Friday, September 9, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protest erupt in Iraq, an assassin or assassins killed yesterday but Hadi al-Medhi is not forgotten, Iraqis and human rights and journalism organizations call for his killer(s) to be brought to justice, the Sadr bloc wants to oust the Speaker of Parliament, Nouri wants to hush up the judge heading the corruption investigations, and more.
"They promised to serve the people while all they did is loot!" was one of the cries in Baghdad's Tahrir Square this morning. Alsumaria TV observes, "Massive demonstrations took place in Iraq provinces on Friday." Dar Addustour notes that protests took place in several cities as protesters demanded basic services, jobs and reforms with some activists calling for early elections as well. The paper explains that there were attempts to halt the protest in Baghdad by tightening security and blocking off roads; however, citizens turned out in the "thousands"
We'll come back to Baghdad but demonstrations took place across Iraq on what is called the Dawn of The Liberators. The Great Iraqi Revolution posts video of the protest in Ramadi where the chants included "We're coming to Baghdad, we're all soldiers to liberate Baghdad!" Aswat al-Iraq reports protests took place in Hilla as well with citizens demands ("handed to the Provincial Council") including "dissolving the council, relieving Babil governor from his post, putting to account all corrupted governmental officials, activation of industrial, trade, service, agricultural and sodial services, protection of civil freedoms and adopting talented people for building the new society." A council member responded that the governor is "on probation" and that the other issues are issues that the central government out of Baghdad (Nouri) has to address. The Great Iraqi Revolution reports that in Wasit Province's Kut, "the government refused to grant the activists the permit required. Anti riot forces armed with guns, armors and armored vehicles, ambudlances and police cars are spread in and around the city specifically Amel Square in Kut; and invidiual searches are carried out as well." And they report that "security forces in Wasit province arrested a large number of the demonstrations organizers and the number of detainees exceeded 50 people, among them the activists Sayed Jaber and Sajad Salem were arrested in the city of Kut." Aswat al-Iraq reports on the protest in Falluja where "hundreds of unemployed youths, intellectuals and triable sheiks demonstrated" and organizer Kahmess Jadan al-Lihaibi explains the demands (end to corruption, employment, basic services and a functioning judicial system) included "stopping the work in Kuwaiti Morbarak terminal and calling the UN to intervene to terminate Iranian and Turkish atrocities against Iraqi borders." The outlet reports on the protest in Diwaniya as well noting that the "hundreds" of participants included members of the Socialist Movment, NGOs, Democratic and Communist parties "and some well-known personalities" and they quote the Communist Party's Jabbar al-Shaibani stating that "the demonstration marched with 500 citizens, including women and children, who raised placards denoucning the government and demanding the central and local governments the implementation of basic services, otherwise these demonstrations shall be repeated in stronger manner." Al Jazeera notes protests also took place in Basra and Najaf.
Back to Baghdad, Alsumaria TV notes, " In Baghdad, an Iraqi army force using batons dispersed a demonstration organized by Abu Ghraib residents, western Baghdad, in protest against administrative corruption. Demonstrators staged three rallies in Al Tahrir Square, central Baghdad. The first demanded the elimination of corruption, the second called for the establishment of FAO port and the abolition of borders' demarcation with kuwait while the third objected the visit of Iraqi speaker Ousama Al Nujayfi, and Iraqi Vice President Tarek Al Hashimi to Saudi Arabia. Security Forces closed all entrances to the Green Zone and tightened security measures in anticipation to any security implications." Something's left out of that, did you catch it? Let's move over to Aswat al-Iraq which states that the demonstration in downtown Baghdad (Tahrir Square) lasted over three hours and called for "better services, early elections and termination of corruption" and that they "shouted against Mubarak terminal and the Turkish and Iranian atrocities in the north" (Turkey and Iran's armies are shelling and bombing northern Iraq). Hmm. They miss it too.
