Iraq begins national mourning for protest dead

Iraqi government admitted the use of “excessive force” in Sadr City in Baghdad. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 October 2019

Iraq begins national mourning for protest dead

  • Social media sites are still inaccessible in Iraq
  • The military acknowledged the use of “excessive force” in Sadr City in Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Iraq began three days of national mourning Thursday for more than 100 people killed during recent protests, while the government was expected to present a reshuffle to parliament in response to the political crisis.
While social media sites in Iraq remained inaccessible — except intermittently via virtual private network (VPN) applications — more images emerged of the violence over the past week in which mainly protesters died from live fire.
Footage showed demonstrators — who initially demanded jobs and services before calling for “the fall of the regime” — being fatally shot, or running for cover under heavy fire.
Authorities initially blamed “unidentified snipers” and infiltrating “saboteurs” but later acknowledged that the military had used “excessive force” in the Shiite bastion of Sadr City in Baghdad.
The judiciary also announced that a riot police officer had “confessed to killing a protester” in Hilla, south of Baghdad.
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Madhi responded to public anger in his second public address in less than a week, pledging to propose a cabinet reshuffle to parliament on Thursday.
The deeply divided assembly depends on the participation of its largest bloc: 54 lawmakers led by populist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr.
The bloc includes ministers but Sadr called for the resignation of the government nearly a week ago.
Since protests and violence calmed on Tuesday, the government has proposed reforms to lower youth unemployment, currently at 25 percent, while the labor ministry proposed an online job register.
The government has also ordered housing aid. Local authorities demolishing informal housing settlement in September fueled the anger of protesters.
One in five Iraqis live below the poverty line, in one of the world’s most oil-rich countries.
Flags were flown at half-mast Thursday to mourn those who died during the week of violence.
Those killed — protesters and police — have been declared “martyrs” and their families will receive compensation.
With the return of normal life in Baghdad, traffic has again clogged the main roads of the sprawling city of nine million inhabitants. Schools, government offices and businesses have reopened.
At checkpoints into the city and on main roads however, vehicles were searched and additional troops were deployed.
Amnesty International called for authorities to properly investigate the “use of excessive and deadly force.”
The rights group interviewed eight activists and journalists who described seeing protesters killed by snipers.
Security forces did not protect protesters from sniper fire, Amnesty said, “nor have police intervened and arrested anyone responsible for firing at demonstrations.”
Washington called on Baghdad to exercise “maximum restraint” in dealing with protests, while London “raised concerns” about the violence and “the need to respect peaceful protest and media freedoms.”
Amnesty also described “a sinister campaign of harassment, intimidation and arrests of peaceful activists, journalists and protesters by the authorities.”
Several local television stations were ransacked, and their staff threatened and asked to stop broadcasting during night raids by armed men in uniform. Journalists and activists also received threats via telephone.
In a country where political rivals accuse each other of allegiance to foreign powers, President Barham Saleh has called for “sons of the same country” to end the discord.
So far this “national dialogue” has included meetings between MPs, tribal chiefs and political parties.
With calm returned to southern Iraq, Shiite Muslim pilgrims continue to converge. On October 20 they will commemorate Arbaeen, in which millions of Shiite Muslims walk to the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad.

Missing boy’s death exposes Houthi child recruitment

A boy holds a weapon while Shiite rebels known as Houthis protest against coalition airstrikes, during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP)
Updated 6 min 10 sec ago

Missing boy’s death exposes Houthi child recruitment

  • Barman said the Houthis have never been ashamed of their recruitment of children despite local and international criticism

AL-MUKALLA: When 15-year-old Abdul Aziz Ali Al-Dharhani went missing, his family visited the local Houthi officials of their small village in Yemen’s Dhale province to ask for information. The Iranian-backed rebels said they knew nothing about their son’s whereabouts.

The family were certain the officials were lying, because their son had attended Houthi religious sessions at a local mosque before he went missing. Family members circulated Al-Dharhani’s image on social media and asked people to help find him.

A local Houthi figure, despite claiming to not know about the child, called the family 10 days later to congratulate them on the “martyrdom” of their son.

Abdurrahman Barman, a Yemeni human rights advocate and director of the American Center for Justice, investigated the boy’s disappearance and said Al-Dharhani was brainwashed by Houthis and sent to battle where he was killed.

Barman added that his investigation revealed that Houthis actively recruit child soldiers.

“Before joining them, the boy was friendly and got on with people,” he told Arab News.

After joining sessions at the mosque, where he was lectured on jihad and Houthi movement founder Hussein Al-Houthi, Al-Dharhani isolated himself from family and friends. He left home without telling anyone, leaving his family in fear and panic.

“The Houthis give recruited children nicknames to convince them they are men and can fight,” Barman said, adding that he learned the boy was sent to the front line without any military training.

“He was killed shortly after,” Barman said.

Houthis held a long funeral procession where his body was wrapped in slogans. Houthi media quoted local officials as saying that Al-Dharhani was a “hero” who fought Israel, the US and other enemies.

Barman said the Houthis have never been ashamed of their recruitment of children despite local and international criticism.

“The Houthi movement boasts about the deaths of their child soldiers. Even some Houthi-affiliated rights activists describe dead children as heroes and martyrs.”

Yemeni government officials, human rights groups and experts said the story of Al-Dharhani represents only the tip of the iceberg. Houthis are alleged to have recruited thousands of children over the last five years to shore up troop numbers amid the increasingly costly war.

The Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations, known as the Rasd Coalition, recently reported that Houthis had recruited 7,000 children from heavily populated areas under their control.

Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, told Arab News that Houthis are responsible for most child soldiers in Yemen and use specific strategies to draw children to the front line.

“Houthis are aggressive when it comes to recruiting children. They are responsible for over 70 percent of child soldiers in Yemen according to the UN. They lure children to fight with them by brainwashing them through mosques and religious activities, sometimes without the knowledge of their families,” she said.

On the battlefield, the recruited children take part in fighting or logistical work, while some operate as spies. Al-Dawsari said Houthi ideology helps explain why they brag about recruiting children.

“They are a radical Jihadist group that doesn’t hesitate to spill blood to achieve their political objectives. They want to ensure Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and the Hashemite bloodline rule Yemen for good,” she said.

Rehabilitation center

In the central city of Marib, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center founded a institute to rehabilitate soldiers in Yemen in 2017. The center has rehabilitated about 480 child soldiers. Mohammed Al-Qubaty, the center’s director, told Arab News that children are usually lured into joining through financial and social incentives. Enlisted children are given salaries, arms and food, while others are forced to take up arms, he said. “Children are cheap and easily influenced. They quickly learn how to use arms and are obedient to their commanders,” he added.