ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the deputy charge d'affaires of the embassy of Iraq on Sunday over statements made by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in which he expressed his support for Bahraini protests organized by Shia Muslims.
Maliki made the sympathetic remarks during a ceremony marking the opening of an office in Baghdad for the "February 14 Youth Coalition in Bahrain," considered a "terrorist organization" by Manama.
The Iraqi politician pointed to Bahrain's acts of "violence, discrimination" against Shias of the island country. He also asserted that Manama was using the "Fedayeen Saddam" to quell the protests, adding that such measures would further escalate the already tense situation.
Disbanded after the fall of the former Iraqi government in 2003, Fedayeen Saddam – Saddam's Men of Sacrifice – was a voluntary paramilitary organization loyal to the Baathist regime, first established in 1995 by the brutal dictator's son Uday.
Protests have stopped short of demanding regime change but are now calling for a "Referendum. Elections for self-determination" in a country that, like Iraq, has experienced years of tension between its Sunni and Shia populations seen as stoked by regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia.
"These are legitimate demands," the former prime minister said. "It is a terrible injustice to meet these... civilized demands by rejection and condemnation."
Maliki's declaration of support appears to be motivated primarily by sectarian alignment rather than an ideological zeal for the universal right of free expression, having gained a reputation as a leader more than willing to crack down on demonstrations with mass arrests and violence during his tenure as prime minister.
Though he gained this reputation most notably during the weekly protests in Baghdad's Tahrir Square in 2011, it became a reoccurring theme of his administration. In April 2013, Maliki also mobilized elite units against demonstrations taking place in the Sunni town of Hawija. Troops opened fire, killing over 40 protesters and blocking ambulances from taking the wounded to hospitals in Kirkuk. By the end of a three-day campaign, nearly 1000 casualties were reported.
Maliki's comments were a "blatant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain," Manama responded in a statement published on the country's state-run media BNA.
The head of Iraq's State of Law coalition has voiced support for protests in Bahrain on numerous occasions, most recently in 2017 when he criticized the execution of three Shia Bahrainis convicted of targeting police forces in the kingdom.
Editing by John J. Catherine