Friday, June 10, 2011

Attempt To Squelch Iraq Protests By Government Fails

On May 27, 2011, four organizers were at a protest in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square when plainclothes officers tried to detain them. When the four resisted, soldiers from the 11th Army Division approached, and pushed them into an ambulance that took them away. Demonstrators and family members immediately demanded their release, but the government denied knowing anything about the matter. Eventually, the state-run Iraqiya television station admitted that the four were being held at the Muthanna Airport prison, allegedly for possessing fake media passes. On June 4, the Baghdad Operations Command spokesman General Qassim Atta announced that the four would be released on June 4 or 5.

The four activists were finally released on June 7. They held a press conference afterward. One said that they were taken to the Muthanna Prison, where they were left standing, while handcuffed and blindfolded. Soldiers accused them of having fake IDs, tearing up posters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and being Baathists and terrorists. The four demanded that the premier apologize to them. They also noted that they were bailed out, which meant they still had charges hanging over them that could be used against them if they were arrested again. The four pledged that despite that they would continue to demonstrate. General Atta denied all of those charges, claiming that he visited the four at Muthanna, and helped them, by getting better conditions, and denied that they were mistreated.

The arrest of the four was one of the most recent attempts by the prime minister to crack down on demonstrators. The release of the four coincided with the end of Maliki’s 100-day deadline for the government to improve its work. That pledge was made to placate the national protests that were going on at that time. The government was obviously worried that after the 100 days ended there would be another wave of protests. The arrest of the four who had been organizing events since February, and another raid on activists the next day, were pre-emptive strikes meant to deter anyone from coming out in the future. The authorities’ effort seemed to fail as there are reports of events happening in several cities across Iraq today Friday, June 10. 

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Hundreds rally after Iraq deadline,” 6/10/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Four detained activists not tortured – Atta,” 6/8/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Atta denies charges of bargaining Tahrir Sq. detainees before releasing them,” 6/8/11

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