Iraq anti-government protest civil unrest
(Image: AP/Hadi Mizban)

Protests in Hong Kong have continued to escalate over the last week. A teenage protester has been wounded by police, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam has invoked colonial-era emergency powers to ban face masks. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and shadow minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong have both expressed deep concern, cautioning China against inflaming the situation or eroding the rule of law.

That the situation in Hong Kong has received months of detailed media commentary (including in Crikey) is, of course, appropriate. But why haven’t anti-government protests in Iraq gotten the same attention?

At least 90 protesting civilians have been killed by the Iraqi army and police in less that a week, yet the reaction here in Australia has been sparse. The news led AM’s bulletin on Monday, and wire service pieces from Reuters, the The New York Times and the Associated Press have dutifully been run in the major papers. But there has been little response from the commentariat who have provided a flurry of commentary on Hong Kong. Likewise, there have been no statements from Payne or Wong on the deaths or unrest.

Why the relative lack of interest? Is Australia not as invested in Iraqi democracy that it is in Hong Kong? If not, it will be news to the thousands of troops we have sent to Iraq since 2003, and the hundreds still there. It may also surprise the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which administers the $100 million dollar “Humanitarian and Stabilisation Package” in Iraq, which is partly aimed at paying for the basic services the protesters are demanding.

Indeed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted that financial support when he visited with his Iraqi counterpart Adil Abdul Al-Mahdi in December and said Australia was “a friend of a free, independent and sovereign Iraq”.

Given that the Australian-backed invasion of Iraq was nominally intended to bring about a flourishing of democracy in the region, Iraqis might wonder why no one in our media or political class has anything much to say.

Peter Fray

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