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Iraq: Assassinating the press and the game of recycling politicians

Iraqis continue to take part in anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq on 10 January 2020 [Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency]
Iraqis continue to take part in anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq on 10 January 2020 [Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency]

Journalist Ahmed Abdel Samad and his colleague, photographer Ghali Al-Tamimi, were added to the list of Iraqi women and men martyrs after being assassinated three days ago by what has become officially known in Iraq as “gunfire of unknown gunmen” who fled to “unknown destinations.”

This cliché, ready-made term confirms the disregard for the most important human right, the right to life and the right to the freedom of opinion. What journalist dares, in the atmosphere of intimidation and threats, to report the truth of what is happening? How can independent journalists preserve their lives if they report something contrary to the ready-made official statements? What happened to the “political process” covered in glossy human rights papers? Or is there a new definition for the journalist and their work that only politicians of the “new Iraq” know?

Government spokespersons’ use of this term signifies the presence of a combination of corrupt politicians, militias and mercenaries targeting those they want with impunity. Perhaps they are one of the few who have freedom of movement and expression to assassinate those who cross the red lines they drew, outside the limits of the law and state.

They are a minority that enjoys immunity from punishment by virtue of being “unknown” and “parties,” the most important of which is the “third party.” This term “third party” has been used since the October uprising to disown responsibility for the increasing “unknown” assassinations, especially among those working in the media. In just two months since the beginning of the uprising the Iraqi Journalist Rights Defence Association records that roughly 100 were assaulted and beaten, while media organisations were attacked and there were more than 40 kidnappings and assassinations.

Journalist Abdul Samad and photographer Ghali died after they finished covering the protests in the city of Basra in southern Iraq. In his latest report, Abdul Samad refuted the “anonymity” of assassinations, kidnappings and arrests of demonstrators, holding the government responsible and proving that the “unknown individuals’” identities were known to the government.

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His coverage of the popular protests and his support for the protesters made him a likely candidate for a quick death at the hands of “unknown gunmen” from a “third party” because he crossed their red lines. The “red lines” for journalists and various media workers are drawn so that no one crosses them and affirms their independence and ability to present the truth.

The terms “red lines,” “unknowns” and “the third party” all deserve to be added to the successive occupation governments’ achievements. In November 2009, for example, “unknown persons” attempted to assassinate journalist Imad Al-Abadi. Al-Abadi recovered after doctors in Munich managed to remove three bullets from his brain. On his return to Nasiriyah, his hometown in southern Iraq, he was welcomed by friends. Among them was another individual from his hometown, the well-known singer Hussein Neama, who stated: “I warned him to speak less, there are red lines.”

Iraqi security forces in Iraq on 20 October 2017 [Ali Mukarrem Garip/Anadolu Agency]

Iraqi security forces in Iraq on 20 October 2017 [Ali Mukarrem Garip/Anadolu Agency]

Al-Abadi did not comment on that day, preferring not to speak. Journalist Jawad Saadoun Al-Dami, from Al-Baghdadia satellite channel, was not as lucky as his colleague, as he was assassinated by “unknown armed men” while he was in his car in Al-Qadisiyah neighbourhood, southwest of Baghdad, on September 24, 2007.

Rarely does a year go by without an international report recommending that the government protect journalists and provide an environment conducive to their work. In 2013, a report issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicated that Iraq tops the list of countries where journalists’ killers escape punishment. The report stressed that terrorist organisations are not the only ones responsible for killing journalists, but that there are government officials and organised gangs who also kill journalists in retaliation for their work, without facing justice.

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In 2016, 13 journalists were killed, most of them while covering the battles with Daesh, according to the Iraqi Journalists Rights Defence Association. Meanwhile, 179 journalists were subjected to various types of assaults, including beatings and death threats from “unknown parties” for publishing press reports on corruption in some state institutions. As for the statistics on Iraqi press martyrs, between 2003 and 2016, they indicated that the total number of victims is 227 journalists and media assistants, including 22 foreign journalists, and that Iraqi journalists are targeted by all the conflicting parties without exception.

The atmosphere of intimidation surrounding the work of journalists and restricting their freedom of movement, expressing their views and the lack of accountability for those committing the crimes, increases resorting to killing as an easy guaranteed tool to silence independent voices. It also determines the information available to the public, burying the truth and instead spreading lies and misleading people.

While this has been the general picture for the past 16 years, the campaign of repression and assassinations has increased since the outbreak of the October Uprising. This comes with an increase in awareness among the protesters that rights cannot be granted to one individual and not the other, or to one group and not the other. If one group is granted these rights, they will not be suitable in the long run to build a nation that can accommodate everyone, regardless of the methods of seduction, blackmail, and populist rhetoric.

The fact that the protesters realised this fact frightens the members of government, parliament and militias, as it threatens their personal interests, which they built at the expense of the country. It also threatens all of the sectarian delusions and the manufacturing of false sub-identities, which they worked hard to spread in order to keep the citizens unaware of their rights, homeland, and future.

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The progression of violations and the methodology of silencing voices and depriving the citizen of their rights are what pushes the protesters to refuse that politicians be recycled, even those who submitted their resignations from parliament during the uprising, after participating in the spoils of the occupation and its crimes or keeping peace with it for 16 years. This is out of doubt for their motives like Qusay Al-Suhail (the Shia Dawa Party leader who “resigned” only to be nominated as prime minister as an independent), and Raed Fahmy (general secretary of the Communist Party).

Three days ago, Iyad Allawi, Prime Minister of the first government appointed by the occupation leader Paul Bremer, resigned but did not show any evidence that he was joining the people. The protesters’ rejection of all those who contributed to former and current governments and the “political process” is not a call for revenge, but rather indicates their ambition to achieve real change and build a homeland that the people have and continue to pay a hefty price for.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds on 13 January 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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