Iraqi government forces arrived at the headquarters of the
Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) at about 2 a.m. on Feb. 23, half a
block from Baghdad's Firdos Square, where eight years earlier news cameras had
captured the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. The soldiers jumped
out of their Humvees and began trying to break down the front door. Inside, the
building's night watchman had been sleeping in his ground-floor apartment. He
woke to the banging and opened the door, where he was met by a score of armed
men, some wearing black clothing and ski masks, some in military fatigues
stripped of any identifying insignia.
"Where is the JFO?" the officers demanded.
They didn't identify themselves. They didn't have to. As the
government would later confirm, these forces answered to the Baghdad Operations
Command, which coordinates all security forces in the capital and reports
directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office. Since 2007, Maliki has
bypassed several layers of civilian and military leadership, establishing a
direct line of control over key security forces, including Iraq's 54th and 56th
brigades, as well as an elite counterterrorism force trained and supported by
the U.S. Special Operations Command. In concert with the "surge,"
this strategy helped Iraq's government regain control of the streets from a
virulent insurgency. "We're working literally day and night with the
Baghdad Operation[s] Command," said
Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, commander of U.S.
troops in Baghdad,
on Feb. 16, 2007, at the dawn of a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation that would soon
bring remarkable security gains to the capital. Some four years later, the
Baghdad Operations Command continues to act against entities deemed dangerous
to the state.
The night watchman pointed the officers up a narrow stairway
toward the JFO's second-story offices. They ran upstairs and bashed their way
in. More soldiers entered the building. They blindfolded the night watchman and
bound his arms and legs.
The JFO's headquarters consists of a reception area, a few
small offices, and a conference room. Like most local NGOs, it operates on a
shoestring budget, in affiliation with a few larger international organizations
like Reporters Without Borders and the Society of Professional Journalists. Its
mission is to protect the freedom of the press. On a practical level, this
means the JFO is the central hub to which journalists in Iraq report censorship and abuse. Their
records were stored in file cabinets and computers, all of which the security
forces ransacked. They confiscated seven laptop and desktop computers, external
hard disks, paper archives, five handicams, and one boxy gray television
camera, an antique souvenir that had last been used in the 1950s. The raid
lasted three hours. When it was over, the watchman was unbound and left to
comfort his frightened wife and child.
Fellow journalists in Baghdad
were amazed -- though not surprised -- to hear of such a brazen government
attack on the press. A mutual friend arranged for me to meet Ziyad al-Ajili, director
of the JFO. I drove across town to his office, which staffers had quickly
returned to a state of tidiness. A broken door frame and the absence of desktop
computers were the only traces of the break-in.
Ajili is in his 40s and looks weary beyond his years.
Reclining in the chair behind his desk, he told me the raid was part of a
broader campaign of press censorship and intimidation. Two days later, on
Friday, Feb. 25, protesters were planning a "Day of Rage," modeled
after the demonstrations in Egypt
which had gained momentum through the news media. Maliki was doing all he could
to smother the discontent. On the eve of the national protests, he gave a televised
speech insinuating that the day was being planned by former members of
Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and would be attacked or co-opted by al Qaeda
operatives. "I call on you," he said, "to thwart the enemy plans
by not participating in the demonstrations tomorrow, because it's suspicious
and it will give rise to the voice of those who destroyed Iraq." If the
Iraqi authorities thought they might need to censor the journalists who would
amplify such anti-government voices, Ajili reasoned, then it made good sense to
take out the office responsible for cataloging such abuses. "The raid was
organized to stop our oversight ability," he told me.
Iraq's leaders were nervous. Since late January,
demonstrators had begun taking to the streets by the hundreds, then thousands.
They were fed up. A year earlier, Iraqis had braved terrorist bombs to vote in
national elections; then, their new leaders spent more than nine months
haggling behind concrete blast walls in the fortified Green Zone over who would
be in charge. The success of free and fair elections had given way to a
uniquely democratic challenge -- nobody had won an outright majority -- and
Iraq's leaders were by disposition unprepared to meet it. The former prime
minister, Ayad Allawi, appeared to have the most seats in the parliament, but
neither he nor Maliki, who led the second-largest bloc, was willing to
compromise his claim on the premiership.
