LONDON - Iraqi protesters are reviving a campaign to support locally-made products as part of a larger effort to encourage Iraqi sovereignty.
Anti-government protesters have gone beyond staging demonstrations against Iran's influence and backed it up with a practical step: boycotting imported Iranian goods.
The campaign to consume only Iraqi products predates the current protest movement, which began October 1, but the demonstrations helped it gain momentum.
Iran’s reported exploitation of trade relations with Iraq has propelled the Iraqi protesters’ demands. They are openly rejecting their government’s deepened reliance on largely Iranian but also Turkish, Chinese and American products.
Trade between Baghdad and Tehran has gradually increased since 2003, tipping past the $6 million mark in 2015, almost triple the amount recorded in 2008.
Iranian exports to Iraq reportedly totaled $12 billion from January-November 2018.
Although Iran's “Resistance Economy," sanctioned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stands against foreign investment at home, it has no qualms pressuring Iraq into buying cheap and poor quality foodstuffs and goods.
But US sanctions against Iran and some of Iraq’s Tehran-backed figures has encouraged Iraqi youth to think about modernising their country’s factories and industrial capabilities. They are eager to stimulate economic growth and recognise the importance of reversing food insecurity.
The dream is not new. Since 2014, Iraq's Ministry of Agriculture has begun phasing out various food imports. In August 2018, however, a ban on Iranian goods was inexplicably reversed.
The most recent ban extends to all poultry products and fish, as more officials assert, in chorus with the population, that Iraq is able to handle its own food needs. Without a coherent strategy that takes into account climatic factors that challenge local production, agrifood policies are vulnerable to political interference.
Iraq’s glut of goods is difficult to ignore whether in Diyala, dubbed the mother of oranges or Samarra, famed for its succulent melons, or Sulaimaniya and its rich grapes. Support is flourishing as grassroots activists translate ambitions of food self-sufficiency into actionable changes.
The founder of the official “Made in Iraq” Facebook account has been inundated with requests from local factories and businesses seeking to advertise their goods on the page that has accrued more than one million followers. The campaign is the first of its kind to challenge consumer habits and reformulate the national food regime with the participation of local communities and farmers.
Campaigners are advancing a cooperative framework that extends a hand to local factories.
“Our message is dedicated to local manufacturers," the founder of the group wrote. "In the same way we have expressed our solidarity by campaigning, the time has come for you to support our movement by creating jobs for our unemployed youth — the primary backers of ‘Made in Iraq’. They are the ones who are worthy of wages."
The support expressed on the streets and virtual corridors is already replenishing agribusinesses from the state-owned Samarra pharmaceutical company to the Iraqi dairy processing sector.
Three youngsters in the province of Hilla put together a television advertisement showcasing local drink brands such as Sinaco, Trabi, and Tazej.
Other Iraqis have been sharing success stories of start-ups. Within ten days of the campaign's launch, 700 hundred families reportedly joined the cause, and in Basra store owners speak of a slump in the purchase of Iranian goods.
Activists launched the hashtag “let_it_rot” in Arabic to express their anger at US policies blamed for fueling agricultural decline and stripping the country of protectionism.
As the campaign garners nationwide support, calls pressuring state authorities to activate a law that reinforces Iraqi protectionism have gained momentum, with the hope that new legislation can immunise the agricultural sector against unregulated free trade zones that favour Iran.