Guns, Bombs and Morality

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Iraq has regained a semblance of stability since the defeat of the Islamic State, the departure of most foreign troops, and the growth of Iranian influence in the capital of Baghdad in recent years. To counter that influence, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates announced last year they would invest $3 billion into infrastructure in the war-torn country, as World Politics Review noted.

Still, as radical Iranian mullahs and ultra-orthodox Muslim sheiks pour money into the country, they are fueling a new kind of instability, and a morality race.

For example, an assassin on a motorcycle recently shot and killed Um Fahad, a well-known Iraqi TikTok personality, presumably for “wearing tight or revealing clothing, or singing and cuddling her young son,” wrote the New York Times. She had 460,000 followers – but conservative Iraqi officials sought to jail her for 90 days for dancing at her six-year-old son’s birthday party.

She was the third such personality killed in less than a year in the country, suggesting that behaviors associated with Western values and secular culture are increasingly coming under fire in the Middle Eastern country, which had been a secular state following independence in 1932, with religion later subordinated to Arab nationalism and the state under Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, this crackdown has come on the heels of youth-driven civil unrest in Iraq that began before the pandemic, in 2019, over corruption and Iran’s influence in the country.

At the same time, Iraqi lawmakers have also passed a new law that would criminalize homosexuality and alternative gender expressions, reported Agence France-Presse. Those convicted of same-sex relations would face 15 years in prison. Transgender folks could be sentenced to three years in jail. A host of other punishments are included in the legislation. Human rights advocates portrayed the changes as codifying discrimination and violence.

Some Iraqis supported the law because they say it draws its inspiration from Islam. But Baghdad resident Hudhayfah Ali told the Associated Press that he opposed it. “Iraq is a country of multiple sects and religions,” he said. “Iraq is a democratic country, so how can a law be passed against democracy and personal freedom?”

Meanwhile, civil society is not necessarily flourishing in other parts of Iraq like Kurdistan, an independent region where American officials wield significant influence after cooperating closely with Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic State, as the Wilson Center explained. In Kurdistan, freedom of the press is under fire, according to Jurist News. Violence still mars the region, too. Turkey recently claimed to have killed 32 Kurdish terrorists who allegedly aimed to establish a sovereign Kurdish nation on Turkish territory, Reuters wrote. That’s soon after Turkey began strengthening its diplomatic and military relationship with Iraq and making deals for water, the New Arab wrote.

Powerful forces are shaping Iraq, from within and without. Unless it puts its house in order, as analysts noted, Iraq won’t be able to resist or control them, much less obtain the stability it needs to grow.

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