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What is behind the assassinations in Basra? | News



On August 17, Iraqi activists Lodia Remon, Abbas Subhi and Fahd al-Zubaidi were heading to the funeral of fellow activist Tahseen Oussama, who was assassinated in the southern city of Basra three days earlier, when armed men attacked them. Remon was shot in the leg and Subhi in the chest.

“I survived by a miracle. I still cannot stand on my feet and until now I am in shock,” Remon told Al Jazeera. Subhi, who required surgery, also survived.

Two days later, Reham Yacoub, a close friend of Remon and a fellow activist, was shot dead in her car, sparking public anger and demonstrations in several Iraqi cities. The assassination attempt and the death of close friends have taken a toll on Remon, who is a member of Basra’s small Christian community.

“I think that I have lost a large part of my dreams and my aspirations for the first time in my life. I feel I have lost my courage and fear has taken over. The psychological pain is so much worse than the physical pain,” she said.

Activists and protest organisers have been targeted this month in several other southern and central provinces, which have witnessed anti-government protests for more than a year. An estimated 700 protesters have been killed and dozens of activists and government critics assassinated.

In Basra, where the Iraqi protest movement emerged, the killings have created an atmosphere of fear, with a number of activists fleeing the city in recent days. Locals have accused Iranian-backed armed groups of carrying out the attacks.

Activists and analysts Al Jazeera spoke to said the violence is aimed at preventing the protest movement from transforming into a political party, which could challenge the status quo in the 2021 parliamentary elections.

Lodia Reham chants during a demonstration in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, on June 13, 2020 [File: AFP/Hussein Faleh]

Birth of a movement

The first protest that Basra activist Mohanad al-Khafajy went to was in 2012, just a year after the so-called Arab Spring uprisings toppled longtime rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and sparked hope of a democratic transformation in the region.

The demands of the young people who took to the streets of the city were more modest: They wanted the constant electricity blackouts to stop.

Years of instability and mismanagement had left oil-rich Basra with dilapidated infrastructure that cannot provide proper public services to its two million residents. Severe shortages of water and electricity have made its hot and humid summers particularly unbearable.

After demonstrating throughout the summer of 2012, al-Khafajy and two dozen other young people decided to form a group to coordinate protest action.

The group eventually came to be known as the Civilian Youth of Basra. Its main demand was the establishment of a non-sectarian system of government based on justice and rule of law.

For al-Khafajy, the protests in Basra, which took place almost every year since 2012, as well as the political organising done by Civilian Youth of Basra and other groups and activists, laid the foundations of the 2019 movement for change in Iraq, which toppled the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi last November.

“The protest movement in Iraq started from Basra, where it developed a culture of protest and free expression which then spread to other provinces,” al-Khafajy told Al Jazeera.

In June 2019, amid scorching heat and a major water and electricity crises, thousands of people took to the streets in Basra again. After a short-lived lull at the end of the summer, in October, the protests reignited and spread across the southern and central provinces, as well as the capital, Baghdad. This was when Oussama became more active in the Civilian Youth of Basra, which he often hosted in the office of his internet company.

“After [the protest movement] threatened the interests of the corrupt and foreign-backed parties, it became a real danger that requires the use of brutal and violent methods to silence these voices,” said al-Khafajy.

demonstrators hold national flags and posters of protesters who were killed during previous demonstrations, in Basra, Iraq.

Demonstrators hold national flags and posters of protesters who were killed during previous demonstrations, in Basra, Iraq on September 11, 2018 [File: AP/Nabil al-Jurani]

Death threats

According to al-Khafajy, Oussama was killed because of his membership and activities with Civilian Youth of Basra, which the political forces governing Iraq have started to see as a threat because of its effective grassroots organising and protest activity. Other members, including al-Khafajy, were also threatened.

The group had intended to register a party and compete in the next election, but Oussama’s murder put those plans on hold. Al-Khafajy told Al Jazeera he has left Iraq again after he and his family were followed by unknown men.

This is not the first time Basra witnessed a string of assassinations of political activists. In 2018, when the city saw major protests against poor services, employment and corruption, several prominent figures were killed, including Jabbar Karam al-Bahadli, a human rights lawyer who defended detained demonstrators, and Suad al-Ali, a human rights activists who supported the protests.

The same year, Remon, Yacoub, and other female activists who were active in women’s groups and organised women’s marches, faced a smear campaign by pro-Iranian media outlets and social media accounts, accusing them of being part of an American plot to destabilise Basra. As a result, they started receiving threats to their lives.

“I received many death threats in 2018. In 2020, I was also threatened on social media and through phone calls because of my continued participation in the protests and civil work,” Remon told Al Jazeera.

