On Saturday, April 30th, even as Iraqi forces and allied militia were planning and organizing for the liberation of Mosul, protesters, possibly numbering over a thousand, stormed the fortified so-called "Green Zone" area of Baghdad, which houses the vast majority of Iraqi government buildings and foreign embassies.
The protesters consisted almost entirely of supporters of Iraqi nationalist cleric, and longtime thorn in the side of the Ba'athist regime, the U.S. occupation, and the present so-called "sectarian U.S. puppet regime," Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr.
War on the Rocks provides us with some much-needed background on the whole affair:
The latest storming of the Iraqi parliament is one of the most significant political events in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown in 2003. This process, which culminated in the weekend’s dramatic events, began in March of this year when the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr turned a flagging protest movement into a major national force, by virtue of his personal intervention. By the end of March, at the head of this movement, Sadr himself successfully walked into the Green Zone, where security forces welcomed him with open arms. Rather than reprimanding him for what would otherwise be considered trespassing, the Iraqi general in charge of security kissed his hand — a symbolic gesture of submission. Sitting in the Green Zone, he pushed Abadi to pursue a cabinet re-shuffle and set a 10-day ultimatum.
In April, the prime minister failed three times to pass a technocratic cabinet in parliament. With each failure, the protest movement grew increasingly impatient. Following Abadi’s second failed attempt, which was heavily influenced by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Sadr ordered his MPs, who make up the Ahrar bloc, to stage a sit-in inside parliament. This sit-in, which Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish MPs later joined, administered an extraordinary parliamentary session and obtained enough votes to sack speaker Salim al-Jabouri. However, Jabouri returned to his seat to administer a third attempt for cabinet reshuffle on April 30. Nevertheless, the parliament again failed to pass Abadi’s list of names for a technocratic cabinet and instead adjourned for a 10-day recess. At this point, an impatient Sadr determined it was time for a drastic show of force, resulting in the weekend’s storming of the parliament, where protestors, carrying Iraqi flags rather than guns, were welcomed and kissed by Green Zone security.
Sadr champions the protest movement’s demands, namely to move beyond the system of ethno-sectarian communal quotas (Muhasasa Ta’ifiya). His message to the political establishment demands immediate change. His power comes not from institutional privileges but from his popularity among millions of Iraqis, who are willing to mobilize on his call and who are increasingly impatient.
I highly recommend reading the War on the Rocks piece in full. It's an essential backgrounder for Sadr, the movement that he leads and its implications for Iraq.
The protests and the temporary overrunning of the Green Zone seems to have come as a shock to the U.S. political establishment and its "non-official" media outlets, who still think of the Iraqi government as their baby and view its preservation as vital to their interests, even though, particularly under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi government has not exactly acted the way a "puppet government" beholden to its master is supposed to act. Among other things, the Iraqi government has: shut down the infamous People's Mujahedeen of Iran (Mujahedin-e Khalq – MEK/MKO) base of operations in Iraq known as Camp Ashraf, and imprisoned or expelled all MKO members from its territory, thereby not allowing the territory directly under its control to be used as a forward base of operations against Iran; refused to allow the U.S. to maintain military bases on its territory after the 2011 withdrawal; has isolated the neocons' favorite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, and all of his goons and associates; it has directly taken on Exxon-Mobil and other oil giants who sought to make direct deals with the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq – thereby depriving Iraq of much-needed revenue; and, most important of all, it has refused to allow its territory (outside of the Sunni provinces in the north, where it exercised little direct control) to be used as a base of operations for the destabilization and overthrow of Syria. Not only that, but the Iraqi government, has actively and directly aided the Syrian government and people in their fight against the US/NATO-GCC-Ottoman backed, funded, armed and trained "revolutionary" jihadi death squads that have ravaged Syria since 2011, the only one of Syria's bordering states to actually do so.
But in the process it has also alienated large sections of the Iraqi people and electorate. And no, I'm not talking about the denizens of the Marginalized Triangle, nor their "Iraqi Spring." I'm talking about the millions of followers of al-Sadr who (rightly or wrongly) are angered at the mass arrests and killings of their brothers under the Maliki government, who are tired of what they perceive as overbearing Iranian influence on the Iraqi government and military, and at the massive corruption that permeates the state at all levels.
Iraq represents either a success or a failure for the U.S./Atlanticist foreign policy establishment, depending on how one chooses to look at it. For Jacob Hornberger and the Ron Paul Institute it is definitely the latter:
What better testament to the philosophy of foreign interventionism than Iraq? Here was their chance — the great opportunity for the Pentagon, the CIA, the entire national-security establishment, the neocon movement, and the interventionist movement to show what they could do if given carte blanche over a country, a country that had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so.
All that needed to be done was to kill a few hundreds of thousands of people, incarcerate and torture tens of thousands of others, re-educate millions who would survive the onslaught, and bring into existence a new government — one that might be a bit brutal, corrupt, and tyrannical but at least would be pro-USA.
Iraq was to be the showcase for foreign interventionism. It was to be their model.
Alas, all they’ve done is produced one giant hellhole of death, destruction, misery, suffering, privation, violence, crises, civil war, and loss of freedom. All they have to show for their grand interventionist experiment is hundreds of thousands of corpses, tens of thousands of others who have been detained and tortured, an impoverished society, and a crooked, corrupt, and tyrannical government, not to mention a brand new organization that their interventionism produced to the Middle East: ISIS, aka ISIL, aka the Islamic State.
Regardless of whether they failed in their goals with regards to Iraq, or if chaos and instability is the goal in and of itself as many others would argue, the bottom line is that Iraq still has a chance. It still has a chance of fully regaining its independence and sovereignty over all of its territory, crushing the sectarian chauvinist/revanchist/ uprising and, finally, putting the ultraviolence and trauma that has been inflicted on it for decades now – by players both foreign and domestic – to rest and rebuilding itself as a nation. It still has a chance at being a unified, independent state that is not beholden to anyone and that is firmly opposed to neocolonialist and imperialist ambitions throughout the region. It has a chance, one chance, and his name is Muqtada.