Death threats did not stop Hadi al-Mahdi, a popular radio talk show host in Baghdad, from criticizing and mocking the Iraqi government’s waste and inefficiency. What silenced him was his actual death.
Mahdi, 45, who was also a playwright, filmmaker, columnist and an important organizer of the protests that have been taking place in the capital since February 25 of this year, was found dead on Thursday, one day before he and his activists colleagues planned to stage a protest.
According to DPA, a source in the country’s ministry interior said on Thursday that security forces found Mahdi’s corpse in his house, which is located in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karada.
Other reports indicate that Mahdi was killed by gunshot, perhaps from a silenced weapon.
Prior to Friday’s protest, and according to its organizers’ official website, www.altahreernews.com, which is named after Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Mahdi wrote that “tomorrow 9.9 is a true democratic wedding/celebration for our new Iraq. The sons and daughters of Iraq will come without sectarianism and hatred, with hearts filled with love and forgiveness, to say no to quotas, no to corruption, pillaging, failure, treason, and to demand a better Iraq, a better government, better political parties and better leadership.”
Altahreernews also reported that Mahdi had written on Facebook that he lived in fear.
“In the last three days I lived in horror, there are those who are warning that protesters will be raided and arrested, and there are those who say that the government will do this and that, and there are those who create phony Facebook accounts to threaten me.”
Mahdi was defiant up until his death. Another Facebook post of his demonstrates this: “I will join the protests and show my support, I believe, and absolutely, that the political process represents but garbage of national, economic, and political failure and it deserves to be changed, and we deserve a better government. In brief I do not represent any political party and I am independent, but I represent reality that we live in, I am tired of watching our mothers begging in the streets, and I am tired of the heavy political news and the politicians pillaging Iraq’s resources.”
Iraqis reacted to the news of Mahdi’s death with condemnation and criticized a government they see as increasingly dictatorial and basically unchanged from the rule of its brutal predecessor, Saddam Hussein.
In response to Mahdi’s killing, a Facebook group, “We Are All Hadi al-Mahdi,” was created, and has attracted 1,700 members.
“In a cowardice operation a criminal hand killed the activist and the organizer of tomorrow’s protest ... ” one member wrote, while another commentator said “the path of freedom has become the path of martyrdom … the revolution has begun.”
One female reader wrote “write all that comes from your souls and hearts, we are all corpses that will be buried one day,” and another group member said, “death to Maliki and long live Hadi al-Mahdi.”
More and more Iraqis are complaining that the current government's conduct is no different from Saddam Hussein’s practice of silencing dissent, and recall the 1991 uprising and the mass graves found after the US invasion when Saddam’s forces killed many Iraqis who protested against his Baath party.
Mahdi’s killing “reminds us of the Baath practice during the 1991 uprising,” altahreernews.com reported.
Another independent online newspaper, www.kitabat.com, directed an accusation at the prime minister’s son-in-law.
“A short electronic message we received from an Iraqi newspaper said this: I was the last person talking to the martyr Hadi al-Mahdi before his assassination, he told me that al-Maliki’s son-in law-is the one that was threatening me.”
Mahdi, who witnessed his own brother’s killing at the hands of the Baath regime, anticipated a more democratic Iraq after returning to his homeland from 18 years of exile.