On August 20, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited Basra and met with Yacoub’s family. He pledged those responsible for the attacks and murders would be arrested and punished. He dismissed the security chiefs in the city and sent in reinforcements of security forces.

But according to Sarmad al-Taei, a Basra-based journalist, the measures taken by the government so far are unlikely to bring those responsible to justice.

“Al-Kadhimi continues to dismiss security chiefs and move around the Counterterrorism Forces, but this is not enough. He realises his power is limited and he has not yet undertaken any major action against the killers,” he told Al Jazeera.

Part of the reason for the lack of progress is because the government does not have full control of the security apparatus, which does not always carry out orders that come from Baghdad. Al-Taei said the government has repeatedly tried to release detained protesters, but is sometimes unable to because information on their whereabouts in certain prisons is purposefully withheld.

In his opinion, the escalation in violence is an attempt to put down the protest movement, which has grown in both power and legitimacy. 

‘Shadow state’

Local activists, including al-Khafajy, said they believe pro-Iranian armed groups carried out the assassinations. These armed groups have also been accused of participating in violent crackdowns on protests in 2019 and 2020, alongside security forces.

According to Haider Saeed, head of the research department at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, these fighters are part of what he calls a “shadow state”.

“These factions began as forces challenging the state, and during the [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki era, especially between 2012 and 2015 – a moment of weakness for the state – it resorted to them [to fight ISIL],” said Saeed. “Then an attempt was made to make them part of the state, that is, to give them an official cover. But in effect, they still work outside the will of the state.”

In the years after the US invasion in 2003, various Shia armed groups were formed in Iraq, some with a pro-Iranian agenda and others with a more nationalist slant. When the ISIL (ISIS) armed group took over large swaths of Iraqi territory in 2014, these groups, along with new armed groups created for the anti-ISIL war effort, were reorganised into an umbrella organisation called the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU).

After the end of the battle against ISIL, some of the pro-Iranian armed groups formed a political alliance, which came second in the 2018 parliamentary elections in Iraq. Although formally the PMU is part of the Iraqi security forces, attempts to integrate it fully have not been successful.

During the 2019-2020 protests, its offices in multiple cities were attacked by protesters angry at armed fighters participating in the crackdown against them. Most recently, on August 22 in the southern city of Nasiriyah, demonstrators burned and tore down with a bulldozer the offices of pro-Iran groups and Shia parties after their sit-in in the city centre was attacked with a bomb.

According to Saeed, there are two reasons for the recent attacks on protesters and activists.

“First, the ‘shadow state’ and the state have entered a confrontation because [of actions by] al-Kadhimi’s government, so the assassinations are a challenge to the PM,” he said. “Second, with the government setting a date for early elections, it seems that these forces want to reduce the chances of the protest forces to organise and have a role in the vote.”

Currently, the protest movement is experiencing a lot of challenges, including the continuing attacks on its members and internal divisions, Saeed said. He sees the lull in demonstrating as an unannounced truce with al-Kadhimi in order to give him time to try to fulfil some of the protesters’ demands.

However, there are already calls for new demonstrations on October 1 to mark the movement’s first anniversary.

Both al-Khafajy and Remon said they believe while the protest movement has been weakened, it has not been defeated.

“My message to the Iraqi people is to stop being silent about injustice and corruption. Justice will triumph one day. A new generation is rising that cannot be silenced,” said Remon. 

Follow Mariya Petkova on Twitter: @mkpetkova

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Year of the Overcomer-Prophet Elvis Mbonye



The eagerly awaited first fellowship of controversial Prophet Elvis Mbonye left viewers shocked as he declined to issue his now famous prophecies citing a refusal to settle for the new normal. In an on online service watched by thousands, the Prophet said him prophesying would “ be a concession to gathering online, rather than physically” further stating that it is not the will of God that church should meet online!

The Covid-19 SOPs given by the government and Ministry of Health have heavily impacted gatherings and as a result, ministries with large congregations have resorted to online services. The prophet however insists that this is a ploy to diminish the influence of the Kingdom of God.

He however proceeded to give the Prophetic Word of the year , saying “This is the year of the Overcomers” amidst cheers from those present. He also stated that this would not be a “gloomy” year, probably meaning that this would be a good year. Given that many of his prophecies have actually come to pass, should we pay more attention to him? We eagerly await the prophecies this year.

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Kabuleta blasts Media over “COFIT” reporting in new rant.



Presidential hopeful Joseph Kiiza Kabuleta has expressed dissatisfaction with the media over what he says was”alarmist reporting” over the Covid-19 pandemic which he calls “COFIT” a term we believe is a wordplay between covid and profit, a view held by many that claims that the disease was exaggerated to maximize funding and corruption. Kabuleta has come to be known for his straight shooting style and admirable command of facts and policy, even being touted as the “smartest candidate” in the is the full statement:


By Joseph Kabuleta

“Don’t look at where you fell, but where you slipped”

We know where the media fell. They fell when they were caught in the crossfire between opposition politicians and trigger-happy security hitmen; when they were unfairly targeted as they went about their noble duty of covering this explosive elective season. Sadly, some journalists are nursing wounds; others weren’t so lucky.
But it’s important for us to understand where they slipped.