"The martyr was one of the activists in the movement against corruption and the curbing of rights and freedoms, through Facebook and through demonstrations in Tahrir Square. He was always stressing the need to reject any violation of the constitution and the law." That's WG Dunlop (AFP) quoting activist Zahir al-Jamaa. Speaking of? Journalist and activist Hadi al-Mehdi who was not at the protest today because he was assassinated yesterday.
His face was seen at today's demonstrations across Iraq as, in Baghdad and throughout, protesters carried photos of Hadi. The Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "Our correspondent in Baghdad:: The government forces refused to release the body of the assassinated journalist Hady Mahdy for the public funeral arranged by protestors. The did not allow a symbolic funeral to take place either.// Hady Mahdy , what greatness! They fear you dead or alive."
Dar Addustour calls the assassination of Hadi "a deep wound in the conscience of Iraq" and Hadi "a shining star in the honored sky illuminating the path in the stuggle against tyranny." In Baghdad today, at the Tahrir protest, activist Hattem Hashem told AFP, "The voice of Hadi will not be silenced, despite his assassination with a silenced weapon." Al Jazeera quotes Hadi once telling the network, "When we speak up and raise our voices they kill us and tell lies about us." They describe his weekly radio program:
Music and humour punctuated his pointed attacks on everyone he thought was ruining Iraq.
Taxi drivers were riveted by the show and callers phoned in to complain about everything - from paying bribes to get running water to politicians who, once elected, moved to the Green Zone, the heavily guarded area where many of Baghdad's government institutions are housed.
Although his favourite targets were corrupt politicians and the Iraqi parliament, he also lashed out at armed groups considered untouchable.
Anne Gowen (Washington Post) reports on the protest in Baghdad and notes Hadi al-Mahdi, "On his radio program, 'To Whoever Listens,' Mahdi loudly criticized Iraqi politicians of every stripe, including Maliki. He had a background in theater, and it showed in his delivery. He often used humor in his attacks. Maliki's officials often had complained about Mahdi's views to the radio station that aired the thrice-weekly talk show, supporters said." Dina al-Shibeeb (Al Arabiya) reports:
Iraqis reacted to the news of Mahdi's death with condemnation and criticized a government they see as increasingly dictatorial and basically unchanged from the rule of its brutal predecessor, Saddam Hussein. In response to Mahdi's killing, a Facebook group, "We Are All Hadi al-Mahdi," was created, and has attracted 1,700 members. "In a cowardice operation a criminal hand killed the activist and the organizer of tomorrow's protest ... " one member wrote, while another commentator said "the path of freedom has become the path of martyrdom … the revolution has begun." One female reader wrote "write all that comes from your souls and hearts, we are all corpses that will be buried one day," and another group member said, "death to Maliki and long live Hadi al-Mahdi."
Al Mada quotes Hanna Edwar stating, "Hadi al-Mahdi was a strong voice calling out attacks on freedom and demanding reforms in the system." Ali Hussein (Al Mada) cals out the assassination and "the silencing of voices of truth and justice" seeing similarities between the current Iraq and Iraq under Saddam Hussein's rule, how "many things have not changed." The assassination of Hadi is a cae where "a citizen loses his life with the utmost simplicity due ot the absence of law and the lack of knowledge and responsibility on the part of those who are supposed to implement the law." The assassin accomplished very little because Hadi al-Mahdi remains in the hearts of Iraqis with the same brilliant smile and childlike features. Ali Hussien writes of knowing Hadi and of Hadi's belief in the future of Iraq, of seeing him last in a Baghdad cafe one evening with friends, full of life and talking about his future and the future of Iraq and he saw Iraq as an adventure and living in Baghdad as an adventure. Ali Hussein ends the column wondering, "Who killed Hadi al-Mahdi? I think all of Iraq should be seeking that answer."
