Iraqi kathab protest song targets 'liars'

The World

By Jane Arraf It rings out from cellphones and underpins the crescendo of chants at every protest in the Iraqi capital — kathab — the Arabic word for liar. Next to throwing your shoe, it's one of the biggest insults you can toss at someone here. And it is being thrown freely. The song, making the rounds of Baghdad, starts off with a rousing chorus of 'liar, liar' and segues into 'Iraq's oil is for the people not for the thieves.' The liars and the thieves are thought to be the government — reoccurring themes at demonstrations across Iraq since unrest began toppling dictators throughout the Arab world a month ago. Here in Iraq, they already have a democracy of sorts, courtesy of the US-led invasion eight years ago next week. But the ability to protest is the only benefit many Iraqis say they've seen since Saddam was toppled. Millions unemployed With record oil prices in a country that contains some of the world's highest oil reserves, more than a third of Iraqis are unemployed. Millions depend on the government for food. Most Iraqis blame it all on corruption. "I think our patience is finished and to tell you the truth, we see the change in Tunisia and Egypt and we need to try that," said Majdi Abdul Khalif, who explained that he learned his exuberant English from watching Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. Khalif, who is 30, also taught himself how to fix cell phones. But it's not a substitute for a real job. He loves his country so much, he said he named his young son Iraq and his daughter Baghdad. After showing up at the first protest in Baghdad last month, Abdul Khalif quickly became a regular. At one of the latest ones, he was shouting into a megaphone. Although the Iraqi government is headed almost entirely by those who were in opposition during the Saddam era, the chaotic and cacophonous anti-government protests seem to have completely unnerved them. Blaming Baathists Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said Saddam loyalists, members of the banned Baath party, are behind the demonstrations. Warning that al-Qaeda could try to target the demonstrations, the Iraqi government two Fridays in a row imposed a crippling car ban on the city. The protestors still came — many walking for hours down deserted streets as helicopters hovered overhead. "Mr. Maliki tells us we are Baathists and our answer to him is that we all suffered under the Baath — many of us escaped many of us went into prisons," said Yanar Mohammad, head of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. "But now in these eight years there are millions suffering, hundreds of people are being tortured in Maliki's prisons right now, What about those people? He says we're either Baathists or from al-Qaeda. Why is he lying?' In other cities in Iraq, in the normally calm south and the Kurdish north, protests have erupted into violence with security forces shooting dead demonstrators who have tried to take over government buildings. In Baghdad, to protect the already fortress-like green zone where the Iraqi government and the US embassy are based, cranes moved in overnight to seal off entrances and bridges with concrete blocks. Many of the young men who come to the demonstrations are unemployed. "They're all thieves," they scream in anger at what they believe is their stolen legacy. The target of their rage is Iraq's bloated government — at more than 40 cabinet ministers, one of the biggest in the world in a country that's listed as one of the world's most corrupt. Only the bravest politicians though venture out to the demonstrations and then only from the safety of rooftops. Usually, the riot police and journalists are the only people there for protestors to scream at. "They told me I had to pay a $500 bribe to get a job" with the government, said one young man at Tahrir Square. "Where would I get $500? If I had $500, I wouldn't need a job." Another interrupts him, shouting "$1,100 — they took $1,100 from me." No faith in the government With few jobs and fewer government services, many Iraqis have lost faith in the government they elected only last year. "We ask ourselves when we look around, is this really the richest country in the world? Is this really the democracy we were promised?" says Bushra al-Ameen, the director of al-Mahaba radio station. "The only thing we got out of all this democracy is the ability to go out and demonstrate." Al-Ameen fled the former regime in 1994 to Canada but returned after Saddam was toppled to help start a radio station for women. Like many of the middle class who returned dreaming of an inclusive, prosperous and free Iraq, she feels her country has been hijacked. Demonstrating against the government in Saddam's time was a death sentence for entire families. Now young people are doing what their parent's couldn't under the former regime. Noof al-Falahi, a fine arts student who has organized a Facebook campaign called Iraqis Streets for Change, said she asks her parents sometimes why they didn't speak out. "They say 'because we needed you to grow up and see the world…We were afraid for you.' So we are trying to do the change instead of them," she said. Perhaps that explains the popularity of shouting 'liar' in a country of so much promise. In the previous regime, you could only whisper it.