Sunday, February 27, 2011

Welcome to the New, Democratic Iraq

The WaPo's Stephanie McCrummen with a story that ought to have been noted all over the media - and I've found only a few references to it via Twitter search.

Iraqi security forces detained about 300 people, including prominent journalists, artists and lawyers who took part in nationwide demonstrations Friday, in what some of them described as an operation to intimidate Baghdad intellectuals who hold sway over popular opinion.

On Saturday, four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest of thousands at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.

"It was like they were dealing with a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives, not a group of journalists," said Hussan al-Ssairi, a journalist and poet who described seeing hundreds of protesters in black hoods at the detention facility. "Yesterday was like a test, like a picture of the new democracy in Iraq."

McCrummen goes on with details of the horrible treatment Maliki's people meted out to them.  One of the journalists was accused of being a member of the (mostly Sunni, now outlawed) Baath party.  Turns out he was a member of al-Da'wa - the same Shii religious party that Maliki heads! 

McCrummen finishes with:

Just before they were freed, however, Hadi was held in a room where about 300 people sat on the floor. They had black hoods over their heads. Many were groaning, their shirts bloodied. Some wore suits and ties. An elderly man had passed out. Hadi recognized a friend, a TV broadcaster, among them.

"This government is sending a message to us - to everybody," Hadi said Saturday, his forehead bruised, his left leg swollen.

Gathered at a house in the afternoon, which was quiet the day after the Friday protests, Hadi's colleagues told similar stories as they smoked cigarettes. Many said that despite their treatment, they considered the protest successful.

"It's put pressure," said Raad Mushatat, a filmmaker who was not detained. "The government is scared. But they do not scare me anymore."

Be prepared, everyone.  Thomas Ricks commented about a year ago that the Iraq war might be only half over.  I have a sinking feeling that we're going to find out that he was right.

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