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Nov 11

Written by: Diana West
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 6:14 AM 

"What -- me, authoritarian?"

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More on the continuing saga of the evolution of an Iraqi authoritarian -- our pal Maliki (story via Islam in Europe).

This time, the Iraqi PM didn't care for an article in the British newspaper the Guardian that quoted allegations about his increasing authoritarianism, so he sued for defamation in Iraq and -- mirabile dictu -- won.

How did this incredibly surprising and non-authoritarian verdict come about? The Guardian reports: After an Iraqi court heard from "a new, five-member panel who argued that Iraqi publishing law did not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president, or to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs," the court ruled that the Guardian owed the PM about $150,000.

In other words, as Kimberly Kagan would say, that surge of ours sure was a "success" and "transformed Iraq"! More COIN! More hearts and minds! Onto Afghanistan!

Back to Iraq:

The Guardian said it would appeal against the verdict, first through Iraqi appeals courts and then the federal court. The judgment was heavily criticised tonight as a further blow against the freedom of Iraq's already embattled news media.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, said: "I was very concerned to hear reports of today's court ruling. Media freedom is vital in any democracy. If the case goes to appeal, I ask the Iraqi authorities to ensure that their courts, which are independent, follow due process in accordance with the Iraqi constitution."

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, said: "This is a dismaying development. Prime minister Maliki is trying to construct a new, free Iraq. Freedom means little without free speech – and means even less if a head of state tries to use the law of libel to punish criticism or dissent. We will vigorously contest this judgment."

Especially when he's doing it with massive taxpayer funding from the Land of the First Amendment.

The ruling ignored testimony by three expert witnesses from the Iraqi journalists' union summoned by the court, who all said that the article was neither defamatory nor insulting and argued that no damages were warranted. ...

The article in question, by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an award-winning staff correspondent for the Guardian, quoted three unnamed members of the Iraqi national intelligence service who claimed that the prime minister was beginning to run Iraqi affairs with an authoritarian hand.

Say it's not so, Abdul.

After expert witnesses testified against the award of damages, the court heard evidence from a new, five-member panel who argued that Iraqi publishing law did not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president, or to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs. The advice appeared to overlook the fact that Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi citizen.

Two of the new panel were identified as journalists. One of them, Salah Najim al-Maliki, no relation to the prime minister, is the host of a legal affairs programme on the government-run, staunchly partisan al-Iraqia television channel.

The perfect post-surge sucess story witness!

Attempts to identify the other alleged journalist on the panel, Hussein al-Arkabi, were tonight unsuccessful. Of 12 Iraqi media outlets contacted in Baghdad, none recognised his name. The other three panel members were identified as lawyers.

Maliki has repeatedly portrayed press freedoms as essential to nation-building efforts in Iraq's young democracy.

However, Iraqi officials have become increasingly sensitive to scrutiny of their achievements in the leadup to a general election, scheduled for 21 January.

Journalists covering routine violence in Iraq have reported being assaulted by security officials in recent weeks, in the wake of two huge bombings since early August that destroyed three government ministries and the Baghdad governorate, calling the effectiveness of government security forces into question.

Rohan Jayasekera, associate editor of Index on Censorship, who is conducting a study of access to information in the runup to Iraq's elections, said: "It's a shame that Maliki has allowed the Iraqi security services to use his name in this way.

It's a "shame"? Maybe it's a plan.

"It's a kind of abuse of the prime minister's office. It sends a worrying message to those who hoped for better treatment of the media in Iraq.

"Maliki frequently says that the only justification for silencing the media is if it provokes sectarianism, enmity and hatred. We'd agree with the Iraqi journalists' union and say the [Guardian] article doesn't do that at all."

Hmm. Sounds like the rationale for hate-speech legislation rising in the West that are increasingly suppressing free speech. Maybe we'll all get together on this in the end. And I mean "end."

Muaed al-Lami, dean of the Iraqi Union of Journalists, who contributed to the court submission in support of the Guardian, said: "I feel very upset about this.

"I will help with an appeal because we found there was no insult to the prime minister, or defamation."

The Guardian article at the heart of the case – "After six years of Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq" – was published on 31 April, the day the Iraqi prime minister arrived in London seeking British investment....

Aw, shucks.

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