The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the assassination and CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney declared, "Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, and the Iraqi authorities' record of impunity for journalist murders is dismal. Wih this murder, a strong independent voice in Iraq has been silenced. Those who carried out this killing cannot go unpunished." Human Rights Watch issued the following:
(Beirut) -- Iraqi authorities should conduct an immediate, full, and transparent investigation into the September 8, 2011 killing of Hadi al-Mahdi, a popular radio journalist often critical of the government, at his home in Baghdad, and prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. "The killing of Hadi al-Mahdi sadly highlights that journalism in Iraq remains a deadly profession," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "After more than six years of democratic rule, Iraqis who publicly express their views still do so at great peril." Witnesses at the crime scene told Human Rights Watch that they saw no evidence of a struggle or theft, suggesting that the killing was deliberate. Al-Mahdi's cell phone, laptop, and other valuables were left in the house untouched. Al-Mahdi, a freelance journalist and theater director, had been openly critical of government corruption and social inequality in Iraq. His popular talk radio program, "To Whoever Listens," ran three times a week in Baghdad before he left the show two months ago. The program's appeal was al-Mahdi's fearless and scathing voice, laced with a sense of humor, Human Rights Watch said. Leading up to the country's "Day of Anger" mass pro-democracy and anti-corruption demonstrations on February 25, he became increasingly involved as a vocal organizer of Iraq's new protest movement in Baghdad. Human Rights Watch spoke with al-Mahdi during the demonstration on February 25, and he stressed the importance of peaceful protest. As riot police began acting aggressively and groups of protesters started to throw hundreds of rocks, Human Rights Watch saw al-Mahdi take a leadership role with those who locked arms and made a human chain between angry crowds and riot police in an attempt to keep the peace. Many who did so were injured by rocks or by the riot police's use of force. After the protests, security forces arrested him and three other journalists at a Baghdad restaurant. They beat and blindfolded them, and threatened them with torture during their subsequent interrogation. Al-Mahdi told Human Rights Watch after they were released the next day that interrogators had forced him, while blindfolded, to sign what he was told was a criminal confession and also a pledge to refrain from participating in future demonstrations. He showed Human Rights Watch bruises and red marks on his face, neck, and shoulders, as well as on his legs and abdomen. Al-Mahdi continued to attend and organize many of the weekly Friday demonstrations that followed in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. He told Human Rights Watch that on March 4, an unknown man in the crowd approached him in an intimidating fashion and said that security forces were watching him, and then listed all of the people al-Mahdi had called on his phone that day. Al-Mahdi said on March 11 that in the previous week he had been threatened several times by phone or text message not to return to Tahrir Square. Al-Mahdi was also one of the prominent organizers of a big demonstration planned for the first Friday after the end of the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, on September 9. His Facebook profile picture was an announcement for the demonstration, and he posted the following message describing threats against him in the hours before his death:
Enough ... I have lived the last three days in a state of terror. There are some who call me and warn me of raids and arrests of protesters. There is someone saying that the government will do this and that. There is someone with a fake name coming on to Facebook to threaten me. I will take part in the demonstrations, for I am one of its supporters. I firmly believe that the political process embodies a national, economic, and political failure. It deserves to change, and we deserve a better government. In short, I do not represent any political party or any other side, but rather the miserable reality in which we live. ... I am sick of seeing our mothers beg in the streets and I am sick of news of politicians' gluttony and of their looting of Iraq's riches.
The killing of al-Mahdi follows years of targeted violence against journalists in Iraq. Most recently, on August 29, an assailant beat a prominent journalist, Asos Hardi, in Sulaimaniya with a pistol, requiring Hardi's hospitalization and 32 stitches. Since the start of protests in Iraq in February over widespread corruption and lack of services, journalists have faced escalating attacks and threats, including from members of the government's security forces. "In Iraq, we're used to journalists being attacked, but this one was close to the bone," Ammaral-Shahbander, head of the Institute for War and Peace Reportingin Iraq and a friend of al-Mahdi's, told Human Rights Watch after seeing al-Mahdi's body lying in the kitchen at his home. "This attack was different because usually journalists here have been killed in the line of duty, and you expect fatalities in war zones. But sitting in your own home and getting shot like this is too much to bear." Emad al-Ebadi, another friend of al-Mahdi's, told Human Rights Watch that al-Mahdi confided that he was receiving daily death threats via social media and cell phones with blocked numbers: "He would come to me very upset and angry and shows me the incoming calls to support his allegations. I used to try always to calm him down and tell him to not care that much about these phone calls and advise him to be careful at the same time and stay alert." Al-Ebadi, a television journalist who has frequently criticized parliamentary and government figures, survived an attempt on his life on November 23, 2009, when unknown assailants shot him in the neck and head. Al-Shahbander expressed hope that al-Mahdi's killing would not deter Iraq's journalists from reporting on events in the country. "So many journalists have been kidnapped and killed in Iraq but it doesn't matter how many are tortured, intimidated, or killed -- journalists will continue doing their jobs," he said. "This attack just shows how desperate the enemies of democracy have become."
