BAGHDAD — On Feb. 18, the bodyguards of national security adviser Faleh al-Fayad beat up a group of journalists and media workers in the Al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies when they refused to leave the conference Fayad was attending. The incident triggered a major political and public controversy.
On Jan. 29, in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, the security detail of Iraqi Human Rights Minister Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati attacked a traffic officer and police officers who stopped the minister’s convoy in the course of regulating traffic. On Jan. 31, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered an investigation into the incident.
This was not the first time that people have complained about altercations cause by the convoys and security details of state officials, and such incidents are widely discussed by the public in the traditional and social media.
Trouble with the convoys of state officials in Iraq is not new. Before 2003, the convoy of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a common sight in cities. Saddam’s convoy was attacked by oppositionists in Dujail, Salahuddin province, in 1982. As punishment, 143 residents were executed and several properties were destroyed by the security services of Saddam’s regime.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Abbas al-Musawi, the media adviser to former prime minister and current Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, admitted that it is “difficult to control large convoys of state officials. [The convoys] are part of the power and privileges that those officials refuse to waive. Some [officials] say that the bad security situation makes these convoys necessary.”
He pointed out, “In a country like Iraq, where the security situation is unstable, even convoys of embassies of countries that claim to be democratic and respectful of human rights behave in the same way, [riding in] large convoys that move around the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.” Moussawi did not name the embassies he was referring to.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, journalist Walid al-Tai said, “Repeated assaults by Iraqi officials on citizens and state employees are causing social discontent. Iraqi officials need a culture of law and awareness. When they start obeying the law, it will be possible to apply [the law] to everyone. The behavior of these officials is conclusive evidence that they don’t respect the law.”
Agreeing with al-Tai, Saad Hassan, a citizen from Babil, told Al-Monitor, “A minister assaulting police officers before the eyes of the citizens is an insult to the men who are protecting the law: police and security officers.”
In an interview with Al-Monitor, journalist Nassar Alkurity of the Iraqi Media Network, said, “The huge convoys of state officials often behave as if they’re above the law. No police officer, security officer or traffic officer can deter these convoys or stop them. They are in clear violation of the law and they cost a lot money, paid by public funds.”
Journalist and writer Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed told Al-Monitor, “The way Iraqi officials are protected shows that the law applies just to the weak.”
Police Capt. Rahim al-Asadi, who works at a checkpoint at the southern entrance of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor, “Security vehicles with blacked-out windows are not inspected and security barriers are opened for them even before they arrive.”
Journalist and political analyst Saleh al-Sayyed Bakir told Al-Monitor that a state official should be “a model citizen in every way. His commitment to the law earns him popularity and makes people want to vote for him in the elections.”
On Dec. 8, the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that Abadi had issued government orders — which ministers, parliamentarians and officials should abide by — instructing official convoys not to block streets and to prevent security details from brandishing weapons. But Bakir doesn’t expect these orders to be obeyed.
The ministry’s spokesman, Said Moen, said in a press statement, “The general commander of the armed forces, who is also the prime minister, ordered all officials’ convoys to abide by the general law and to take into consideration the citizens’ [safety]. He also demanded they not block roads, brandish weapons and cause chaos in the streets.”
Armed convoys will continue to showcase the power of state officials, because the convoy is considered an expression of their power and influence. Parties, politicians and senior officials think that the law grants them such privileges and powers.
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