Baghdad’s so-called “Green Zone” is both a metaphorical and literal barrier between the Iraqi People and their government. Created by US-led Coalition Forces at the onset of the Iraq War, the Green Zone is a war relic that was never dismantled, because Iraq has never been governed as a nation of the People, for the People, or by the People. The Green Zone is literally a security bubble made of gates and check points that isolates Iraq’s political elites from the realities of their self-serving, unresponsive, and thoroughly dysfunctional governance. As Iraqi’s issues are far from unique, the Green Zone is also symbol for poor governance around the globe.
Protesters breached Green Zone defenses for a second time on the Twentieth of May, 2016. Unlike the previous breach, which occurred three weeks earlier, security forces responded with the use of teargas and live ammunition, which resulted in numerous causalities. Where security forces had refused to engage angry protesters, even as many vandalized public property, the choice to confront protesters is analogous to the government’s response. Like security forces, the government hesitated to crackdown on protesters out of fear. The government has now chosen to crackdown on protests instead of resolving grievances as they must.
In the first incident, security forces allowed protesters to express their grievances against those shielded within the Green Zone. During the second incident, however, security forces chose to push back against protesters. Given the choice between addressing protester grievances against the corrupt government and a crackdown on civil disobedience, the Iraqi government has chosen to crackdown on protesters. Although the damage done by protesters is not be condoned, the government is choosing to ignore the harm of their wrongs in order to focus on the wrongs of protesters who have legitimate grievances against their government and want a proper response.
People expect security forces, such as the police, to protect them from threats, but we also need to believe that the police are not a threat themselves; otherwise, they are just armed gangs in the eyes of those who feel marginalized. For security forces to fulfill these two requirements of service and earn the cooperation of a population, they need to have a working relationship built on mutual trust and respect. The police must show respect for the people living in the communities they serve. They must build trust by reaching out to those who do not see the police as a constructive part of their community and lives.
Building on the lack of trust and community outreach, the militarization of police forces throughout America following the September 11 terrorist attacks, for example, has helped transform the police officer from a public servant and valued member of the community into a threatening storm trooper ready for combat. Armor can be a wall when it comes to engaging members of community. The use of riot gear and armored vehicles, which is repurposed military equipment, is a necessary safety precaution in certain situations, but the militarization of a police force also involves a shift in thinking.
Just as a person with a gun is more likely to use that weapon, because having the gun makes the individual more likely to view a situation as threatening enough to justify using it, heavily armed police can only be expected to view potential threats as more serious than they are. The driving force behind this type of escalating dynamic is the lack of working relationships that could turn perceived threats, rooted in insecurities, into allies against real threats. Building healthy relationships, as all security forces need to do, is a means of addressing security interests without creating additional threats by leaving weaker groups feeling vulnerable.
Unlike the United States and most other Western nations, the Iraqi People already have a militarized police force. Insecure, the Iraqi government is also militarized. Like security forces, which end up abusing their authority and breeding distrust within their community due to corruption, the Iraqi government does the same. Instead of cleaning itself up, the government cracks down on those who threaten its power. If the Iraqi government does not start to honestly and aggressive address the grievances of the Iraqi People, Iraq will face a violent crackdown and an even weaker government at a time when threats like the Islamic State are near.
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