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Iraqi Teachers Union Stands With Protesters

Defying the government, the union maintains a strike in support of anti-corruption demonstrations

The Iraqi Teachers Union decided on Sunday to extend its strike for another week in support of protests against government corruption and poor living conditions in the country.

This comes despite instructions from the Iraqi Education Ministry that all teachers must return to work.

The Iraqi Teachers Union said in a statement, “We are witnessing the complexities of the Iraqi scene and an escalating deterioration of the general situation, with procrastination and indifference as well as disregard by the government.”

The statement added that “we affirm our support for the demands of the [Iraqi] people to dismiss the government and amend the constitution, as well as hold early elections, and hold all [security force] criminals accountable.”

Khaled al-Yakoubi, an Iraqi analyst, told The Media Line that “as a result of mass pressure by the protesters, the government is responding to their demands, which is a positive step.”

He said, “Iraq has suffered from chaos and insecurity for so long. These protests are due to huge mistakes made by the Iraqi political class throughout the past 16 years, which have created major economic and social as well as political issues among the people.

“The demand to change the constitution comes despite the fact that the Iraqi constitution is one of the best in the area.” The real problem, al-Yakoubi said, was that “the constitution is being applied incorrectly and political blocs that are trying only to serve their own interests are implementing it selectively.”

“Iraqis also are demanding the dissolution of the electoral commission and the holding of early elections. The goal is to ensure that the Iraqi people are represented fairly.”

Al-Yakoubi said that young Iraqis “don’t pay attention to how the [actions of the] ruling parties in the country compare to the repression and deprivation of liberties under Saddam Hussein. The new generation doesn’t remember the era of Saddam Hussein, so it doesn’t consider the comparison of what is today to what was then.”

Hasan al-Khaled, an Iraqi-based freelance journalist, told The Media Line that the decision of the Iraqi Teachers Union to extend its strike “came as a reaction to the Education Ministry’s orders to break the strike, warning principals about closing schools. The union sent a clear message that it stands with the Iraqi people and their demands.”

Al-Khaled said that “while some teachers in Baghdad complied with the ministry’s instructions and returned to their classrooms, they didn’t find any students. The students were participating in the protests, which gave an extra push to the demonstrators, causing them to feel empowered and to expand their protest.”

Since October 1, Iraq has witnessed a string of protests over high unemployment, poor public services and government corruption. Demonstrators are blaming their living conditions on conflicts among political leaders, which they say have prevented improvements despite the relative calm in the country over the last two years.

Iraqi protesters have been confronted by security forces in Baghdad and throughout the country. According to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, issued on October 22, serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed against the protesters by Iraqi authorities.

The commander-in-chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces ordered an investigation into the matter, which revealed that “high-level police officers and army commanders were behind the crimes that were committed during the protests.” The issue is now before the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council.

A young Iraqi activist, who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, said, “The Iraqi people at the beginning were protesting their poor living conditions and lack of opportunities in the country. We have to buy electric generators to have electricity and sometimes we don’t have water.”

But, he said, as a result of how “the security forces have dealt with the demonstrations, the protests have expanded enormously, as have the demands. It’s hard to know where things are going but people are upset and want to dissolve the government.”