The Iraq Report: Iraqis still displaced after IS defeat
Grand gestures and speeches were offered across the political spectrum with President Barham Salih meeting with former IS sex slave and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad as a show of solidarity with those who suffered under IS rule.
However, many Iraqis still feel as though their lives have not changed much since IS extremists were defeated more than a year ago. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are still displaced and living in squalor as the bitter cold of winter sets in, while many thousands more are continuing protests over a lack of services, endemic government corruption and a rock-bottom human rights record in marches that have been a feature of the Iraqi south since the summer.
Displaced children at risk of freezing to death
While President Salih on Wednesday made time to receive high-profile personalities such as Nobel laureate and former IS captive Nadia Murad, the Iraqi government had little to offer in terms of plans for displaced Iraqis, particularly children, who are at risk of freezing to death this winter.
The United Nations children's agency UNICEF warned on Monday that approximately 161,000 displaced children in Iraq were at risk from plummeting temperatures and exposure to flooding as the hard Iraqi winter sets in.
"Winters in Iraq are harsh," Peter Hawkins, UNICEF's representative in Iraq, said in a statement. "It rains and snows and temperatures can fall below zero in the northern part of the country."
The agency's winter campaign seeks to provide winter clothing to children aged between three months and 14 years. This includes supplying boots, scarves and hats to displaced children in Erbil, Dohuk, Ninawa, Anbar, Diwaniya, Basra, Salaheddin, Baghdad, Suleimaniyah and Sinjar.
"Most displaced families live below the poverty line, in dilapidated housing with poor heating, or in camps with little protection from the cold," Hawkins said.
"It impossible to afford fuel for heating and winter clothing to keep their children warm."
When Yazidi activist Nadia Murad met President Salih on Wednesday, one of the items on her agenda was for the Iraqi government to finally supply the funding to rebuild Sinjar, the area with the highest concentration of Yazidis in the country. Still suffering as a result of IS attacks and government neglect, 80 percent of Sinjar is dilapidated and barely habitable.
Iraq and neighbouring countries were also hit by heavier-than-average rainfall in recent weeks, resulting in deaths and widespread damage. Sinjar and other cities in the country's north have borne the brunt of the flooding and the downpour forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, adding to the number of displaced children in immediate need of aid.
"The devastating floods have made this winter even more difficult for displaced children who are extremely vulnerable to hypothermia and respiratory diseases," Hawkins said.
"No child should be subjected to such risks. Every child deserves to be warm and healthy."
A year after IS was declared vanquished, Iraqi children and families are still living in camps for the internally displaced while more than 100,000 others have been interned in camps after being accused of being "ISIS families", according to Human Rights Watch.
Despite being promised a bright future after the IS defeat, these people have no hope and no opportunity for a better tomorrow.
Demonstrations in Iraq take a leaf out of Paris protests
Taking inspiration from Paris' gilet jaune (yellow vest) protests, Iraqis in the southern port city of Basra have donned yellow vests in an attempt to draw attention to their long-running demonstrations that have largely gone unnoticed by the international mainstream media.
The Paris protests sprung up in late October to demonstrate against planned fuel tax hikes but later snowballed into a broader movement against French President Emmanuel Macron.
Basra's protests, on the other hand, have been simmering since the summer after a devastating heatwave literally made Iraqi tempers boil over.
While Basra was spared any IS terror attacks, it has suffered from long-term government neglect, rampant corruption and a city controlled and heavily policed by armed militants loyal to various Shia militias linked to Iran.
As public coffers were steadily drained by corrupt officials, little in the way of public services or redevelopment of what was once one of Iraq's most beautiful cities has been seen. A cholera outbreak only served to worsen the situation as severe water pollution led to mass poisoning of the local population, fuelling anger at the authorities.
Despite these demonstrations, Basra's woes received only a passing treatment by most large media outlets and even domestic Iraqi channels were gagged to limit the protesters' exposure. Several journalists were attacked and even detained by the Iraqi government.
Protests have continued, following the federal government's failure to alleviate any of the critical problems complained of, with demonstrators seeking new ways to gain attention and garner sympathy to their plight.
"Protests in Paris have barely been going on for a couple of months but already people have learnt at least two new French words - 'gilet jaune'," Jasim Ahmad, who took part in the Basra protests, told The New Arab.
"We've been protesting every year in Basra and elsewhere, and this year we've been demonstrating for almost six months continuously, yet no-one seems to care," Ahmad said. "The idea was that if we showed we were no different to the Parisian protesters then the world might finally pay attention and embarrass the government enough to start treating us as humans."
Donning their yellow high-visibility vests earlier this month, Basra residents clashed with security forces as they attempted to raid the governor's office. Governor Asaad al-Eidani was seen assaulting protesters wearing yellow vests as he got out of his car two weeks ago, enraging demonstrators.
"The political class think they're above us and better than us," Ahmad said. "To them, we're nothing more than insects and they believe themselves to be gods."
|Man-made climate change denier and US energy secretary Rick Perry attempted to convince Iraq's minister of oil, Thamir al-Ghadhban, that Baghdad should become dependent on US energy exploitation instead of relying on Iran [AFP]|
US urges Iraq to move away from Iran
After meeting with Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in Baghdad earlier this week, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Iraq to open its energy sector to American investment and to eschew its energy partnership with neighbouring Iran.
Perry met with top Iraqi officials in both Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Erbil on Tuesday to discuss US investment in Iraq.
"The time has come for Iraq to break its dependence on others and move forward toward true energy independence," Perry said.
Iraq is caught in a delicate position as it continues to draw gas and electricity from Iran despite Washington's renewed sanctions against the regime in Tehran. While the United States has granted Iraq a temporary waiver, that is contingent on Iraq swiftly finding alternatives to Iranian energy - or else Washington may have to reconsider its position.
One of the many reasons why protests have continued unabated in Iraq is due to its dependence on Iranian goods and energy.
Despite being one of the most energy-rich countries on the planet, Iraq's power grid is a disaster. Electricity cuts are common in every town and city, and in the stifling summer heat and particularly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when people are fasting, the cuts can grind on Iraqis' nerves quickly.
Prior to and immediately following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the current crop of Baghdad's elites had blamed former dictator Saddam Hussein and his Baathist administration for the energy shortages. They had also promised to modernise Iraq and bring it into the 21st century once Saddam and his cronies had been toppled.
Instead, and more than 15 years on, Iraq's energy crisis has been exacerbated with seemingly no end in sight. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in aid and oil revenues, the Iraqi authorities have consistently failed to bring Iraq's power grid up to scratch, modernise its energy distribution network, and diversify its energy supplies to become energy independent.
While Iranian energy and economic reliance is a concern, it is equally baffling to many how the United States could advise the Iraqi government that in order for it to become independent, it needed to be dependent on American investments.
As appears to be Iraq's perennial problem, it is being dominated by two powers vying for influence over a weak government staffed by corrupt officials. Until a stronger government and social movement arises to challenge the status quo, it is unlikely this will change any time soon.