As summer arrived, the heat soared above 120 degrees
Fahrenheit. Baghdadis received less than five hours of electricity per day;
their idle air-conditioners served as constant reminders of their government's
failure to provide even basic services. Unemployment was stagnant. And though suicide
attacks and roadside bombs had subsided since the hellish days of 2006 and
2007, unpredictable explosions still blew apart lives and families. By
November, Maliki had outmaneuvered Allawi into a second term. The new
government looked a lot like the old government.
On Iraq's Day of Rage, tens of thousands gathered in major
cities across the country to denounce the government. I went to Baghdad's Tahrir Square and
spent the day speaking with some of the roughly 6,000 demonstrators. A couple
of thousand had gathered beneath a monument depicting the 1958 overthrow of
Iraq's former monarchy, while several thousand more surged toward a
15-foot-tall concrete blast wall that had been erected overnight at the
entrance to the Jumhuriya Bridge, which leads from Tahrir Square to the Green
Zone. One overarching theme seemed to unify their disparate complaints: The government
their leaders had formed was not what they had voted for. "Nouri al-Maliki
is a thief!" they chanted over and over again.
"I was dreaming for a change in Iraq, but not this change,"
said Ali Khadem, who is 50 years old, college-educated, and unemployed. He
pointed to the blast wall separating the protesters from the fortified halls of
power -- a sensible precaution against a potential riot, but also an offensive symbol
of the government's isolation from its citizens. "I just would like to
feel I am human," Khadem said.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
To the extent that Iraq's burgeoning protest movement made
international headlines, the protesters looked like an incoherent lot. What
were they going to do, after all -- overthrow their democratically elected
government, barely two months after it had been formed, in the name of
democracy? Without an entrenched authoritarian regime to oppose, the protests
didn't appear to fit the regional narrative. If anything, they seemed like a
worrisome threat to a fragile democracy that was just beginning, if haltingly,
to take shape. At least, this was the story that Maliki was pushing.
Yet from the perspective of the JFO and the demonstrators,
the protests weren't weakening Iraq's democracy so much as exposing it as a
sham. The March 2010 elections might have been free and fair, but after Maliki's
reshuffling of the military, he now had so few checks on his power that nobody
could stop his security forces' draconian tactics. Although Maliki appeared to
be building a national unity government, he was also constructing what his
critics have called a "shadow cabinet" -- using his growing authority
as prime minister to draw the real lines of power only through his political
allies. "It's a government run by one person, by one party," Allawi
told me. "People are losing faith in what we are calling 'democracy.'"
On the Day of Rage in Baghdad, shortly before sunset, a
phalanx of several hundred riot police in black Kevlar armor began beating
their batons against their shields in unison. Security forces shot water
cannons into the crowd and detonated sound bombs to scatter the protesters, and
then chased them away by firing live ammunition above their heads. Scores were
beaten and arrested. Around the country, more than 20 protesters were killed.
But later that evening, for anyone who wished to believe that Iraq is a budding
democracy, the government put on a good show. In a quiet Tahrir Square cleansed
of all dissent, state television staged a live interview with one of Maliki's
security chiefs, who assured the world that all was well in Iraq. "Our
protesting brothers who have legitimate demands acted in a highly patriotic and
civil manner," said Qassim Atta, spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command.
"Thank God the protest did not see any live ammunition fired against the
In fact, the government lashed out against both protesters
and journalists with shocking violence. In the two weeks following the Day of
Rage, not only were more than two dozen protesters killed, but nine other media
organization offices were raided, 33 journalists arrested, and 12 reporters
beaten by security forces, according to the reports that the JFO was able to
confirm in its diminished capacity.
Maliki first gained the premiership because he seemed
relatively weak. The December 2005 national elections had failed to produce a
clear winner, and Iraq's fractious new parliamentarians were able to agree on
Maliki largely because he was nobody's first choice. A lesser-known leader of
Iraq's Shiite majority, Maliki had long-standing credentials in the Dawa Party
that had opposed Saddam Hussein. He was religious enough to pass muster with
Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and came
to power with the electoral support of more hard-line Shiite political blocs --
those led by Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Yet he was secular enough
to avoid sparking a major sectarian controversy with mainstream Sunnis, and he
had a good relationship with leaders in Iraq's semiautonomous northern Kurdish
region, with whom he had worked to oppose Saddam. Maliki was also receptive to
American help, and he had a good rapport with President George W. Bush.
