Friday, April 15, 2011

In Baghdad, they call for Nouri to step down

These days, Iraqi authorities feel free to carry out arbitrary arrests, physical assault and torture of Iraqi citizens who participate in peaceful demonstrations. In fact, they have begun to recruit and utilize of the expertise of the masterminds who were part of the horrific Baathist regime of Saddam. In doing so, they announce the end of any commitment to human rights stipulated in the Constitution they have offered to the Iraqi people as a social contract.

Yesterday, on April 13th at 1:45 pm, armed military\secret-intelligence forces arrived in three vehicles, stormed the offices of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and also the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), for the second time in one month. They arrested OWFI affiliate youth activist Firas Ali, one of the leaders of February 25 Group on Facebook and in Baghdad’s Tahrir square. Those who raided the building intimidated all the youth present, calling them terrorists, though they were the organizing team of a group of demonstrators within Baghdad’s weekly protests who have clearly shown their peaceful intentions, week after week. The armed forces immediately blindfolded Firas Ali, handcuffed him, and took him away, where demonstrators are detained and tortured with the same feared methods used under Saddam’s reign. The armed forces had no court order for the arrest of Firas Ali, or for breaking into the offices.

Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of February 25 Group, was arrested in much the same manner on April 8th, and he remains in custody. It is thought that he is jailed in one of the prisons close to the Baghdad International Airport, along with 17 other demonstrators from Tahrir, but it is impossible to be sure.

The Maliki government thinks it can silence the youth, determined to end what have become the signature characteristics of its rule - oppression and corruption. All the Saddam-style violations, group arrests, and torture will not deter the youth from demanding an end to corruption and to start to an era of equality and freedom, expected in any civilized society.

The OWFI demands the immediate release of Firas Ali and Alaa Nabil. OWFI reserves the right to take to court all those who have given orders for arbitrary arrest, and those who physically assaulted the youth activists. The OWFI also warns those who consider the further torture of freedom lovers such as Firas Ali and Alaa Nabil… They will be pursued, brought to trial for their crimes against humanity, and thrown in the same prisons they now misuse.

We warn the Maliki government to stop denying the human rights of the demonstrators, and we demand an immediate official response, stating any legitimate charges against our activists, their place of detention, and physical condition. We also hold them directly responsible for any and all physical abuse or torture which our activists have been subjected to.

Down with the Baathist oppression

Down with the oppressive and corrupt despots

No more torture of youth activists… Enough is enough!

Yanar Mohammed

OWFI president

It's Friday. In Iraq, protests are taking place. (Screen snap below of last Friday's protests.)

Baghdad has seen protests every Friday since February 25th. Today in Baghdad, AGI reports, "hundreds" are protesting and calling for Nouri al-Maliki to resign. They are doing so in "Liberation Square" (Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad) and have rejected the notion that they will be penned inside a stadium. Alsumaria TV adds:

“Demonstrators chanted “Leave Maliki, Leave” and “wind of change has arrived” in the middle of an intensive presence of the Iraqi security forces,” the reporter added.
Baghdad Operations had declared on Wednesday that Al Shaab and Al Kashafa Stadiums in Al Rassafa and Al Zawra’ Stadium in Karakh were appointed as substitute regions to hold licensed demonstrations instead of Al Tahrir and Al Ferdaws squares.
This demonstration is the first of its kind, since the beginning of demonstrations in February 25, as to calling for Prime Minister Al Maliki to step down. Demonstrations slogans have called to halt corruption and to implement reforms and change. These demonstrations were organized by university students and independent educated people thru social networking websites. It is to be noted that security forces had applied tight security measures and curfew to prevent demonstrators from reaching the gatherings. To that, Iraq police opened fire and many people were killed and injured.

