Thursday, October 31, 2019

مقتل أبو بكر البغدادي ومظاهرات الشباب في العراق . The Killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Youth Demonstrations in Iraq

What is the relationship between the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the ongoing youth demonstrations in Iraq?  On first reflection, al-Baghdadi’s death and the youth protests might seem to be two discrete events. However, they are intimately linked.  They are the opposite side of the same coin.

al-Baghdadi’s Dacish represents an effort to seduce Muslim youth into believing in a culture of violence, brutality and nihilism.  Dacish ideology seeks to ensnare youth by offering them a false sense of place and security. Once they join the terrorist group become situated in its hermetically sealed ideological bubble, escape is not an option, as many youth who have tried have discovered, being killed in the process.  Inside the so-called “Caliphate,” life was highly regimented with youth having to follow the rigid dictates of Dacish commanders.

The contrast between the Dacish’s vision of the future and that of youth demonstrations in Iraq could not pose a sharper contrast.  The youth demonstrators offer a completely different vision of the society they seek to build and, as the generation in waiting, will ultimately lead. The goal of Iraqi youth is not to force their peers to think and behave in lockstep according to a rigid and destructive ideology.  They long for freedom, the opportunity to express their individuality and creativity, gain employment through the skills they develop, and hence lay the basis for a future built on hope.

Youth who join the Dacish or other terrorist organizations face a very different reality.  They are told what to think and how to behave.  Their ideological socialization is one based on rigid binaries in which the world is divided between Good and Evil, with much greater attention devoted to what is Evil, namely those groups who pose a threat to the “true Islam” and therefore need to be killed.

In the vocabulary of the “Caliphate,” nuance, critical thinking and creativity don’t exist. To the extent that Dacish members employ their individual skills, they are directed towards manipulating social media, bombings, executions and criminal activity. For youth, membership in the Dacish is the antithesis of personal growth and self-development.

The allure of terrorism is based on the following the “equation” which undermines democratization and opens a political space for extremist ideologies: A “youth bulge,” plus lack of jobs,  plus sub-standard social services, plus government corruption are inversely correlated with the growth of extremism.  If we add to this mix the classic “J-curve” theory of revolutions, we learn that when a demographic, whether youth, a social class or ethnoreligious group, feels that socioeconomic conditions have the possibility to improve, but fail to be realized, anger and

The greater the degree to which youth in the MENA region, Africa and other parts of the world lack hope in the future, the greater the degree to which they become susceptible to the siren song of extremist messaging.  Put differently, heinous charlatans like al-Baghdadi, so-called “Caliph Ibrahim,” would find few takers if the political class in MENA region and African countries didn’t base their regimes on massive corruption and nepotism. With few alternatives available to force these elites to change their policies, terrorist organizations often become the only option for expressing discontent and anger.

The "800 Pound Gorilla" in the room – to use an American colloquialism – is the political class which is the object of the youth demonstrations in Iraq and whose behavior provides fertile soil and nourishment for terrorist leaders like al-Baghdadi, al-Zarqawi, Bin Ladin et al.  Whether they rule “rentier states,” such as Iraq, where oil provides 95% of the state’s foreign revenues, or countries with more modest resources such as Lebanon, the local political class fleeces the privy purse and ensures that choice positions in the state apparatus go to their relatives and clients.

These corrupt political classes don’t just steal from the privy purse. They also promote “divide and conquer” politics as they work to silo different ethnic groups and religious sects along vertical lines. Their efforts here are to set sectors of society off against each other and undermine their ability to create horizontal coalitions across ethnic, sect and regional lines.  

One of the main complicating factors in Iraq’s youth protests are the Iran-backed militias which have been posting snipers on buildings to shoot the demonstrators.  These militias – Hadi al-cAmiri’s Badr Organization of, Kata’ib Hizballah, led by Abu Mahdi Muhandis and the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (League of the Righteous People) run by Qais Khazzali – have been the target of youth demonstrators who have shouted “Iran out of Iraq.”  The militias in turn have accused the youth demonstrators of spreading discord (al-fitna[1]) and serving the interests of Israel.  

These comments point to the militias as reflecting Iranian interests.  They realize that should the Iraqi political system be reformed, they would potentially lose their privileged position, both in terms of political power in Iraq but also financial contributions from the regime in Tehran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
After the Iranian Consulate in Karbala’ was sacked on October 26th, and the Iraqi flag raised in place of the Iranian flag, men in masks arrived on the scene to shot at demonstrators. There is much evidence that Iranian-backed militias are actively opposing the efforts of the demonstrators. Indeed, this past Wednesday Qassem Solimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, visited Iraq to prevent the removal of Prime Minister cAdil cAbd al-Mahdi.

The juxtaposition if the Dacish with the crisis in Iraq points to the difficulties facing youth in the region.  Joining terrorist organizations may offer youth a temporary “shot in the arm” by making them feel empowered by suddenly carrying arms and becoming part of a group of equally disaffected youth. However, their life as a terrorist is usually, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short.”
Youth demonstrating for change in quasi-democratic societies, such as Iraq and Lebanon, can also be killed -we’ve already seen over 250 youth killed in Iraq at the time of this writing – but there is the possibility for peaceful action which has a better chance of bringing about change that exercising brutality and violence.
What can youth do through organizing peaceful demonstrations?  They can engage in creative behavior which allow them to connect to other sectors of society. Youth in Iraq and Lebanon have used dancing, music , poetry and a raft of other social celebratory activities to deflect criticism of their demonstrations and to convey symbolically to the populace at large that their anger is being channeled in constructive rather than destructive directions.

Youth unemployment is high in Iraq but declined slightly from 2018 to October 2019.  What seems to have been a key tipping point was the effective dismissal of Lt. Gen. cAbd al-Wahhab al-Sacadi, the head of Iraq’s storied Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS) who is considered to be a national hero for his role in defeating the Dacish in Mosul and north central Iraq. al-Sacadi was removed from his command and transferred to a desk job I the Ministry of Defense, effectively terminating his military career. 
If Iraq’s top war hero could be sidelined, based on jealously by officials in the Ministry of Defense and the military hierarchy, this sent a message to Iraqi youth that no one was safe from the tentacles of the corrupt political elite.  Put differently, the political theater surrounding the sidelining of a true Iraqi patriot, one who declared that he had “zero tolerance” for sectarianism in the CTS, was the last straw.

A long period from 2003 to 2019 finally erupted in a massive outburst of demonstrations which have progressing attracted other parts of Iraqi society. While this impressive demonstration of peaceful but determined collective action was gathering strength, in a remote area of idlib Province in north west Syria, the self-styled “Caliph Ibrahim” was meeting his fate.

[1] In Arabic, al-fitna connotes much more intense conflict than the English word “discord.” It implies discord and chaos which pose a major threat to a society’s stability and ability to sustain itself