The killing of a prominent radio journalist in Baghdad highlights how Iraqi authorities are failing to protect media workers from continued threats and violence, Amnesty International said today. Hadi al-Mahdi, 44, was shot twice in the head in his flat in the Karrada district of Baghdad yesterday, ahead of a planned protest he was due to attend in the city's Tahrir Square today. Friends have said he had feared for his life after receiving a string of threats in recent weeks. "Journalists continue to pay a high price amid the ongoing violence in Iraq, and politically motivated attacks like this must no longer be tolerated," said Philip Luther, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International. "Iraqi authorities must roundly condemn Hadi al-Mahdi's killing, carry out a full investigation to identify and bring his killers to justice, and ensure other journalists who face threats are given adequate protection if they request it." Al-Mahdi was an outspoken political critic, and his popular Radio Demozy show "To Whoever Listens" took on a wide range of issues. No-one across the political spectrum was spared his scrutiny, and his analysis was described as irreverent and witty, drawing on his theatrical background. Officials in President Nuri al-Maliki's government had reportedly complained to Radio Demozy about the show. Al-Mahdi stopped broadcasting the show about two months ago, reportedly out of fear for his safety. Earlier this week, al-Mahdi had been using social media sites to publicize a protest planned for 9 September in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, where he had been attending weekly protests in recent months. Several hours before he was killed on the eve of the protest, al-Mahdi posted a note on Facebook saying he felt he was in danger: "I have lived the last three days in a state of terror. There are some who call me and warn of raids and arrests of protesters. There is someone saying that the government will do this and that. There is someone with a fake name coming on to Facebook to threaten me." Earlier this year, al-Mahdi had told Amnesty International about how a group of at least 15 soldiers detained him and three other journalists on 25 February, after they had attended a pro-reform demonstration in Tahrir Square. The four journalists were detained overnight for interrogation at the headquarters of the army's 11th division, where al-Mahdi was beaten, given electric shocks and threatened with rape, before being released without charge. In August, Iraq's Parliament passed a new law on legal protections for journalists, who face ongoing politically motivated threats and attacks. However, the law does not provide for their physical protection. "Al-Mahdi's murder just a month after this new law was passed merely highlights this major loophole in the measure," said Philip Luther. "Iraqi authorities must redouble their efforts to ensure journalists can carry out their work in safety."
Hadi al-Mahdi, a theater director and radio anchor who has been calling for reform, said he was blindfolded and beaten repeatedly with sticks, boots and fists. One soldier put a stick into Hadi's handcuffed hands and threatened to rape him with it, he said.
The soldiers accused him of being a tool of outsiders wishing to topple Maliki's government; they demanded that he confess to being a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Hadi told them that he blamed Baathists for killing two of his brothers and that until recently he had been a member of Maliki's Dawa Party.
Hadi said he was then taken to a detention cell, his blindfold off, where he said there were at least 300 people with black hoods over their heads, many groaning in bloody shirts. Several told him they had been detained during or after the protests.
Hadi, who comes from a prominent Iraqi family, and his colleagues were released after their friends managed to make some well-placed phone calls.
"This government is sending a message to us, to everybody," he said Saturday, his forehead bruised, his left leg swollen.