In 'free' Iraq, protesting means being called a "Ba'athist" and a "terrorist" by Nouri al-Maliki and his supporters. It means risking arrest, risking kidnapping and risking torture. In fact, just covering the protests have put journalists at risk of all three. And yet every Friday the people gather in Baghdad and say no to corruption, say no to political prisoners, say no the government that refuses to represent them. In Defense of Marxism posts an alert from Iraqi union organizer Akram Nadir:

Firas Ali, an Iraqi political activist, was detained at the office of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq, Baghdad, at about 2pm on 13 April. A protester, Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif, is believed to have been detained on 1 April on Tahrir Square, Baghdad. Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of the February 25 Group, was also arrested on April 8, and remains in custody. It is feared that they and other detained activists are at high risk of torture.

Political activist Firas ‘Ali, 30 years old, is reported to have been detained by members of the armed forces early in the afternoon of 13 April, at the Baghdad office of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq. An eyewitness told Amnesty International: “Two men in plain clothes and three soldiers asked about Firas ‘Ali. They did not show an arrest warrant. Later I could see Firas ‘Ali blindfolded and handcuffed being forced by soldiers into a vehicle and taken away.” Friends of Firas Ali have not been able to contact him via his mobile phone since his detention and his whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears that Firas ‘Ali is at high risk of torture.

Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif, a 24 year old casual worker, attended protests at Tahrir Square on 1 April for the first time. He was with two friends who briefly left him at about 11.30, but when they returned about 10 minutes later he was no longer there. There were no witnesses to his detention. However, Iraqi activists have told Amnesty International that on previous occasions protesters have been “discretely” led away from the protests and detained. A member of his family who is a political activist told Amnesty International he fears that Haidar Shihab Ahmad Abdel Latif was taken instead of him. His family has searched at hospitals and made inquiries with the authorities but has still no information of his whereabouts.

Alaa Nabil, another youth leader of the February 25 Group, was also arrested on April 8, and he remains in custody. It is believed he is being kept j in one of the prisons close to the Baghdad International Airport, together with 17 other demonstrators from Tahrir, but it is impossible to be sure.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English or Arabic. We provide a Model Letter below to be sent to the following email addresses: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Add also the address of your nearest Iraqi embassy that can be found at the following link: (Please send appeals before 26 May 2011 to the Iraqi embassy in your country)

Please send copies also to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it so that we can keep those campaigning for their release informed.

From yesterday's snapshot:

Last week, Nouri al-Maliki, thug of the occupation, ordered attacks on Camp Ashraf. The United Nations now has observers in the camp. Louis Charbonneau and Bill Trott (Reuters) report the UN has confirmed that 34 people were killed and the reporters note, "The fatality count was the same number of deaths Ashraf residents had reported." They note that the death toll had been reduced to three in claims made by Nouri's officials. Yesterday Lara Jakes (AP) reported that at least 17 injured residents of Camp Ashraf were "forcibly removed from their hospital beds" by Iraqi forces and left/dumped at Camp Ashraf. Jakes explained, "Three women were among the patients, many of whom were bandaged, according to the doctor and an ambulance driver who spoke on condition of anonymity because that were not authorized to speak to the media." Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28, 2009 the world saw what Nouri's word was actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. Iran's Fars News Agency reported last week that the Iraqi military denied allegations that it entered the camp and assaulted residents. Specifically, Camp Ashraf residents state, "The forces of Iraq's Fifth Division invaded Camp Ashraf with columns of armored vehicles, occupying areas inside the camp, since midnight on Saturday." Friday saw another attack which the Iraqi government again denied -- this is the attack that the UN has now confirmed resulted in 34 deaths. AFP reports, "European parliamentarians on Thursday urged the United States and the United Nations to help protect residents of a camp housing Iranian dissidents in Iraq, which witnessed a deadly assault by government forces. A statement signed by more than 100 members of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe also called on the European Union to demand 'the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Camp Ashraf'."

