Iraqis living abroad who criticise the Iraqi government or its paramilitary Shia militias in the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) face death threats, intimidation and even violence in an attempt to silence all dissent against the regime both within and without Iraq.
A report by the UK-based Foreign Relations Bureau of Iraq (FRB), an Iraq monitoring group, has shown how Iraqis living in Europe are being subjected to extraordinary acts of violence. Others who have spoken to MEMO have also confirmed that they have received death threats against their family members, who still reside in conflict areas of Iraq, including Mosul.
For one Iraqi in Finland, Ali Abdulkader Hassan, it all began with a series of Facebook posts published by Ziyad Jali Al-Saadi, whose profile picture carried an image of firebrand Shia cleric Moqatada Al-Sadr, a senior Iraqi militia and death squad commander. "Attention," the post read, "calling on every patriotic Iraqi to dig out any available information on these two men that reside in Finland." The post, on an account since removed, contained a photograph of 22-year-old Hassan and his friend.
Alsaadi described Hassan as a "secret informant who worked for the Americans before his escape to Finland," and blamed him for "many of Iraq's orphaned children" despite Hassan never having any links to any terrorist or extremist groups.
Hassan was also accused of blasphemy against Iraq's marja'iyya, the ruling Shia clerical establishment, whom Hassan had publicly criticised as being "knee-deep in corruption." Alsaadi was mostly agitated by the anti-PMF views expressed by Hassan on his personal Facebook account. The unprovoked and brutal assault came one day after Alsaadi's post was shared. Three unidentified men ambushed Hassan in the Finnish city of Jyväskylä, and he says that this was a bid to make an example of anyone that may dare to criticise the crimes of the PMF, known in Arabic as the Hashd Al-Sha'abi. Hassan described the day of the ambush as being a normal day in spring, before a car approached, stopped and two masked men lunged out.
"They knew exactly who I was, and beat me relentlessly with metal rods," he said. "They dragged me into their car, and began to drive. One man covered my mouth, and another held a knife to my throat. "This is your warning, from Hakim Al-Zamili," they said in reference to one of Al-Sadr's senior men, who once held a cabinet position as health minister in Iraq until 2007. The men then threw a battered Hassan out of the car and sped off.
Left unable to walk, Hassan was helped by local Finns, and rushed him to hospital. He was mercilessly beaten and suffered numerous breakages to his hands. Despite his recovery, the Iraqi asylum seeker continues to experience shooting pain in his hands, that he says "he cannot use like before." Indirect threats were also levelled at the young men's extended families. "The exact neighbourhoods where the families of these boys live in Iraq are still unknown," Al-Saadi's post read.
This experience was mirrored by another Iraqi who was now living in the United Kingdom, who refused to be named out of fear of reprisals against his family.
"I used to write on social media and criticise the government and the Hashd for the sectarian violence they commit against the Sunnis that is tearing the country apart," the man, known as Faruq, said.
"I stopped when I started receiving messages from fake accounts, giving the exact addresses of my family still in Baghdad," Faruq told MEMO.
"They said that if I did not stop, they would send people to my family's homes, blow their homes up, kill the men and children, and sell the women into prostitution."
Since his beatings at the hands of those unidentified thugs seemingly associated with Moqtada Al-Sadr, Hassan has faced further threats, intimidation and violence to keep him in a constant state of fearing for his life. "Nearly fifteen days ago a red car pulled up to us on the street," Hassan recounted. "Three men were inside, but only two got out. They were masked, carried metal bars and this time had a syringe filled with an unknown substance."
"We fell into a scuffle, but me and my friend tried to push back and block their attempt to inject us…as I wrestled with one, the other pulled out a knife to stab my friend. Luckily the knife was too small, and the layers that the winter here forces us to wear saved his life," Hassan said.
As a crowd began to gather due to the commotion, the attackers panicked and made a quick getaway, Hassan recalled. Despite the severity of both attacks, the Finnish police have been unable to assist Hassan, who currently fears for his life. He suspects that his profile was raised to the attention of PMF commanders back home by Iraqi refugees residing in the asylum reception centre where he lives.
"The Finnish police have not provided me with protection, or moved me to a safe location. I could be attacked at any minute if I stay here. It is clear that Hashd agents abroad want me harmed," he explained. This is not the first event in which the PMF have exported their violence abroad, but still the mainstream media remains muted. Two years ago, 43-year-old Bassim from London received death threats after exposing that former Deputy Prime Minister Baha Al-Araji had purchased assets using laundered money. He was told that his death would cost "no more than a mere fifty pounds." Harassment abroad is neither new or unexpected, and precedes the existing Dawa Party led government in Iraq. What is new is the way criminal elements perhaps associated with the Iraqi authorities are using violence to silence dissent and criticism against them.
The PMF and other Iran-backed Shia jihadists working with the Iraqi government have been accused of conducting a litany of war crimes during "liberation" operations against Daesh extremists over the last two years.