According to a former senior official in the Bush administration, the two
presidents had weekly phone calls in which they would share complaints about the
hostile politicians in their respective legislatures.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
When Maliki took office, he inherited an Iraqi state that
was, like his political persona, remarkably undefined. The 2005 Constitution had
left unanswered several of the most important and contentious questions about
the shape of the country. The insurgency was gaining momentum, and the tough
tradeoffs of democracy were simply too thorny to sit around and debate. As a
result, when Iraqis voted to ratify the 2005 Constitution in a national
referendum, they approved a document that pictured the new state in an
attractive soft focus.
It was relatively easy, for example, to agree that security
forces should be controlled by civilian political leaders. (But how do you
protect against the politicization of those forces?) The oil sector should
benefit all Iraqi people. (But who determines the right policy or how the
revenue is divvied up?) The judiciary should function as a check on the
executive and legislature. (But how do you ensure its independence?) All these parentheticals,
the Constitution says, should be decided through follow-up legislation, all of
which the parliament was supposed to pass in its first term. Instead, as the
body count ticked upward, Iraq's leaders became preoccupied with impending
civil war and the perpetual emergencies of reconstruction. In this atmosphere
of fuzzy jurisprudence and in response to the existential threat of the
insurgency, Maliki began to solidify his rule.
According to the Constitution, the prime minister is also
the commander in chief of the armed forces. Maliki took this mandate a step
further and began to assume control of several key brigades. On Feb. 5, 2007,
he established the Baghdad Operations Command, which unified all police and
military forces in the capital under the command of a single general. Security
forces in the capital thus began bypassing the traditional Defense Ministry
chain of command and instead took orders from an office directly subordinate to
the prime minister. In April 2007, Iraq's two counterterrorism brigades,
consisting of 4,000 men trained extensively by the U.S. Special Operations
Command, began reporting to and receiving funding from a counterterrorism bureau
in Maliki's office, rather than the Defense Ministry. The structure allowed
Maliki, in an atmosphere of ethnosectarian suspicion, to empower military
commanders he could trust.
He replicated this model through many of Iraq's other
provinces, and it proved essential in breaking the insurgency. Both Sadr and
Hakim, the hard-line Shiite leaders, commanded powerful militias that
perpetrated some of the worst sectarian violence in post-invasion Iraq; any
restoration of law and order would require sweeping clear the militia
strongholds in the southern city of Basra and Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood.
Yet Maliki had also depended on both men for the political backing that had
brought him to power. To turn against them, Maliki needed to establish a power
base that could survive an erosion of political support.
ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images
The prime minister's increasing control of the military came
to a dramatic crescendo as he
created the Basra Operations Command in August 2007 and then, seven months
later, launched a massive offensive to gain control of Basra city, the hub of
Iraq's oil sector. Maliki himself traveled to Basra to supervise the attack.
Beginning on March 25, 2008, eight Iraqi Army brigades, along with Air Force,
police, and special forces units, launched Operation Charge of the Knights. It wasn't
a clear-cut victory -- Iraqi forces met stiff resistance from well-armed, savvy
militia fighters and ultimately depended on U.S. and British backup -- but the
operation was ultimately a success. One month later, Iraqi forces controlled
the streets. It was a landmark demonstration of Maliki's power. A year earlier,
by contrast, when the insurgency had been metastasizing into a full-blown civil
war, nobody could have imagined that either the Iraqi military or Maliki could
have mustered the force to take Basra from the militias.
The "surge" consisted of not only an increase in
troop levels but also -- perhaps more importantly -- a shift in strategy,
tactics, and military organization. Maliki's show of strength was one essential
element, and in the wake of the Basra operation he oversaw enormous security
gains. In 2007, according to the Iraq Body Count project, an
average of 62 people were dying every day in bombings and shootings; by 2009,
that number had fallen to 12. Intelligence analysts now broadly agree that
insurgents in Iraq can no longer control territory. Groups like al Qaeda in
Iraq do still carry out terrible acts of violence, but, as the International
Crisis Group (ICG) has written, "In and of itself, the insurgency no
longer is a real threat; what is left of it is banking on mounting spectacular
attacks in order to alter political dynamics."
