Iraq's 'Beirut People': Fighting Islamic State 'from Hamra Street'

Iraq's 'Beirut People': Fighting Islamic State 'from Hamra Street'
A new euphemism in Iraq mocks corrupt Iraqi politicians and clerics based in Beirut.
2 min read
01 Feb, 2017
Some politicians have fled war-torn Iraq to a more comfortable climate [AFP file photo]
Arabs are known for their creativity when it comes to political slogans and euphemisms, and none more so than Iraqis.

Iraq has seen a calamitous decade and a half, which has inspired many sarcastic nicknames for corrupt politicians, war-profiteers and collaborators after the US-led invasion that has radically transformed this ancient land, for better or mostly for worse.

One famous case of wordplay after the war was Al-Hawasim – the decisive ones. Iraqis used the term, inspired by the Saddam regime’s name for what was supposed to be the last, decisive battle with the invaders, to refer to the class of looters that profited from the war.

Before that, of course, there was Saddam’s Umm al-Maa’rik, The Mother of All Battles, which has since infiltrated the English language.

There are dozens of such euphemisms currently in Iraqi political usage, and they have spread widely among Iraqis on social media.

One such new euphemism is the Beirut People. It refers to Iraqi politicians who have decided to use Beirut as their new base, after authorities in the UAE, Jordan and Turkey decided to step up restrictions on financial transactions and investments by Iraqis over suspicions of graft and money laundering.

Ahmad Saadi, an Iraqi activist, explained that the term refers to Iraqi officials who abuse public funds then base themselves out of Beirut, while simultaneously engaging in hypocritical rhetoric drafted “in Hamra Street,” in reference to the hip Beirut district frequented by tourists and students.

Activist have leaked pictures of Iraqi politicians and clerics enjoying themselves on holiday in Beirut, while at the same time issuing statements to the Iraqi people to continue the struggle, fight Islamic State, and remain patient as a financial crisis ravages the country and leaves millions destitute and unemployed.

According to estimates by an official at the Ministry of Finance, up to $370 million was deposited by Iraqi politicians or individuals close to government officials in Lebanese banks in 2016 alone.

Lebanon’s bank secrecy laws have always triggered allegations of the country serving as a prime magnet for money laundering and as a haven for the fortunes of dictators and corrupt politicians.

Iraqi Central Bank regulations prohibit the transfer of more than $10,000 per person per trip abroad. However, according to the same official, hundreds of dollars are transferred out of Iraq by politicians, primarily to Lebanon, the UAE and Jordan as well as other destinations including in South America.