zubair oil field, which holds around eight million barrels of oil. Earlier in 2012, Emerson was awarded a contract to provide crude oil metering systems for a new oil terminal in Basra, and the company installed control systems in the power stations in Hilla and Kerbala. Iraq’s supergiant Rumaila oil field is developed by BP and Majnoon oil field has being developed by Royal Dutch Shell.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), Iraq’s oil reserves of 112 billion barrels ranks second in the world, only behind Saudi Arabia. The EIA also estimates that up to 90 per cent of the country remains unexplored, due to decades of US-led wars and economic sanctions. “Prior to the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, US and other western oil companies were all but completely shut out of Iraq’s oil market.” (2)

In a speech at Fort Bragg in the wake of the US military withdrawal, US President Barack Obama said the US was leaving behind “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people“. Of this prospect, Dr Zalloum an expert on oil, stated: “The last thing the US cares about in the Middle East is democracy. It is about oil, full stop.

As Rebecca Solnit explained in a Guardian editorial, “The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was led by Bush the Second and Dick Cheney, politicians with deep ties to the petroleum industry. Though the United States lost that war, you might say the US oil companies won it. After years of sanctions, Iraq oil was up for grabs, and they grabbed, and profited and still profit.” (3)

Iraq since 2003

To understand the situation of Iraq it is necessary to review its development since the USA led the imperialist war on Iraq in order to rob the oil. Saddam Hussein was a dictator but what has replaced him is worse.

After the war and the occupation of Iraq the destruction of the infrastructure of Iraq pushed back Iraq many years. The U.S. illegalized the Baath Party and also disbanded the military throwing hundreds of thousands of trained men to the streets. Some of them would find the way to found ISIS.

ISIS was a reactionary organization that committed atrocities. Yet it fought the imperialists and their atrocities are very small comparing to the war crimes of the imperialists. Let us examine only the deaths from the sanctions and the war on Iraq.

In 1995, researchers with a Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) study in Iraq wrote to The Lancet, the journal of the British Medical Society, asserting that sanctions on Iraq were responsible for the deaths of 567,000 Iraqi children. Some doubt it and claim that the numbers is “only” between 250,000 and 350,000. (4)

Another study concluded: “Hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have been killed due to the so-called “war on terror” launched by the United States in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack. The report, which was published by the Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, put the death toll between 480,000 and 507,000. The report states that between 182,272 and 204,575 civilians have been killed in Iraq; 38,480 in Afghanistan; and 23,372 in Pakistan. 7,000 US troops were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same period. The paper, however, acknowledged that the number of people killed is an “undercount” due to limitations in reporting and “great uncertainty in any count of killing in war“. ‘We may never know the total direct death toll in these wars,” wrote Nera Crawford, the author of the report titled “Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency. ‘For example, tens of thousands of civilians may have died in retaking Mosul and other cities from ISIS [also known as ISIL] but their bodies have likely not been recovered.’” (5)

After the occupation between 2003 and 2007, the U.S.-led Coalition formed what was called the Provisional Authority. Every ministry had a U.S. advisor who directed its activity. This included forming new parties, and training new military forces serving the USA interests.

In this phase the posts of the prime minister and key ministries were filled with representatives of parties from the Shia majority. For the first time, Iraq had a Kurdish president. The new constitution recognized a Kurdish self-government (KRG) and the Peshmerga forces received an official status. The Sunnis, who until 2003 dominated the state, lost their power. This led to sectarian tensions between the Sunnis and the Shia. In 2006 al-Askari shrine, a Shia holy site was bombed. The explosion destroyed the famous gold dome. Thus the USA policy of divide and conquer led to sectarian violence for years. This led to the growing influence of ISIS.

In the years 2007 to 2011 the U.S. sent in an additional 30,000 troops in addition to 130,000 already deployed and the American army formed an alliance with the Sunni tribes against the jihadi movement directed against the US occupation. In 2011, the USA declared that it would withdraw from Iraq after a promise from the Baghdad that it would incorporate the Sunni tribes into the Iraqi army and police which deepened the sectarian tension.

However, between 2012 and 2017, the government of Nuri al-Maliki of the Islamic Dawa Party, an American loyalist, did not incorporate the minority Sunnis. Instead it detained thousands of Sunnis. In 2013, tens of thousands of Sunnis demonstrated against the government in Ramadi, Fallujah, Samarra, Mosul and Kirkuk.

In June 2014 in the war of the government against ISIS, the Iraqi army crumbled. ISIS took control of a third of Iraq. Many Shia joined new and old militias, many of them supported by Iran. More than 60 armed groups emerged under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) backed by the USA. In September 2014, the United States formed “The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” that included NATO, the European Union, and the Arab League. The Obama administration re-deployed U.S. troops to Iraq. This coalition used airstrikes for more than three years killing many civilians until the Islamic State collapsed.

In this period, Turkey deployed troops in northern Iraq with the excuse of protecting Sunnis and Turkmen, but in reality to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Between 2015 and 2017, Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the PMF—backed by airpower provided by the U.S.-led coalition—conquered the territory controlled by ISIS.

The parliamentary election in May 2018 resulted in the emergence of the coalition of the forces led by the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr with secular Sunnis and the Stalinists as the largest party. The Iran-backed block came second. Muhammad al-Halbusi, Adil Abdul al-Mahdi, an economist and veteran Shia became the prime minister.

Clearly, the majority of the Iraqi people don’t want the USA, Turkey and Iran to control Iraq. They want democratic rights and social security. The demonstrations of the youth in the last few days can be the beginning of a new revolutionary uprising. But to win this struggle a revolutionary leadership of the working class is necessary. Such a party will unite the Shia, the Sunnis and the Kurds. It will combine the democratic demands with a transitional program leading to armed socialist revolution.

For a general strike to bring down the government!

Victory to the protesters!

U.S., Iran and Turkey – out of Iraq!

Expropriate the oil industry, the banks and the big companies and nationalize them under workers control!

Build a working class revolutionary party!


1) Al Jazeera: Iraq protests: Death toll rises to 20 as unrest spreads in south, 2019-10-03, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/iraq-imposes-curfew-baghdad-deadly-protests-191003060238724.html

2) Dahr Jamail: Western oil firms remain as US exits Iraq, Al Jazeera 7 Jan 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/12/2011122813134071641.html

3) Rebecca Solnit: Oil fuels war and terrorists like Isis. The climate movement can bring peace, 8 December 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/08/oil-fuels-war-terrorists-isis-climate-movement-peace-cop-21

4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5717930/

5) Al Jazeera: US ‘war on terror’ has killed over half a million people: study 9 November 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/wars-terror-killed-million-people-study-181109080620011.html

Recent other articles by the RCIT on the Middle East:

RCIT: Yemen: Another Humiliating Blow for the Saudi Aggressors! https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/yemen-another-humiliating-blow-for-the-saudi-aggressors/

RCIT: Egypt: Bring Down the Tyrant Sisi! https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-bring-down-the-tyrant-sisi/

ISL: Israel: On the Results of the National Elections, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/on-the-results-of-the-national-elections-in-israel/

RCIT: Aramco Attack: Defeat the US/Saudi/Israeli Warmongers! https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/aramco-attack-defeat-the-us-saudi-israeli-warmongers/

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