Friday, September 09, 2011

Protests erupt in Iraq


Throughout Iraq today, protests have taken place. The above is a screen snap of the protest in Ramadi from the video The Great Iraqi Revolution has posted. Today is being called "Dawn of the Liberators." TGIR reports that at least 50 demonstrators were arrested in Wasit Province while in Baghdad (below), the protesters were attacked by the police (watch Samir al-Iraq's video of screen snap until the end and you'll see the protesters running as the forces advance).


The photos the Baghdad protesters are holding up are of the assassinated journalist Hadi al-Mahdi. 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."

And yet the New York Times files a 113 brief on the assassination. You know, if I'd have screwed up the Feburary 25th coverage, I think I'd be working overtime right now to make up for it. But that's the New York Times for you -- intentionally obtuse. And on their way towards becoming The Saturday Review. The what? Exactly.

In fact, not only did they screw up the February 25th coverage -- their Saturday Feb. 26th coverage was a lengthy he-said-she-said article giving all the weight to Nouri al-Maliki -- at the same time that the Washington Post had been and was breaking the news that Nouri's security forces had gone around beating and abducting protesters and journalists. NPR would cover it, other outlets would cover it but the Times' single story on what took place couldn't tell you what took place, couldn't tell you about the four journalists eating lunch when Iraqi forces came up and began attacking them with the butts of the guns.

And not only could they not tell it then, but they can't tell it now in Yasi Ghazi's brief. There is nothing in the meager 113 word write up that acknowledges that Hadi was one of the journalists rounded up on February 25th and tortured by Iraqi forces. There is nothing to note that Nouri was called out by Hadi or that forces under Nouri's command tortured Hadi.

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 Baghdad turnout was significant as evidenced by this photo Rami al-Hayali took for the Great Iraqi Revolution.

9-9-2011 a

The only other thing that has to be noted this morning is this Al Mada article in which Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari declares that Nouri's Cabinet and Parliament must decide on how many US troops would remain in Iraq beyond 2011 as the negotiations continue while Nouri's flack maintains that an agreement would be under the sole jurisidiction of his Council of Ministers and would not need input from the Parliament. That's not a new position by Nouri. What makes it news is that Zebari seems unaware of it.

ADDED: Sorry, I forgot, the following community sites -- plus and Cindy Sheehan -- updated last night and this morning.

Since I am adding, let me quickly answer an issue in the e-mails to the public account. Alissa J. Rubin was on Fresh Air yesterday. A friend asked me to note it, there wasn't room. I hate that show but I would've noted it in the snapshot if there'd been room or time. (And may note it today.) A number of visitors stumbled across this entry on Alissa J. Rubin. A few readers also did and both groups e-mailed about it. (No community members did, probably because they know how it goes here.) I have praised Alissa J. Rubin (for readers) and I would rate her work for the Times in Iraq overall to be very good. I would also rate Tim Arango's work overall to be very good. But I'm not here to hand out gold stars. Most of the time, we're commenting on the day to day coverage and doing so daily. We regularly called out Rubin on math. (Math is not my strong suit either unless it's currency.) We called out an easy acceptance on Sahwa. From the title, I had no idea what the entry was about so pulled it up to read it. Then didn't. I saw the date: November 28, 2008. I'm sure the entry is calling her out for claiming that the Iraq War ended in 2011 because of the then-just approved SOFA.

I like Alissa J. Rubin's work overall. I rate it highly. But I do not forgive any of the misinterpretations of the SOFA. The Iraq War might be over today if the SOFA hadn't been misreported on. If people hadn't been lied to repeatedly and told that the SOFA meant that the Iraq War was over by 2011 and all US troops home, then people would have stayed focused.

Some did try to warn in real time. We certainly did here. Go to the archives and pull up Thanksgiving Day 2008. We're calling out the SOFA then (the first time it was actually published -- we also have the entire text of the SOFA via the White House website which finally published it Thanksgiving Day). We continued to call it out.

It was not a minor issue. The SOFA never meant the Iraq War ended. I wrote here over and over and over about this. Not once, not once a year. I did it over and over despite the nasty e-mails, the threats of never (or, in one case, "never ever") being linked to again by certain sites. I did it when the nasty e-mails came in announcing The Common Ills was now delinked to because we either wouldn't stop writing about the SOFA or because we were wrong about the SOFA.

We were right about the SOFA. If we were wrong negotiations wouldn't be taking place right now.

I do know contract law. And I have no respect for anyone that didn't know contract law and didn't have the brains to pick up a phone and find out what it entailed. The SOFA was a contract. It had three options for renewal. If it ran all the way through, it could then mean US troops left, it could mean the SOFA was renewed, it could mean the SOFA was replaced with a new agreement.

We went over and over this in 2008, in 2009, in 2010 and this year. I grew so very tired of this topic but kept bringing it up because so many were lying and claiming the SOFA meant that US troops all left Iraq at the end of 2011. At one point, I even used Rick Springfield's General Hospital contract to illustrate the point thinking that might make it more clear. I tried to talk about it every way possible.

The date of the Rubin entry is November 28, 2008. I'm sure it's about the SOFA. She was far from the only one either lying or wrong. I stand by that entry. Thing is, I doubt she'd stand by the article I'm commenting on. If she did and tried to claim that no one could have known, our entire archives from Thanksgiving Day 2008 forward demonstrate how easy it was to know the truth about the SOFA and its meaning.

I'll also add that some people got it right in real time. Including one friend who was so savaged for reporting reality that they gave up. I have never trashed ___ and never plan to. I have trashed many people I know here (and will again) including friends. But ___ told the truth about the SOFA. ___ walked away when all the nasty e-mails came in. And shortly after ___ was assigned to another region. I do not blame ___ for one minute for walking away from the topic.

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