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Egypt-inspired protests gather pace in Iraq

As international attention focuses on Libya and Bahrain, pro-reform protests are increasing in Iraq. DW asked a leading media expert whether the Domino effect has reached this country struggling to recover from war.

Hadi Jalu

Hadi Jalu is a leading proponent of press freedom in Iraq

Hadi Jalu is head of the Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory

Deutsche Welle: Is the current wave of demonstrations in Iraq the result of a Domino effect from neighboring Arab countries?

Hadi Jalu: Absolutely. Just think that we share the same culture and language as well as the same problems: corruption, unemployment, mismanagement, poor infrastructure, attacks on freedom of expression...The recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere have given the Iraqis hope and strength to raise the same issues in the streets.

Has there been any reaction from the government so far?

They have already started talking about increasing the salaries as well as a monthly financial compensation due to shortages on the Iraqies' ration cards. We've also witnessed some gestures like the one by Al-Maliki (Prime Minister of Iraq) when he decided to reduce his salary by half.

You were also among the organizers of a recent protest, weren't you?

The initiative came from several fellow journalists. We organised a peaceful march through Facebook and Twitter. We also broadcast our message through different radio channels and newspapers. It was a peaceful march in support of the Egyptian people in their uprising against Mubarak.

Although there are the parallels I mentioned before, there is also a very big gap between us. In Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen we are dealing with leaders who have been in power for decades but our representatives have been elected by the Iraqi people. For the moment, people in Iraq are not asking for a change of government, they are protesting for the improvement of dire living conditions most of them have to cope with.

group of protesters

Protesters in Baghdad are demanding better living conditions

Another big difference is that both Tunisians and Egyptians have come together in the street, something hardly achievable for us. Our internal fractures - religious, ethnic, political are too many and too intricate.

Various sectors have denounced a recent increase in media harassment by the government. Is that true?

The government is fully aware of the significant role of journalists and social networks behind the recent uprisings so they will try to extend their control over them. A few days ago, the CMC (Iraqi Commission for Media and Communication) decided to implement annual rates for a big number of radio and television channels. We are talking about astronomical amounts that most Iraqi media can not pay. We're talking about independent organizations with little funding.

I fear that most of the Iraqi media may disappear in the coming months. The underlying problem here is that our democracy is still taking its first steps so neither the government nor most of the population are still conscious of the role of free press in this process toward the normalization of the country.

What are the main difficulties faced by journalists in Iraq today?

Between 2003 and 2008 the greatest threat to journalists was to be assassinated by al-Qaeda in Iraq or any other militia, or by some mistake by the American troops. The security situation has improved since 2008 so our main obstacle today is the Iraqi judicial system itself. Individual media sources such as television, radio, newspapers are being prosecuted in court almost every time they touch cases of corruption.

I remember that Al Alam ("The World") newspaper denounced last October a massive corruption scandal surrounding the Basra sports city. The day after its publication, the journal was denounced by the Ministry of Youth and Sport. They wanted it to pay a 1 billion Iraqi dinars fee ($850,000). Terrorism is more or less controllable but corruption affects us today at a much greater level, it is getting almost impossible to tackle.

Can the seemingly increasing instability in the streets of Iraq alter the US agenda to pull out its last troops by the end of this year?

Until now we have had to heads of government in Iraq - one in Baghdad and the other one in Washington. This is one of the main sources of instability in the country. However, I'm confident and I think that they will fulfill their promise to withdraw at the end of the year to let the Iraqis show the world that we rule ourselves.

Paradoxically enough, it's very much the instability of other neighboring countries that may significantly alter the agenda of other armed actors in our country. If instability in Egypt, Jordan or Yemen leads to a power vacuum, we may well witness a flow of jihadists from Iraq to those countries.

Interview: Karlos Zurutuza, Baghdad
Editor: Rob Mudge

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