Eight years ago the U.S. army poured into Iraq, where it overthrew the Ba’athist-led government using the pretext of alleged “weapons of mass destruction.” On April 9, 2003, the Pentagon orchestrated a media stunt to build popular support for a nearly universally opposed, unprovoked invasion.
A group of pro-U.S. Iraqis, who had just returned from exile, entered Firdos Square, which had been blocked off by the U.S. military. Under the direction of professional television producers and with the U.S. Marines’ truck and chains, they toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein before the cameras of CNN, FOX and MSNBC and thanked the U.S. for bombing and destroying their country.
It was eventually revealed that the U.S. Army’s Department of “Psychological Operations” had staged the entire event to build public support for the invasion. The military’s blatant attempt to deceive the public in order to build support for the war was never treated as a scandal or widely discussed. (Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2004)
But as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated about 2,500 years ago: “The only thing constant is change.”
On April 9, eight years after this stage-managed rally, the streets of Baghdad were filled with students, youth, workers and others from all across Iraq. Their message was very different from the one in 2003.
This year’s protest began on April 8 when a crowd of 300 gathered in a square in Baghdad to protest the crimes of the U.S. occupiers, as well as the economic devastation following the U.S. invasion. According to CNN, this crowd has gathered every Friday since Feb. 25 to protest the disappearance of health care, employment and the other economic benefits that existed under the Ba’athist government. These benefits have been replaced by the bullets of U.S. troops and the mercenaries who protect the oil, which has been stolen to benefit imperialist corporations.
This April 8 the crowd grew to 2,000 people, who marched holding placards with names of dead relatives and demanding an end to the occupation. (CNN World, April 8)
The next day, as 10,000 protesters hit New York City streets to denounce the occupation, the Baghdad demonstrators protested U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ April 8 comment that the U.S. may stay in Iraq for as many as 10 more years. Muslim Cleric Muktada al-Sadr, in exile in Iran, sent a message to his supporters and followers to protest the U.S. occupation in response to Gates’ comments.
Al-Sadr’s statements in support of “military resistance” as well as “peaceful and public resistance” were picked up not only by thousands in the streets, but also by several members of the Iraqi parliament. (New York Times, April 10) Contingents of people from across Iraq poured into Baghdad on buses to protest the U.S. occupation and demand that the U.S. leave Iraq by the end of the year.
Muntazer Al-Zaidi, who was imprisoned and beaten in December 2008 for throwing his shoes at then-President George W. Bush on his last visit to Iraq, had called for demonstrations and endorsed the rally. He now leads a mass organization called the Popular Movement to Save Iraq.
Leaders of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers also supported the call for an escalation of protests.
Ali Husain, a high school student from southern Iraq who participated in the Baghdad protests, told the New York Times, “We will expel the occupier.” (April 9) The continued demonstrations under harsh conditions show that numerous Iraqis share his sentiments.
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