x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Freedom of speech in Iraq under threat

The crisis between politicians and journalists has intensified after the Al Rafidayn Bank in the Kurada district of central Baghdad was the victim of an armed robbery that led to the death of eight security guards and the theft of about $5 million.

The crisis between politicians and journalists has intensified after the Al Rafidayn Bank in the Kurada district of central Baghdad was the victim of an armed robbery that led to the death of eight security guards and the theft of about $5 million, wrote Ali al Sharifi in a comment piece for the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat. Iraqi journalists have accused some influential political forces of being behind the crime. The claim was confirmed by a high government source that an officer in the security guard of the vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi masterminded the operation.

"Journalists reporting the incident were accused by many members of the vice president's party  of being disloyal to the nation. This prompted hundreds of Iraqi  journalists to take to the streets of Baghdad, denouncing such accusations and attempts by the government to restrict freedom of speech." Journalists were also worried about a law that has been reportedly under discussion that aims to ban many websites the government considers as immoral and an incitement to violence. "Iraqi journalists have dreamt of a new era of freedom. They especially wished they could act truly as an efficient fourth estate and be safe from constant threats. So far, 300 journalists have been killed since 2003."

"What is going on between Syria and the US? And at what stage  does the dialogue now stand between the two countries?" asked Satea Noureddine in a comment piece for the Lebanese daily Al Safir. The breakthrough on the US-Syrian track also led to an opening on the Saudi-Syrian track. 

Three rounds of dialogue tied to US conditions were held between Damascus and Washington. The US asked Syria to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon  and contribute to maintaining the truce announced by Hamas. Yet the American administration did not abide by any of the conditions set. The only step the Americans have made was appointing an ambassador to Damascus.  "The US-Syrian dialogue is being carried out while Syria is fully aware that it can no longer use Lebanon and Palestine as its own experimental laboratory and that peace negotiations with Israel cannot resume unless the US president Barack Obama convinces the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Nethanyahu to hold an international conference on peace. At this point we cannot argue whether the dialogue will progress or otherwise come to a halt, but we feel that the two countries are less committed to talks than we expected." 

It is likely that the reformists will lose the battle in Iran, but not the entire war, wrote Saleh al Qalab in an opinion piece in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida. Many political opponents were incarcerated and raped in Iranian prisons. Increasingly, it has become clear that the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is determined to continue his battle until the end.

Thus, the reform movement has been losing momentum. They are cornered. "If the situation remains as such, perhaps the regime will dare to target such leaders as Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami and even force them to admit what the court dictates. "Now the way is clear for Mr Ahmadinejad as he heads the intelligence services and sides with the Revolutionary Guards. Now he is in a stronger position than ever to attack. He has started to spread fear everywhere, forcing reformist pawns to admit under threat they had been collaborating with external powers, mainly the US."   Mr Ahmadinejad's group has tightened their grip on the reform movement leaders, who face a dilemma: either they must back down and recognise the legitimacy of the president or continue opposing the current situation. In case they accept defeat, they will go down in history as a bad example of failed heroism in a country known for its history of fighting tyrants and dictators.

In a comment piece featured in the London-based newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat, Abdul Rahman al Rashed wrote that although more than five months separates us from the Iraqi legislative elections, political forces are engaged in a beehive of activity to form new coalitions and assess the general public trends. But most important of all, many actors promised to espouse different approaches to break away from sectarian considerations.

One cannot rush to say that the political scene in Iraq has been cured of deep-seated sectarian affiliations. Nonetheless, the elections caused many symbolic religious and sectarian leaders to lose their seats in their strongholds, which may indicate that Iraqis have started to change their attitudes. "I am still sceptical, though, that religious parties will be able to transform themselves into real political parties. We need to wait and see how these groups will present themselves to the public. It is true that consolidating religious unity is essential to restore relationships among citizens who have undergone tough times of sectarian conflict, yet the dominion of religious parties will continue to pose problems. This is because weak candidates find igniting sectarian differences is an easy way to manipulate voters."

* Digest compiled by Mostapha Elmouloudi melmouloudi@thenational.ae