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Iraq: A Conversation with Dr. Fischbach

Maisha Khan '20 Editor-In-Chief

Since July 2018, protests over corruption and other issues have been taking place in Iraq. The protests reached their peak this October when over 100 people were killed and over 6,000 were injured. I sat down with Dr. Michael Fischbach of the History Department to get his perspective.

What's interesting is that the majority of the people in Iraq are Shiites. And the government is also Iraqi Shiite in majority, so why are they protesting against their "own" government?

My understanding is a lot of it is just basic questions of governance. You know, it's interesting that there happen to be these huge protests in Lebanon right now that are very similar, except that they're bringing all different groups together. As far back as the Arab Spring and even earlier, there's been a tradition of just wanting good governance. And whatever else the American invasion accomplished, it set in motion a series of corrupt governments that weren't always effective to people. So indeed it might even be precisely because many of the Shiites aren't getting what they want. My understanding is that it's not political in a sectarian sense.

Some research has shown that the Sunnis are having better life satisfaction right now than the Shiites. What do you think is the reason for that?

Ever since Iraq was formed in 1921, and even earlier, they tended to benefit more from the various regimes in power and they certainly suffered from poverty and things but the Shiite population, traditionally, was always the poorest. And those areas were the most underdeveloped. And, you know, literacy rates were the lowest. And so I think there's still a trickle down effect of that. Since 2004, essentially, there have been Shiite governments in power that may have led to rising expectations that, you know, "now it's our turn." I think this is a very bad analogy, but in some ways, in the inner cities, it's been a trend here in this country, for large black majority populations, to have black mayors going back 15 years and that doesn't always lead to better conditions. So the way I understand it, it's really a legacy of past disproportion, greater levels of poverty, access to services, [etc.] that has to do with that. Maybe that's why the Sunnis seem to be, if the data is correct, living a better life.

What do you think is the root cause of the current protests?

Again, it seemed to be provision of government services, but then it turned into protests against the fairly harsh and lethal force that was used against the demonstrators. Because in Iraq, like other Muslim majority countries, funerals tend to happen very soon after someone dies, or a funeral can very quickly descend into a political protest. So the initial grievances were magnified by these protests against this deadly use of force, which the security forces later admitted had been too strong. So that's how I would respond.

Do you think the U.S. has any responsibility to help Iraq?

Yes, I do. I view this in a global perspective that everything from the problems suffered by Native American Indians to problems that Nigeria [is facing], and in this case, Iraq. Big power interventions, direct colonialization, imperialism, all set in motion forces that, for lack of a better word, warp the so called normal route of development of the people. And in the case of Iraq, it was a creation of Great Britain in the first place. And then when you had a totalitarian society, and suddenly that is just immediately decapitated. Now, tribes are very strong, religious identity is strong, but forces of civil society that could continue life as usual were just completely wiped away. And what it created was a new post-Saddam Iraq, dominated by vengeful Shiites, by all but independent Kurds in the North, and a system that's been rife with corruption and sectarian problems--not to mention the anti-American guerrilla campaign led to the formation of ISIS. So, I do think the United States has cracked a series of eggs and this is one of the omelets that's come out of it. Certainly, like any society, people, including the Rockies need to try to take ownership of their own future and certainly play a role and share the blame. But it's sad to say that for some Iraqis life was probably better under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. It saddens me to think that the choice for the average Iraqi person is to live under a totalitarian dictatorship, basically have consumer goods and physical safety, or live in this so-called democratic Iraq that the Americans handed to [Iraqis] at the cost of over a half-million lives. And we're faced with all these problems. So, yes, Iraq specifically, and many of the problems faced by the developing world today, I do ultimately lay the blame at the feet of the Western powers that created the conditions that led to the very problems that they claim they were intervening to solve.

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