With these security gains, Iraq's primary challenge has now
shifted. Terrorist violence is still an enormous and regular threat, of course:
Roadside bombs target U.S. and Iraqi security forces; insurgents sabotage
essential infrastructure; assassins murder government officials with silenced
pistols; and suicide attackers carry out coordinated operations designed to
rack up the highest body count possible. But as horrible as terrorist violence
is, the ICG has observed that "it will take a change in the country's
political dynamics in order for [insurgent] attacks to have any significant
effect" on the stability of the state. The existential threat to Iraq no
longer comes from isolated attacks, but from the risks of political combustion.
Maliki's growing power may now pose such a risk. Despite his
security gains, he has not normalized command and control of the military. In
fact, he now functions not only as commander in chief but also as the acting
head of the Defense and Interior ministries, which run the Army and the police,
respectively. Not only is Maliki effectively a commanding general, but he is
also the chief administrator of the country's security forces. In 2009, in
light of this worrying trend, the Guardian
rule as authoritarian; Maliki responded by suing the British newspaper for
nearly a million dollars and seeking to close its Baghdad bureau.
ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images
According to political allies and Western diplomats who have
worked with Maliki, he isn't so much power-hungry as deeply cynical and mistrusting.
The Dawa Party, which Maliki joined as a young man, was hunted by Saddam's
Baathist regime. Even those living in exile -- like Maliki, who lived in Syria
and Iran for more than 20 years -- organized themselves into isolated cells to protect
against the regime's spies and limit the information that any one member might
divulge if he were captured or compromised. Maliki's early career was saturated
in perpetual suspicion.
Such extreme caution was necessary under Saddam. Similarly,
Maliki's centralization of power seemed essential in an atmosphere of civil
war. But those conditions have now changed; Maliki has not.
For anyone trying to check Maliki's power, last year's
election seemed to provide an opening. To his admirers, Ayad Allawi represented
a more enlightened brand of politics. A secular Shiite who had lived much of
his adult life in exile in London, he chafed at the ethnosectarian identity
politics in which Maliki had so adeptly triangulated. Instead, Allawi assembled
a political coalition under a secular and nationalist banner. Although his
allies were largely members of Iraq's Sunni minority, he pitched his rhetoric
to an audience that identified as "Iraqi" before "Shiite," "Sunni,"
or "Kurd," and his candidacy represented the possibility of a state
built on such an identity.
In something of a surprise victory, Allawi's coalition won two
more seats in the parliament than Maliki's Shiite electoral bloc, which took
barely a quarter of the legislature. Nobody commanded anything close to a
majority. In theory, everyone had leverage to balance the distribution of power
in the new government. But the reality was a political stalemate. Maliki had
spent his first term accumulating so much power in the prime minister's office
that no other position in the government promised nearly as much authority. For
the two leading candidates, government formation was a zero-sum proposition,
and neither was willing to compromise. Shortly after the election results were
announced, Maliki made a televised statement in which he called many of Allawi's
political allies "terrorists." Allawi, for his part, said that his
plurality gave him a constitutional right to begin forming a government -- a
stance that precluded negotiation with Maliki and that Allawi stuck to
stubbornly, even after Iraq's high court ruled against his claim.
As negotiations stalled last summer, the U.S. Embassy and
Vice President Joe Biden began pushing a power-sharing deal that would give
Maliki a second term but also reduce his power. The keystone of the agreement was
the creation of a new executive body, a so-called "National Council for
Strategic Policy," which Allawi would lead. According to senior U.S. diplomats
and Iraqi parliamentarians involved in the negotiations, the council was
supposed to have authority over the government's economic and security policies.
Allawi would function as something like a chairman of the board to Maliki's
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On Nov. 10, 2010, Maliki and Allawi signed a power-sharing
agreement that largely followed the American outline. Beyond the new policy
council, the deal also called for Maliki to loosen his grip on the security
forces. The brigades currently answering to his office would instead report to
the Defense or Interior ministries. If implemented, the agreement represented a
major rebalancing of power.
Maliki's signature was no guarantee, however. And the policy
council, in particular, was probably doomed from the beginning. I asked Jason
Gluck, a constitutional expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a former
advisor to the Iraqi parliament, what an ironclad power-sharing agreement would
have looked like. "The only way [the policy council] could have had real
teeth would have been through a constitutional amendment, and that could not
have happened within the time frame of the government formation process,"
he told me. Without legal grounding in the Constitution, he explained, the
policy council "would forever be at the mercy of its creator."