And many believe the assassination Thursday of Hadi was another message from the government of Nouri al-Maliki. NPR's Kelly McEvers Tweeted yesterday:
Meanwhile there's a battle going on between Nouri and members of Parliament. Dar Addustour reports Nouri is attempting to force out Judge Rahim Ugaili as the chair of the Integrity Commission. At Nouri's request and under intense pressure, Judge Ugaili tendered his resignation and Parliament is saying not so fast. Ugaili ticked off Nouri as a result of his investigation of alleged corruption among government officials and Nouri wants Ugaili out so that he (Nouri) can go public with files on his political opponents while ensuring that members of his own Cabinet -- who do have files as well -- will not be revealed publicly. In other news of Parliament, the Sadr bloc is attempting to oust Osama al-Nujaifi as Speaker of Parliament. Dar Addustour cites the bloc's Jawad Hasnawi as stating that and tomorrow Parliament meets to review several proposals.
Timothy McDonald: Baha Mousa was working at a hotel which British soldiers raided in search of weapons in 2003. He was detained with nine others and within forty-eight hours, he was dead. An autoposy showed that he suffered 93 injuries including fractured ribs and a broken nose. His mother wants the men responsible to be prosecuted.
Baha Mousa's mother: Of course he died as a young man. He was deprived of his youth and his children. His sons are deprived by the British soldiers. They killed him so how could the court release them? We call upon the British government to reconsider the report.
Laurence Lee: Baha Mousa died at the hands of British soldiers who were supposed to be making Iraq a better place. Instead this innocent 26-year-old was subjected to abuse described by this inquiry as "vile and cowardly," "a grave and shameful episode for Britian. ... Here's the crux of it: The soldier being filmed [in the video] called a violent bully was the only one to be jailed even though many more are implicated. The techniques as they're called, like hooding, are illegal under the Geneva Convention. Yet Baha Mousa and nine others were subjected to two days of this. The military unit was operating in a building without doors in the open. Soldiers boasted about what they were doing. It was described as "a free for all." Even before Baha Mousa died, the detainees were described as looking like they were in a car crash. The soldiers were using the so-called five techniques: hooding, sleep deprivation, use of noise, wall standing and food deprivation. All had been banned by the British government in 1972. Yet somehow the soldiers knew all about them.
Somehow they knew these techniques. In 2003, techniques that had been banned 31 years before, before any directly involved had even been born, the soldiers knew these techniques. Was it past-life recall? More likely they knew what to do because they were told what to do. They were trained to do what they did. And the inquiry refused to go there. At the same time, the inquiry refused to blame those higher up the chain of command. If the soldiers weren't doing what they were instructed to do, then the command should have known about it. Their refusal to monitor those serving under them is dereliction of duty. The report refused to indict the chain of command in any way or form.
Laurence Lee: The report calls for better training and says soldiers may not have been clear what was allowed. Lawyers for the Iraq detainees say that's absurd.
Phil Shiner: We've seen the training materials. They've managed to lose the training materials from before the war but we've managed to see the training materials from 2005 and 2008. And they're riddled -- those materials -- they're riddled with techniques which were clearly unlawful -- harshing, get them naked and keep them naked if they won't cooperate.
Laurence Lee: This was the biggest inquiry into professional standards in the British army since the Bloody Sunday investigation into the killings of unarmed Catholics in Northern Ireland forty years ago. It tries simultaneously to say that mistreatment of Iraqis wasn't a one-off but that there was no general culture of abuse. Based on the evidence, some are likely to read it as the continuation of a historical pattern.
The final key failure was not holding those in positions of authority accountable. It is perhaps not surprising that a corporal was the only person punished. The laws of war, which the British government promotes elsewhere in the world, states that those in a position of authority who knew or should have known about a serious offence and failed to prevent it, or to hand the matter over for prosecution, are themselves guilty of crimes.
