America, You Crushed My Country and Now It Has No Future
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Every Friday, for 13 weeks now, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated and prayed on the main highway linking Baghdad and Amman, Jordan, which runs just past the outskirts of this city.
Sunnis in Fallujah and the rest of Iraq’s vast Anbar Province are enraged at the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because his security forces, still heavily staffed by members of various Shia militias, have been killing or detaining their compatriots from this region, as well as across much of Baghdad. Fallujah’s residents now refer to that city as a “big prison,” just as they did when it was surrounded and strictly controlled by the Americans.
Angry protesters have taken to the streets. “We demand an end to checkpoints surrounding Fallujah. We demand they allow in the press. We demand they end their unlawful home raids and detentions. We demand an end to federalism and gangsters and secret prisons!” So Sheikh Khaled Hamoud Al-Jumaili, a leader of the demonstrations, tells me just prior to one of the daily protests. “Losing our history and dividing Iraqis is wrong, but that, and kidnapping and conspiracies and displacing people, is what Maliki is doing.”
The sheikh went on to assure me that millions of people in Anbar province had stopped demanding changes in the Maliki government because, after years of waiting, no such demands were ever met. “Now, we demand a change in the regime instead and a change in the constitution,” he says. “We will not stop these demonstrations. This one we have labeled ‘last chance Friday’ because it is the government’s last chance to listen to us.”
“What comes next,” I ask him, “if they don’t listen to you?”
“Maybe armed struggle comes next,” he replies without pause.
Predictably, given how the cycle of violence, corruption, injustice, and desperation has become part of daily life in this country, that same day, a Sunni demonstrator was gunned down by Iraqi security forces. Lieutenant General Mardhi al-Mahlawi, commander of the Iraqi Army’s Anbar Operations Command, said the authorities would not hesitate to deploy troops around the protest site again “if the protesters do not cooperate.” The following day, the Maliki government warned that the area was becoming “a haven for terrorists,” echoing the favorite term the Americans used during their occupation of Fallujah.
In 2009, I was in Fallujah, riding around in the armored BMW of Sheikh Aifan, the head of the then-U.S.-backed Sunni militias known as the Sahwa forces. The Sheikh was an opportunistic, extremely wealthy “construction contractor” and boasted that the car we rode in had been custom built for him at a cost of nearly half a million dollars.
Two months ago, Sheikh Aifan was killed by a suicide bomber, just one more victim of a relentless campaign by Sunni insurgents targeting those who once collaborated with the Americans. Memories in Iraq are long these days and revenge remains on many minds. The key figures in the Maliki regime know that if it falls, as is likely one day, they may meet fates similar to Sheikh Aifan’s. It’s a convincing argument for hanging onto power.
In this way, the Iraq of 2013 staggers onward in a climate of perpetual crisis toward a future where the only givens are more chaos, more violence, and yet more uncertainty. Much of this can be traced to Washington’s long, brutal, and destructive occupation, beginning with the installation of former CIA asset Ayad Allawi as interim prime minister. His hold on power quickly faltered, however, after he was used by the Americans to launch their second siege of Fallujah in November 2004, which resulted in the deaths of thousands more Iraqis, and set the stage for an ongoing health crisis in the city due to the types of weapons used by the U.S. military.