Wednesday, August 21, 2013

No justice







Yesterday came the horrible news that yet another person in Iraq's ongoing protest movement had been assassinated.   Haitham al-Abadi was assassinated in his Rifai home.  The assassination came after Haitham received threats from government forces.

Today Human Rights Watch issued another in their ongoing reports about the assault on basic freedoms and protesters in Iraq:

Baghdad’s new governor, Ali al-Tamimi, should immediately declare that he will support Iraqis’ right to exercise free assembly, Human Rights Watch said today. He should revoke regulations that allow police to prevent peaceful protest. On August 2, 2013, security forces invoked the regulations, which breach safeguards contained in Iraq’s constitution, to detain 13 people who attempted to protest against corruption and Iraq’s continuing slide into violence. Al-Tamimi became governor of Baghdad a month ago.
Soldiers detained three protesters, held them for 36 hours and then released them. The police arrested 10 more as they gathered in a central Baghdad square, then charged them with “disobeying police orders,” a criminal offense based on the 2011 regulations, because they had failed to obtain official permission to demonstrate. On August 4, al-Rusafa criminal court threw out the charges, declaring them “fabricated.”
“These latest arrests show just how far Iraqi authorities will go to prevent peaceful protests despite the major problems engulfing the country,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The new governor should start fresh, revoking these unfair regulations to show that he supports the right of people to express their grievances peacefully. It would go a long way to restoring trust in the government.”
The regulations effectively give authorities unfettered power to determine who may hold a demonstration.
Human Rights Watch spoke separately to five of the 13 detained protesters, all of whom said that federal police and soldiers arrested them when they and others tried to gather in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square at around 7 a.m. on August 2. The soldiers detained Ahmed Suhail, his cousin Hussein Abbas, and a third man, took them to the headquarters of the 11th division, and held them there until their release late the following day. By then, the men’s families had “started to ask powerful people to intervene,” Suhail told Human Rights Watch.
Police arrested the other 10 after initially warning demonstrators who were making their way to the square that “the army will arrest you and maybe hurt you” and then telling them that they could not enter the square because they did not have an official permit to demonstrate. A federal police general offered to help the demonstrators get a permit, but instead took four protesters who agreed to accompany him to seek the permit to Bab al-Muatham police station, where police arrested them. Police then brought in six others they had arrested, including two news cameramen who had been among the demonstrators.
Three of these six told Human Rights Watch that soldiers from the army’s 11th division assaulted them before police arrested them. One said soldiers forced them to the ground, beating two of them, after first tying an Iraqi flag around his head to prevent him from seeing. The soldier “beat and kicked us, and called us ‘traitors,’’’ he told Human Rights Watch, and “asked us, ‘Who paid you to come demonstrate?’”

This wave of protests has been going on since December 21st.  This week is the eighth month of these ongoing protests.   Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) has summed up the primary demands as follows:

- End of Sectarian Shia rule
- the re-writing of the Iraqi constitution (drafted by the Americans and Iranians)
- the end to arbitrary killings and detention, rape and torture of all detainees on basis of sect alone and their release
- the end of discriminatory policies in employment, education, etc based on sect
- the provision of government services to all
- the end of corruption
- no division between Shias and Sunnis, a one Islam for all Iraqi Muslims and a one Iraq for all Iraqis.

Early on, Ross Caputi (Guardian) observed, "These recent protests, however, are unique in their size and character. They focus on the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of corruption, brutal repression, and sectarianism. Maliki's regime has military support from the US, and thus the protesters consider it the 'second face' of the occupation." In May, Tim Arango (New York Times) explained of the protesters' demands:

It has also highlighted an uncomfortable reality for American diplomats here who are scrambling to contain the crisis: at the core of Sunni grievances is a set of laws and practices imposed by the United States in the earliest days of the occupation.

The results of those policies, particularly a set of antiterrorism measures, are visible today throughout the country. Informants who once helped the American military now do the same work for the Iraqi government, sometimes putting innocent people in prison. Thousands of detainees, rounded up in terrorism sweeps, languish in prisons for years without being charged.