Senior officers should have been aware of the abuse Mousa was enduring. The inquiry heard that Mousa and his fellow detainees endured repeated beatings and hooding. Hooding is one of the "five techniques" that the British government said 40 years ago it would never use again and is prohibited by the Geneva conventions. Such acts are not just a few soldiers out of control, but require training and orders. In fact, given the knowledge of abuse in Iraq in 2003, the most senior officers and the politicians ultimately in charge should have been aware of the extent of the abuse that was taking place. There is precious little evidence of any steps being taken to stop it.
The editorial board of the Arab Times observes, "Predictably, the British Army response has been that this was an isolated incident. It was not as isolated as they would believe. It was not the only British military crime in Iraq. There was Ahmed Kareem, forcibly drowned in May 2003, allegedly by four British soldiers. Many will say that it was just the most recent in a long line of British military atrocities, stretching from its colonial period in India, South Africa, Kenya and elsewhere to, more recently, the troubles in Northern Ireland." In addition, Nina Lakhani (Independent of London) reports, "The Ministry of Defence is facing legal action by the families of 32 dead Iraqi civilians, who they say were killed unlawfully by British troops, unless it agrees to hold an independent inquiry into the deaths so that lessons can be learnt. Among the dead are Hanaan Salih Matrood, an eight-year-old girl, who died after being shot by a British patrol in August 2003. The MoD denies the deaths were unlawful."
As we wind down, in the US an important tenth anniversary is approaching at the end of the month:
Haymarket Books 10th Anniversary Celebration Friday, September 30, 2011 Galapagos Art Space Brooklyn, NY
Haymarket Books is ushering in its tenth year of independent publishing with an evening of drinks, music, and politics at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn on Friday, September 30.
We hope you will join us as we celebrate our first decade and lay the foundation for our next decade.
We will be joined by authors Dave Zirin, Chris Lehmann, Frances Fox Piven, Brian Jones, Moustafa Bayoumi, Michael Schwartz, Jose Vazquez, Jeremy Scahill, and Amy Goodman. We will also have special greetings from Arundhati Roy, Omar Barghouti, John Carlos, ChinaMieville, Mike Davis, Ilan Pappé, Aviva Chomsky, David Barsamian, Wallace Shawn, and other Haymarket writers.
Doors will open at 7 pm and the event will begin at 8 pm.
Congratulations to Haymarket on ten years, a populace that reads is not only educated, it's (more importantly) informed. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. We'll close with this from her office on another 10th anniversary, the 9-11 annivesary this Sunday:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Friday, September 09, 2011 (202) 224-2834
Senator Murray's Statement on 10th Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray released the following statement as the United States prepares to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks this Sunday. "Ten years ago terrorists attacked our country, our financial center, our military headquarters, and our sense of security. The shocking pictures from that day are still fixed in our minds. Our collective history was changed and none of us will ever be the same. On that day, no matter our differences, where we came from in life, the region of the country, our race, religion, or political party - we were all one thing: Americans. "This somber anniversary should serve as a reminder to everyone that there truly is more that binds us than divides us. It is our freedom: to live, to prosper, to govern ourselves, and yes – even to disagree. This makes us all Americans. "Our great nation has withstood many challenges. We have learned and grown together as a result of the attacks of September 11th, and we will never forget that terrible day ten years ago. Our hearts will forever go out to the victims, their friends and family, the volunteers and workers, and the police and firefighters and other first responders who answered the call. "Our nation must also pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who have answered the call to serve after that fateful day ten years ago. Since the attacks, brave American service members have stepped forward to serve our nation. Many of these service members have done more than one tour of duty abroad – sometimes serving, three, four or even more tours. "Many who have served have come from the ranks of our National Guard and Reserves and have turned a part time commitment into a full time job protecting our nation. These men and women, who chose to join our all volunteer force, come from all walks of life and from every corner of our nation. They serve as a constant reminder of what our nation can accomplish when differences are put aside in order to move our country forward, and it is our solemn duty to care for them when they return home. "So as we commemorate this unspeakable tragedy, as we remember the thousands lost, and as we recount the stories of the heroism and compassion, I urge all Americans to remain vigilant, to remember and to revisit the common good that still exists between us all."