Allawi's only leverage was his political bloc, whose
participation Maliki needed in order to form a government that included Sunnis.
But the day after they signed the power-sharing agreement, Allawi seemed to
give up. Instead of continuing to negotiate the details of the deal, the longtime
expat, whose family still lives in London, left the country. Maliki immediately
began recruiting Allawi's top Sunni allies into his administration. Tariq al-Hashimi
became vice president, a prominent but largely ceremonial post. Saleh al-Mutlaq
became a deputy prime minister. "I call this government not a
power-sharing government, but a position-sharing government," says Joost
Hiltermann, a Middle East expert with the International Crisis Group. "They
distributed the positions, everyone who got the positions was happy, and then
the pressure was off to do the real serious work of building in checks and
On the face of it, Iraq has a government of national unity: Every
major electoral bloc is represented. But not everyone has power. For example,
Mutlaq -- an outspoken critic of Maliki -- became "deputy prime minister
for services." This office doesn't exist in the Constitution. In the
official letter that created the position, Maliki wrote that Mutlaq would be
chairing a committee consisting of 10 other ministers with portfolios in the
service sector; but beyond this, the letter doesn't define any
responsibilities, nor does it vest Mutlaq with any authority over his fellow
ministers. On paper, he sits very high atop the government flowchart. But his
power runs through the prime minister.
By comparison, Maliki created another deputy position for
one of his top allies, the former oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani. As with
Mutlaq, the newly created "deputy prime minister for energy" post
doesn't exist in the Constitution. But because Shahristani is Maliki's protégé
and has the prime minister's backing, some of Iraq's most powerful ministers,
including those in charge of the country's oil and electricity, are
functionally subordinate to him. This arrangement has freed Maliki to award
some of those key ministries to political rivals, while simultaneously keeping them
under his control.
Maliki can draw these arbitrary lines of authority because
there are no bylaws clarifying the structure of the executive branch. The
November power-sharing deal had called for such a measure, which might help
circumscribe the prime minister's power. But who is going to hold Maliki to his
word? Most of his biggest rivals -- except Allawi -- are now part of the
cabinet. One of Allawi's allies, Fatah al-Sheikh, characterized Maliki's
maneuver: "He guaranteed that Sunnis would take part in the government, so
now it's possible to get rid of Allawi."
Maliki has created at least seven new ministries, an
additional vice presidency, and a third deputy prime minister post to accommodate
the political leaders who gave their support in exchange for a slice of the
executive branch. Meanwhile, Allawi's National Council for Strategic Policy hasn't
yet been convened. The power-sharing agreement said it should be formed within
30 days, but Maliki has since argued that putting the country's prime minister
and president in a subordinate role to Allawi would contradict the Constitution,
according to the Kurdish parliamentary leader Fuad Masum and the parliamentary
leader of Allawi's political bloc, Salman al-Jumaily.
Allawi believes Maliki was never serious about honoring the
November deal. He told me he has given up on the policy council and won't join Maliki's
administration. "There is no power sharing at all," he said. Others
cast equal blame on Allawi and his allies for failing to hold Maliki
accountable. "The power-sharing deal would have happened if [Allawi's
coalition] didn't start to implode, basically, with defections," said
Hiltermann. "People rushed to take these positions, fearing that somebody
else would take them. They didn't care about power sharing."
As a result, the parliament poses little organized
opposition to the executive's power. Mustafa al-Hiti, a former parliamentarian
and Allawi confidant, explained it to me like this: "Every person says, if
you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. You keep my ministers out of
questioning, I'll keep your ministers out of questioning." The legislative
branch fails to function as a check on the executive branch because all the
major parliamentary blocs have a stake in the cabinet. In this atmosphere of
opacity, abuses of power are endemic. "This is the physiology," Hiti
said. "In order to have a strong muscle, you have to lift big weights. In
order to have a democracy, you have to have opposition."
