Monday, January 11, 2021. Protesters shot and killed, attorneys shot, journalists threatened and more.
ASHARQ AL-AWSAT reports, "Despite overwhelming reports of activists being targeted and security forces using brute force to suppress demonstrations, anti-government protestors continued to rally across Iraq’s southern Dhi Qar province, especially in its capital, Nasiriyah." It's an oil rich province with oil fields in Nasiriyah and Subba -- both operated by Dhi Qar Oil Company. September 22nd, protesters were able to shut the company down. Currently, the temperature is 41 F with it expected to rise to 71 tomorrow during the day. Dhi Qar is a province with approximately two million people, the bulk of whom are Shi'ites. The marshlands are the home of the Ma'dan and other minorities in the province include Sunnis, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Mandeans. MIDDLE EAST EYE noted last year, as protests continued there, that the province "is the cradle of ancient Sumerian civilization. It is also thought to be the birthplace of Abraham, patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity." It is a province of poverty -- the poorest province in Iraq -- with food insecurity and a lack of jobs among the historical trends there since the 2003 US-led invasion. Dhi Qar has 233 mountains with the highest point being Dulayat Dhulah. It also has shootings, lots and lots of shootings. Today, one attorney was injured when he was shot and, two days ago, an attorney who headed a lawyers union was shot dead.
Sura Ali (RUDAW) reported Saturday:
Two protesters in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah were injured in
clashes with police forces who fired tear gas and bullets at crowds,
activists in the city told Rudaw on Friday.
The police crackdown in Habboubi Square, often the center of protests in the city, comes the day after a large-scale arrest campaign against activists on Thursday, the two activists told Rudaw. Among those subjected to Thursday’s crackdown was activist Ihsan al-Hilali, who was run over by a police car and arrested, both activists said.
"The demonstrators wanted to enter Habboubi Square in Nasiriyah and protest peacefully on Friday afternoon, but the security forces prevented them, which led to clashes,” said Wali Jabar, an activist in Nasiriyah.
"Security forces confronted the protests with tear gas canisters and fire," Jabar said.
And Amsiiraq Tweeted:
The government responded how? By arresting a journalist -- remember, the real 'crime' in Iraq is always reporting. Hiwa Shilani (KURDISTAN 24) explained:
A media rights organization in Iraq announced late Friday evening that a reporter and a cameraman for the Zagros media outlet had been arrested in the southern city of Nasiriya while covering protests against the previous detention of a local activist.
The Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq (PFAAI) quoted Falah al-Fadhli, news director of the Erbil-based television channel, as saying that correspondent Ali Saleh and his cameraman were arrested while covering protests that began in downtown Nasiriya's al-Habboubi Square which was followed by clampdowns by security forces.
Zaid Salem (AL ARABY) reports that security officials have been threatening journalists over their coverage of the protests with three citing threats and one explaining a digital militia in Baghdad follows the webpages of activists and journalists and what they say about the protests.
On Sunday, per AL HURRA, the riot police and militias are said to have fired on protesters in Nasiriyah and the Iraqi military is said to have started firing at the riot police and the militias to protect the protesters. Zeiden Alkinani Tweeted:
ALJAZEERA offers this section of Murtada Faraj's AP report to provide context on Nasiyah:
A sprawl of tents in Haboubi Square had remained in place until November 2020, when eight people were killed in clashes between anti-government protesters and followers of the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
Anti-government protesters reoccupied the square on Friday, demanding the release of peers who have been arrested in recent weeks.
More than 500 protesters were killed in the crackdown on mass protests that began in October 2019, when thousands rallied against corruption, unemployment, poor public services and other grievances.
Protesters in the square were attacked by Sadr supporters in late November, leaving at least seven people dead and scores wounded. Protesters returned to resume demonstrations and rebuild their tents a week later.
[. . .]
Mohammed Salih al-Iraqi, a Twitter persona close to Sadr and suspected by some to be Sadr himself, took shots at the protest movement on Sunday for demanding the release of protesters.
"The Sadrists have never pushed the government to release their detained brothers, because they believe in law, unlike the "mob" Nasiriyah protesters who provoked riots after arresting one of them," he tweeted.
Protests are taking place elsewhere in Iraq as well, such as Babil Province:
Protests began in 2019 -- generally said to be October 1, 2019 but actually September 30, 2019 -- across Iraq. These protests would eventually topple the prime minister -- Adil Abdul al-Mahdi. May 7th, Mustafa al-Kadhimi became prime minister. The protests took place in Nasiryah with a particularly violent day being November 28, 2019 which saw at least 27 protesters killed and another 152 left wounded. The very next day, the Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq formed a body to investigate the muders. As with all such 'investigations,' nothing came of it.