If someone is sitting by the roadside sipping on his brew and he sees a gang of people sprinting past him, as if for their lives, it’s understandable if he impulsively joins without asking questions. But if after nine months he is still sprinting, and has still not asked any questions, then there’s something terribly wrong with him.

When we first went into lockdown in March, it was probably the best course of action because we didn’t know the full extent of the Cofit threat. But in the first 90 days, it was clear to all and sundry that it was never going to rank among Uganda’s top health challenges. And that’s not my opinion.

The Daily Monitor on July 15th quoted Dr Baterana Byarugaba, the Mulago Hospital Executive Director, describing the Cofit strain in the country as a mild form of flu which does not require hospital admission since it can be treated at home or in lower health facilities.
“l told Ugandans right from the beginning that the type of coronavirus we expect in Uganda is the mild one. It can be treated at health centre II, III, IV or the district hospital,” the top Medic said.

I read the story with glorious delight supposing that finally common sense, (or should I say science sense) would inform our decisions as a nation. But it’s difficult to know where science stops and politics starts. It’s become clear over the months that Cofit is not just a virus that causes respiratory problems, it’s a lot more than that; it’s a weapon in the hands of politicians that gives them power beyond their wildest dreams. In America, for instance, Democrat Congressman Jim Clyburn said Cofit is a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our (leftist) vision” while actress and activist Jane Fonda said that Cofit was “God’s gift to the left.”

Our media could have taken the side of poor Ugandans by showing the immense suffering and death from preventable sicknesses that resulted from the harsh Cofit measures; they could have highlighted the plight of businesses permanently closed and workers rendered redundant and sent back to villages. They could have wondered why truck drivers were testing negative in Kenya and positive in Uganda, or wondered why Cofit deaths only started after Prophet Museveni showed us a macabre lineup of coffins in his address, or why every celebrity who dies since then is ruled as Cofit (no autopsy required)

They could have told us that according to Worldometer, Cofit has a 0.28% mortality rate (or a 99.72 survival rate) and that it doesn’t rank anywhere in the Top 10 of Uganda’s health challenges; they could have told us that a child dies of malaria every two minutes (and Uganda accounts for 3% of the world’s malaria fatalities), which means that more Ugandans die from mosquitoes in ten days than Cofit has (allegedly) killed in the nine months it’s been on our lips.

Ugandans (especially of my age) have lived through real pandemics. As a young man growing up in the early 90s, nobody had to remind me that AIDS was real. Goodness me, I knew it was! And I didn’t need police to force me to wear protection, I knew the consequences. The fact that we are constantly being reminded that ‘Cofit is real’ tells a story of its own.

The media could have asked why Uganda, with one of the lowest Cofit cases or deaths, still holds on to a 9:00pm curfew when Kenya moved to 11:00pm in September, as did South Africa and several countries. The media could have told us that Malawi, Burundi, Tanzania and, recently, Ghana all held successful elections with full blown campaigns in 2020, and we aren’t hearing people dropping dead from Cofit in any of those countries. May be they should have tried to find out if people are dropping dead in Tanzania which altogether ignored all Cofit measures and went on to acquire middle-income status while Ugandans were still in lockdown.

They could have told us about the asymptomatic Cofit patients who were filmed dancing the night away in hospital wards, or of people suffering from other diseases who dare not go to hospital because they fear to be given a fake Cofit label and held for two weeks against their will.

The media could have told us that Cofit deaths across the world have been grossly inflated. Minnesota lawmakers say Cofit deaths could have been inflated by 40% after examining death certificates (according to The Washington Examiner) while Fox News reported that in Colorado 45% of Cofit corpses “were also found to have bullet wounds”.

They could have told us that 22 European countries, all of which had tens of thousands of Cofit deaths, opened their schools in the fall, and there has not been any reported spikes in cases as a result. They could have told us that more people have been killed by security men enforcing Cofit measures than by the virus itself.

Well, they could have…but they didn’t. And that’s where they slipped.

Instead they chose to go down the path of alarmist reporting and in so doing became, inadvertently or otherwise, enablers of Uganda’s trillion-shilling Cofit enterprise. Like Squealer in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the media used flowery language to drum up fear by keeping people’s eyes transfixed on swelling numbers while the thieves carried their loot and stashed it away, and loan money was distributed among family members or used in regime prolongation.

