While locals in southern Iraq protest, other provinces in the country with a Sunni Muslim majority population are not taking to the streets. This is not necessarily because they don’t agree with their Shiite Muslim compatriots in other provinces. It is because they fear persecution if they do – Shiite Muslim authorities run the Iraqi government and the recent security crisis caused by the extremist group known as the Islamic State, advocated an extreme form of Sunni Islam.
“We all agree that the province cannot demonstrate because of the fear of accusations,” Adnan Nazim, a law student in the central Iraqi province of Anbar, explained. “ But we could at least organize some acts in solidarity, like standing inside our university.” Other students have also suggested civil disobedience.
However local security forces were not allowing even the smallest kind of protest to take place. Fearing actions in solidarity with protesters elsewhere, the military has stationed combat and other vehicles outside local schools and universities, as well as along roads leading into the educational institutes. University authorities have also said that students will be penalized for non-attendance at lectures and classes.
“We were surprised by the presence of security forces inside the university buildings,” Nazim said. “The local government and the security forces have no right to deny us our right to freedom of expression,” he argued.
The measures have angered local students and also local activists and bloggers, who have been supportive of the demonstrations in the south.
Hayman Abdul Rahman, a resident of Fallujah and human rights activist, doesn’t think that the people in Anbar necessarily want to join the protests. But, he says, the pre-emptive security measures go against freedom of expression in the province.
Additionally, Abdul Rahman says that the security measures didn’t stop with the deployment of vehicles outside Anbar’s places of learning. A number of activists in the cities of Ramadi and Khalidiya, who had interacted with the southern protest movements online, have been arrested on charges of incitement or have simply disappeared, most likely abducted. “That includes the activist Samir al-Faraj,” Abdul Rahman says.
In practice, what has also happened is that young Iraqis and students who wanted to join the protests actually left town and went to Tahrir Square in Baghdad, to join one of the country’s largest protests.
This was verified by Basim al-Mohammedi, a Fallujah taxi driver, who had taken several groups of students to Baghdad because they wanted to participate in the demonstrations. He did not charge the students for the trip, al-Mohammedi says, “because we all want to contribute just a little, to get rid of this corrupt and thieving government.”