The news that Nouri's government did kill 34 residents of Camp Ashraf and lied -- and LIED -- about it is news. Unless you're the New York Times which only has room for three brief sentences by Michael S. Schmidt on the issue. Al Kamen (Washington Post) notes that US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher will be leading a visit to Camp Ashraf in June. Considering the abusive rulers who've fallen in the last fifty or so years, you'd think the paper would want to have their documentation ready in real time for the inevitable. Human Rights Watch issued the following today:

(New York) - Iraq should ensure that a promised investigation into deadly clashes between the Iraqi army and Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq dissidents at Camp Ashraf be thorough, independent, and transparent, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 14, 2011, the United Nations said that 34 camp residents were killed and dozens wounded during clashes six days earlier, on April 8. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the army used excessive force against the unarmed Iranian dissidents.

Iraq's military initially said three Ashraf residents were killed and the Iraqi Defense Ministry said on April 12 that it would investigate the incident. Authorities have still not made public the results of an investigation into a July 2009 raid by Iraqi security forces on Camp Ashraf that killed at least seven Mojahedin-e Khalq members. No one is known to have been held to account for those deaths.

"The residents of Camp Ashraf don't need more lip service about yet another investigation," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Iraqi authorities need to reveal the results of the 2009 investigation and appoint credible independent experts to look into this latest incident."

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said on April 14 that the UN team had seen 28 bodies at Camp Ashraf, and that most had been shot, including several women. Six bodies were missing, Colville said.

Details of the incident remain murky, with camp residents and security forces blaming each other for the deaths and violence in widely different accounts of what happened. The Iranian exiles said that Iraqi security forces invaded their camp, killing 34 unarmed civilians and wounding more than 300, in an unprovoked attack that involved security forces opening fire and crushing people under Humvees.

On April 14, Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesperson for the Iraqi prime minister's office, told Agence France-Presse that "our security forces believe that the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape ... They had already committed similar acts in the past." Iraq's military had initially said three dissidents were killed when security forces responded to rock-throwing and threats by residents during an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers.

The deaths are the latest in a series of violent incidents at Camp Ashraf, where members of an Iranian dissident group, Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, have lived for over two decades. The Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein allowed the Mojahedin-e Khalq to base itself in Iraq in 1986. In 2011 more than 3,000 persons remained in Camp Ashraf, in Diyala province, north of Baghdad; they surrendered their weapons to US forces following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many Iraqis have alleged that the group's members actively participated in campaigns against opponents of Saddam Hussein's government, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has indicated its intention to shut down the camp.

The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that "law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty." The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials "shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force" and may use force "only if other means remain ineffective." When the use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must "exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence."

Finally, we've long called out Scott Ritter aka Pig Ritter who was twice arrested before the start of the Iraq War for attempting to have sexual relations with underage girls. Eight months after Barack Obama was sworn in, Ritter was again arrested -- same charges. AFP reports, "A former UN weapons inspector nabbed in an online sex sting was convicted on Thursday on six counts, including unlawful contact with a minor, for exchanging explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl in a chat room and then performing a sex act on himself." You have to have standards. Some didn't grasp that and warmly welcomed Pig Ritter. "Some" include a certain man whose actions related to Ring Around The White House -- yeah, I'm going way back -- were seen not as journalism but as CIA-related. (For more on that, see the roundtable in today's gina & krista round-robin.) Wasn't his sudden involvement cute? And didn't he seem to show up as the efforts to kill the protest mounted? And didn't the federal government suddenly seem to have all sorts of inside knowledge? And didn't he flirt with the most vain (and, yeah, most stupid) among us to ensure he'd be present to trash Coretta Scott King (yeah, he trashed her) and to even answer phones. We're not all tired and washed up folk singers who needed to see ourselves as "Queen Jane Approximately." Some of us have a lot more on the ball than that and were paying attention even then. And, of course, Elaine and I do have our FBI files from that time period and did tremendous cross referencing to figure out which government snitch was which. Scott Ritter went down yesterday. Maybe his little friend goes down next?

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