Iraq is a land rich in oil but a country where justice is in short supply. Aditi Sahu (MIDDLE EAST HEADLINES) reports:
When Mustafa al-Kadhimi became Prime Minister of Iraq in May 2020, he promised a new country. In particular, he promised to bring an end to Iraq’s dismal legacy of enforced disappearances, many of which are carried out by Iraqi security forces and Iran-backed armed groups. However, despite his promises to hold those implementing enforced disappearances accountable and deliver justice, there has been little change in the country. Today, Iraq has one of the highest numbers of missing persons in the world, and this continued practice is taking a toll on the nation and its people. As anti-government protests sweep across Iraq, al-Kadhimi must keep his word and act to end enforced disappearances or risk losing public support.
Enforced disappearance is when an individual is covertly abducted or imprisoned with the support of the state or a political entity. After the individual is captive, the perpetrators refuse to acknowledge they have carried out an abduction or disclose the captive’s location, intending to place them outside the protection of the law. According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, enforced disappearances are considered a crime against humanity in international criminal law.
Enforced disappearances are a common tactic for silencing dissidents, activists, and political opponents in authoritarian countries. The practice is used to strategically spread fear within communities and often result in the torture and sometimes the deaths of captives. Although enforced disappearances are common in countries ranging from Syria to Sri Lanka, they are particularly present in Iraqi society. According to the International Commission on Missing Persons, approximately 250,000 to one million individuals are missing due to enforced disappearances. Because of this alarming statistic, al-Kadhimi’s promise to end enforced disappearances resonated strongly among the Iraqi people. The Prime Minister also promised to introduce a new mechanism for locating victims of enforced disappearances, sparking hope among the country’s citizens that they would be reunited with their loved ones. Al-Kadhimi’s statement was also impactful because it was one of the first public proclamations by a Middle Eastern leader to end the practice, suggesting this could signal a potential turning point in a region that has a longstanding history of relying on the tactic. Despite these hopes, many months passed, and al-Kadhimi has done little to follow up on his promise.
In other protest news, the US Treasury Dept issued the following on Friday:
Washington – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Iraqi Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC) Chairman and former National Security Advisor Falih al-Fayyadh for his connection to serious human rights abuse. During protests beginning in October 2019, Iran-aligned elements of the PMC attacked Iraqi civilians demonstrating against corruption, unemployment, economic stagnation, poor public services, and Iranian interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs. Al-Fayyadh was part of a crisis cell comprised primarily of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia leaders formed in late 2019 to suppress the Iraqi protests with the support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). Today, Iran-aligned elements of the PMF continue to wage an assassination campaign against political activists in Iraq who are calling for free and fair elections, respect for human rights, and clean government.
“By directing and supervising the murder of peaceful Iraqi demonstrators, Iran-aligned militants and politicians such as Falih al-Fayyadh have been waging a violent campaign against Iraqi democracy and civil society,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States will continue to hold accountable human rights abusers in Iraq who aim to deny the Iraqi people in their efforts to peacefully protest, seek justice, and root out corruption in their country.”
This action is taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.
Falih al-Fayyadh (al-Fayyadh) is the head of the PMC, a body created by Iraqi legislation to bring the PMF militias under central government control. Although the PMF was established to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), many PMF militias are increasingly focused on advancing their own economic interests and supporting Iran’s regional agenda in Iraq, rather than protecting the Iraqi state or its citizens. Al-Fayyadh was the head of the PMC when many of its subcomponents fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters in late 2019, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis. Al-Fayyadh was a member of the IRGC-QF-supported crisis cell with previously sanctioned militia leaders Qais al-Khazali and Hussein Falah al-Lami, as well as the now-deceased IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani and PMC deputy leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Until July 2020, Al-Fayyadh was also the Iraqi Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor.
Al-Fayyadh is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13818 for being a foreign person who is or has been a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse.
The IRGC-QF, designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 25, 2007, is a branch of the IRGC responsible for external operations and has provided material support to numerous terrorist groups, making it a key component of Iran’s destabilizing regional activities. The IRGC-QF’s parent organization, the IRGC, was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 13, 2017, and on April 15, 2019 was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Secretary of State.
As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the person above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, the President signed E.O. 13818 on December 20, 2017, in which the President found that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, had reached such scope and gravity that it threatens the stability of international political and economic systems. Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.
The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.
The charges are not new -- AFP reminds, "the US Treasury said Fayyadh was responsible for brutal attacks on protesters in October 2019." NEWSWEEK's Tom O'Connor notes, "Iraq's state-affiliated collective of militias defiantly celebrated its leader being hit by U.S. sanctions, considering it an honor to have him viewed as one of Washington's foes" and quotes a statement made by a militia spokesperson, "We congratulate the friend of the martyrs, Popular Mobilization Committee Chairman Falih al-Fayyadh, on his inclusion with the honorable ones whom the U.S. administration considers enemies." REUTERS adds al-Fayyadh "was also praised by the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah." However, Ali Jiwad (ANADOLU AGENCY) observes, "The Iraqi Foreign Ministry on Saturday slammed a US decision to backlist Falih al-Fayyad, the leader of the powerful Hashd Shaabi militia, or the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF)." Is the Ministry slamming the US government for finally taking some form of action against those attacking the protesters? Goodness knows that the Iraqi government has done nothing to protect the protesters.