Iranian Influence Fuels Injustice In Iraq – OpEd


By Dalia Al-Aqidi*

An Iraqi court judgment imprisoning a young man for criticizing a governmental entity sparked anger and rejection in the southern province of Nasiriyah last week, prompting hundreds of young people to demonstrate and confront the security forces, who killed at least two demonstrators.

The story began when 20-year-old Haider Al-Zaidi apparently criticized the late deputy commander of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Units, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, on Twitter. In June, the PMU security department arrested Al-Zaidi and held him for 16 days over a tweet criticizing Al-Muhandis that stated “only in Iraq would a spy be described as a martyr.” On Dec. 5, the Rusafa Criminal Court in Baghdad charged the young man with insulting state institutions and sentenced him to three years in prison.

During his detention and interrogation, the high school student was tortured and insulted by his captors, according to his father, who is seeking to free his son. “We are waiting for the (PMU) to drop the charges and solve the case. We are trying to find a solution through our personal contacts,” Hameed Al-Zaidi told reporters, noting that his son’s current condition was good and that he was allowed to visit him and bring him food and clothing.

According to an Iraqi news agency, it was stated in the verdict that the PMU reserves the right to compensation after the ruling becomes final, adding that the accused’s mobile phone will remain in the custody of the investigative party for containing security information.

The young activist was sentenced based on 1969’s Article 226 of Iraq’s Penal Code, which prohibits “publicly insulting” the national assembly, armed forces or any other government agency.

Is this the new Iraq that people fought for following the end of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship? What kind of a message was the ruling regime trying to send through its judicial system?

The pro-Iranian ruling class aims to extend the radical, brutal system from Tehran to Baghdad by force through its militias. It punishes whoever disagrees with its agenda.

Adam Coogle, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, criticized the Iraqi justice system, which should not be used as a tool to suppress peaceful criticism of the authorities or armed actors. “It is a sad reflection on the rule of law in Iraq that an activist like Al-Zaidi gets three years in prison for a Twitter post he says he didn’t write while dozens of officials and armed groups enjoy impunity for killing activists and protesters,” he said.

The questionable Iraqi judicial system is suppressing the people’s freedoms in favor of militia leaders and Vilayat-e Faqih followers. This goes against the country’s new constitution, which is supposed to protect the rights and freedoms of the Iraqi people.

The verdict sparked anger and disappointment in the Iraqi street, especially as it came only about a week after the release of a man who was accused of stealing more than a billion dollars of public funds.

Only in Iraq are criminals acquitted, while the innocent are criminalized based on their lack of loyalty to a neighboring country.

Only in Iraq are abductions, torture and murders legal as long as they oppress the opposition that dared to dream about living in peace and dignity.

The Khomeini loyalists put Al-Muhandis, a radical terrorist, brutal killer and militia leader, in the category of saints. He and his ilk, who receive their orders directly from the regime in Tehran, have killed hundreds of young protesters and wounded thousands around the country. Al-Muhandis, the founder of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia who was killed in a 2020 US drone attack along with his superior, Qassem Soleimani, was nothing but a terrorist. He was sentenced to death in Kuwait for his involvement in the 1983 bomb attacks on the US and French embassies, while he also fought for the Iranian army against Iraq during the 1980s war between the two countries.

The case of Al-Zaidi was not the first and will not be the last. As long as these groups continue to hold Iraq hostage, thousands will be murdered or imprisoned as long as they refuse to bow to the regime in Iran.

If these barbaric, bloodthirsty terrorists control the cradle of civilization, hashtags, petitions, and protests will not save the people from their crimes.

• Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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