The final outcome of the multiple Syrian wars is now in sight
The sectarian and ethnic civil wars that have ravaged a large part of the Middle East over the past 40 years are coming to an end. Replacing them is a new type of conflict in which protests akin to popular uprisings rock kleptocratic elites that justify their power by claiming to be the defenders of communities menaced by extreme violence or extinction.
I was sitting in my hotel room in Baghdad earlier in October thinking about writing an article about the return of peace to the Iraqi capital after the defeat of Isis. It has been three years since the last big bomb had exploded in its streets killing great numbers, something that used to happen with appalling frequency.
I was about to set to work when I heard a distant “pop-pop” sound that I identified as shots, but I thought it might be people celebrating a wedding or a football match. But the ripple of gunfire seemed to go on too long for this explanation to be true and I took the lift down to the lobby with the intention of finding out what was happening in the street outside the hotel. Before I got there, a man told me that the security forces were shooting protesters in nearby Tahrir Square: “There are 10 dead already.”
The death toll was to get a great deal worse than that: the official toll is 157 dead and 6,100 wounded, but doctors told me at the time that the real number of fatalities was far higher. The protesters, initially small in numbers, had wanted jobs, an end to corruption and improved essential services such as a better water and electricity. But somebody in government security, supplemented by pro-Iranian paramilitaries, had considered these demands for social and economic justice as a threat to the political status quo to be suppressed with live rifle fire, a curfew on the seven million inhabitants of Baghdad, and a shutdown of the internet.
Repression worked briefly, but such is the depth of rage against the theft of $450bn from Iraq’s oil revenues since 2003 that the protests were bound to break out again, as they did on Friday with 23 dead and the offices of a provincial governor set on fire.