Two days after the Day of Rage ended with a stage-managed
government television broadcast in a pristine Tahrir Square, Maliki put on
another piece of political theater. In a televised speech, he gave his cabinet ministers
a 100-day ultimatum to show progress or risk losing their jobs. There didn't
appear to be much substance to this initiative -- no specific benchmarks
defining what would qualify as "progress," no clear consequences for
failure -- but pundits and politicians alike marked Maliki's zero hour brightly
on the political calendar. The deadline passed on June 7. The prime minister declined
to fire anyone, and he even suggested he had never promised to do such a thing.
"There are those who want to confuse the concept of this initiative,"
said on state television. "They want to push people to force ministers
to be accountable for a few things that naturally should take more time." Maliki's
critics have seized on the government's failure to show progress or enforce
accountability, even on the prime minister's own terms. Protest organizers have
vowed to ramp up demonstrations immediately.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
As Maliki shows signs of weakening politically, Allawi
appears to be launching an effort to regain some leverage. Since late March, he
told me, he has been courting Sadr and Hakim, who together represent the Shiite
bloc that was Maliki's political keystone during government formation, as well
as Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region. On paper, at least, these leaders could represent a majority of the
"Nobody is very happy about the situation, and that's
why I believe the best way for Iraq is to have an opposition," Allawi told
me. "I won't be surprised if at some stage there will be a call for a vote
of no confidence, and I don't even rule out that the people would call for a
new, premature election in the country."
But if Maliki is anything after all these years, he's a
political survivor. Already, he has moved to get ahead of the dissent: In
addition to the 100-day initiative, he forced three unpopular provincial
governors from his own party to resign, signed a budget that shifted billions
of dollars toward popular social services, and constructed an emergency plan to
meet a portion of Iraq's outstanding electricity demand. On one level, like
many embattled leaders in the region, Maliki is responding to the protesters. Government
incompetence, cronyism, failure to supply basic services -- he's made gestures
on all scores.
Those moves bought Maliki some time, but now Iraq is heating
back up. Last summer, even before the Arab Spring, thousands of angry Iraqis
took to the streets when the electrical grid utterly failed to power their air-conditioners;
and now, the new electricity minister has projected similar shortages this
summer. Sadr, who has largely discouraged his followers from protesting, has begun
mobilizing his obedient throngs in demonstrations designed to pressure Maliki
away from extending the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. The
cleric controls 40 seats in the parliament -- a bloc that has been essential to
Maliki's political survival -- and Sadr has threatened to bolt from the
government if Maliki allows U.S. troops to stay beyond the end of this year. On June 10, hundreds of protesters took to the streets again, but demonstrations were curtailed quickly by club-weilding government security agents.
From Allawi's perspective, the combination of new protests,
political fracturing, and unmet grievances could turn into a final trump card
-- the ability to threaten the downfall of the government. Such brinkmanship
could end badly in many ways. In one scenario, Iraq could fall into a dangerous
power vacuum. In another, Maliki would use the specter of such danger to extend
his powers further. In theory, of course, the birth of an opposition movement
could also represent an opportunity. Lawmakers could treat their massive pile
of unfinished legislation as an occasion to put some meat on the Constitution's
bones. The parliament could flex its oversight authority and audit the cabinet
ministries. Allawi could use his leverage to pressure Maliki to implement the
terms of the power-sharing deal. Iraq's leaders could indeed build the
institutions of a democracy.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
But that doesn't seem to be everyone's priority. Five days
after the JFO's offices were raided, they received another visit from the
security forces. Atta, the spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command, had come
to apologize. Sitting in the small office that Ajili, the director, shares with
his deputy, Atta explained they had believed incorrectly that the JFO was
functioning as a field office for two anti-government satellite television
channels, al-Baghdadia and al-Sharqiya, that are critical of Maliki's
government and now broadcast from abroad, having been banned from working in
Iraq. "Mistakes happen," Atta said.
Then, at a news conference in the JFO's conference room,
Atta pledged to return all the confiscated material that afternoon. (Much of it
remains unreturned.) He apologized again, this time publicly -- not for the
flagrant intimidation of the media, but for targeting the wrong organization.
When I spoke with Ajili a week later, he wondered aloud why
he had accepted Atta's apology. I asked whether he had been threatened. Ajili
had been speaking with me through an interpreter, but he suddenly broke into
English. "There is no need for threats," Ajili said. "They have
in their hands the power, so there is no need."
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