And former officers of Saddam Hussein’s military, banished by the Americans under their “de-Baathification” policy and later promised by the Iraqis the chance to return and regain their salaries and social status, remain on the outside looking in. 

Protesters have been targeted throughout.  From the March 8th snapshot:

 And they continue to be targeted by prime minister and thug Nouri al-Maliki.   Kitabat reports Nouri's forces killed two more protesters.  The two protesters killed were in Mosul with four more left injured.   Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) counts only one dead but the article has other counting problems we'll get to it in a moment.  All Iraq News reports, "Two demonstrators were killed and three others injured" but notes a security source states the number may rise.  Dar Addustour also reports two dead and they note it was the federal police -- a point that AP seems unclear on -- that did the firing.  This was not local police, this was the federal police -- under Nouri's command because they're under the direct command of the Ministry of the Interior and, in a power grab, Nouri's refused to nominate anyone to be Minister of the Interior.

Attacks like that have happened repeatedly.  The most infamous assault on the Iraqi people by Nouri's thugs?  The Tuesday, April 23rd massacre of the sit-in in Hawija by Nouri's federal forces.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.  UNICEF informed the world that 8 of the dead were children and twelve more children were left injured.

Despite that and so much more, Iraqis have continued their protests.  Stephen Wicken (Institute for the Study of War) observed last month:

Protests against the Maliki government continue in Iraq’s Sunni Arab-majority provinces despite the underwhelming electoral performance of politicians close to the protest movement. Protesters continue to face raids from the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), who have arrested protest organizers in Anbar and Kirkuk. At the same time, protest sites have become targets for attacks bearing the signature of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). These attacks are likely to increase during Ramadan, historically a time of increased AQI activity. The growing violence will pose a stern test to the commitment of the protesters, even as they are galvanized by the religious holiday. Caught between AQI and the ISF, and with Sunni Arab political leaders closest to the protests focused on provincial government formation, it remains unlikely that the protests will return to their early-2013 peak.

Recent weeks have seen renewed attendance at anti-government protests in Iraq’s Sunni Arab-majority provinces, now in their seventh month. Visual evidence from social media shows crowds at Friday protests larger than in May and early June, although still significantly smaller than during the protests’ apex in early 2013. Protest spokespersons have renewed their calls for the release of Sunni Arab detainees and the implementation of a general amnesty law, while continuing to distance themselves from the efforts of politicians seeking to represent them and their demands.

 The protests have been so strong that even Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had to mention them Friday in a speech to the DC  The Center for Strategic and International Studies (which has posted video and audio of the event.

Minister Hoshyar Zebari:  There has been demonstrations and sit-ins in Iraq in many provinces, in western part of Iraq and some Sunni provinces in Iraq for the last eight months and they have kept [can't make out the word], they have sit-ins, they have obstructions, but the government have not resorted to the same methods the Egyptians recently used or deployed to disperse the demonstrators.

As we noted that day, he lied about them, but he had to mention them.

Nothing has stopped them.  Not the holy month of Ramadan, not threats, not being followed from the protests to their own homes, not being harassed, not being arrested, not being wounded or seeing other protesters killed.

For eight months this protest movement has gone on and done so with very little attention from the non-Iraqi press.  There is CNN, there is the New York Times, there is Al Jazeera, Reuters, AFP, Global Research,  PRI, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Associated Press, the Guardian and Workers World.  That's about it for the media.   (As always, The BRussels Tribunal has done great work but I consider them a human rights organization and not the media.)  NPR?  In 2011, Kelley McEvers filed one of the most important reports on the protests (Liz Sly filed the other).  Today?  McEvers 'reports' on kebabs in Iraq.  How very sad.

Friday, is the eight month marker.  Iraqi journalists have and will report on the protests.  They will do this despite Nouri's thugs trying to keep them from the protests.  But the rest of the world will remain largely ignorant of these ongoing protests because they have received so little attention from the world's press.

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