Protesters in Iraq are rejecting the imprints of war and sectarianism that have destroyed the country — and attempting to build an egalitarian homeland that will put ordinary Iraqis first. “We Need a Homeland”
A group of teens dressed in costumes practice break dancing in what Iraqis call "The Turkish Restaurant" in Tahrir Square on Nov. 22, 2019 in Baghdad, Iraq. (Erin Trieb / Getty Images)
In Iraq, “we need a homeland” is the most popular and persistent demand by protesters. It is not only chanted in slogans but also represented in people’s practices in the occupied squares, the most prominent of which is Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. What might sound like a purely nationalist sentiment is nothing less than a call by Iraq’s unemployed, impoverished youth — supported by the middle classes — to take ownership over all facets of life from the ruling class and strip away the imprints of war and sectarianism that have destroyed the country.
In the demonstrations, which originally erupted in October, young men and women are protesting together, shouting, “Here are your men, oh homeland” and “Here are your women, oh homeland” — a response to the recent entreaties by Muqtada al-Sadr, the influential cleric, that protesters of mixed genders not mingle, that they refrain from smoking, and that all women wear headscarves. These defiant displays are a way of embodying a new type of homeland, radically breaking with the vision of leaders like al-Sadr, who has proclaimed that Iraq is and shall stay “a conservative society.”