The recent joint television news bulletin, and the adverts that followed, were the peak of hysterical reporting. “Zuukuka Tusaanawo” (wake up, we are perishing) screamed an advert featuring top media personalities. What a load of……(fill in appropriate word).

Remember, all the tyranny we have witnessed in this season has been done in the name of Cofit, and such sensationalist reporting justifies it; it gives dictators like Museveni the perfect pseudo-moralistic cover to unleash their most despotic fantasies while actually pretending that it’s for the good of the people. Unfortunately, the terror has now spread to the very media people whose hyperbole enabled it in the first place. There is such a thing as the law of cause and consequence, after all.

Instead of the media walking out of pressers and threatening to boycott government functions, let them threaten to stop all Cofit reporting. Museveni himself would come running with chocolate in hand.

If the president extended curfew by just two hours, for instance, he will have put as many as 200,000 Ugandans back to work especially in the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries; but he doesn’t care, and sadly neither do many middleclass Ugandans who suppose that it’s their moral obligation as responsible citizens of the Global Village to fret over Cofit just because their ‘fellow citizens’ in Europe and America are doing so. Of course they can afford to do that because their corporate jobs have, for the most part, insulated them from the devastation of the government-instituted Cofit measures. They can enjoy working at home, beer in hand, as they listen to CNN and BBC and still expect the full complement of their salaries at the month end, and that makes them feel every bit like ‘their brothers’ overseas.

Such aspirational conformists are more likely to be offended by my stance on Cofit because they haven’t traversed crook and creek of this country and seen the damage reigned on this fragile society; not by the virus, but by the measures supposedly instituted to mitigate it.

You see, perhaps the most enduring damage this regime has done to our society is creating a three-part hierarchy of class and needs. At the zenith are a handful of connected ‘1986 generation’ and their families who feel entitled to all power and wealth. Beneath is a small (and shrinking) middleclass, and at the bottom of the pyramid is a mass of peasants. Every society, to various degrees, is ordered in the same fashion, but what makes Uganda unique is that the megalomaniacs at the top don’t give a nickel about the plight of the middleclass and the middleclass in turn don’t care a bit about the quandary of the peasant. The charlatans at the top will impose punitive taxes on the middleclass, then dip into NSSF coffers at a whim to share out their savings, and no one can stop them.

And the middleclass Ugandan, armed with his medical insurance, and safe in the knowledge that his wife is unlikely to die in child birth (20 Ugandans do EVERY DAY), and his children are very unlikely to die of malaria (20 do EVERY DAY), or from malnutrition (thousands do every year), will go around trumpeting Cofit because it’s more relevant to his status than malnutrition or malaria.

I could just as easily go down that path. I could also close my eyes to mothers failing to get breast milk because they can only afford half a meal a day (black tea with a piece of cassava), and the malnourished babies that emerge as a result; I could close my eyes to the teenage girls that were given out in marriage because schools closed, or those given out to meet family needs; I could ignore the fact that our president is opening 5-star markets in cities which have 1-star referral hospitals; I could also choose to look the other way and enjoy my middleclass lifestyle, but as an aspiring leader, I cannot.

As a leader, my aspiration is to remove the privileged/entitled class, to expand the middleclass (and their income), and to shrink the peasantry; but mostly to blur the lines that separate each category.
It doesn’t bode well for our country if the average Corporate Ugandan knows more about racism in America than about extreme poverty in Teso or Busoga because that disqualifies him/her from the solution to those local problems.

And finally, I have come to the realization that the biggest pandemic afflicting our country is poverty and the virus that causes it is called M7-1986. Vaccination against it is January 14

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Muntu Blocked in Kamwenge



Alliance for National Transformation presidential candidate Gen. Mugisha Muntu has been blocked from campaigning in Kamwenge according to a statement he released earlier today.Below is the full statement:

Today in Kamwenge, as we have done since the start of the campaign season, we headed out to speak with the people. We had earlier in the week agreed on the venue with security agencies. No one had anticipated that it would rain as much as it did, making it impossible for us or the people to access.

After identifying an alternative place only 100m away from the original venue, negotiating with the owner and communicating the same to the public, we headed to the second venue only to be stopped by police.

Our policy has always been to do all we can to be reasonable, even in the face of unreasonable action on the part of the state. We engaged the police leadership in a civilized, respectable manner well knowing that they intended to not only frustrate us, but cause us to act in ways that would give them an excuse to cause chaos. This was on top of their intimidating the radio we had booked and duly paid to appear on.

While we are confident that we are on the right side of both the law and reason, we have chosen not to endanger the lives of our supporters or the general public by escalating the situation. We will do everything humanly possible to avoid a single life being lost or blood being shed on account of our campaign.

And yet this truth remains: the regime’s days are numbered.



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