A presidential guard shot dead a senior Iraqi journalist during an argument in Baghdad Saturday and then fled, briefly sparking a standoff in which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded he be handed over.
It was not immediately clear what sparked the altercation outside a heavily guarded presidential complex in the upscale Jadriyah neighbourhood, but it appeared that Mohammed Bidaiwi, the Baghdad bureau chief of Radio Free Iraq, was on his way to work inside the compound when the shooting occurred.
The officer allegedly responsible, a captain in the Kurdish peshmerga forces, fled the scene after the incident.
He apparently took refuge in presidential guard offices before eventually being handed over, but only after Maliki himself made a surprise appearance to demand he be taken into custody.
“The peshmerga captain killed him after he stopped him from getting into the compound,” said a journalist at Radio Free Iraq, who declined to be identified.
An interior ministry official, who also did not want to be named, confirmed the account.
The killing sparked outrage among officials, with Maliki’s office and others alleging that the officer was being harboured by the presidential guard, and demanding that he be handed over.
Shortly afterwards, the premier appeared at the compound with a phalanx of guards and called for the officer to be arrested.
The Baghdad joint security command later announced that he had been handed over.
Maliki’s spokesman earlier told AFP security forces were “laying siege to the presidential offices” and that “if this brigade refuses to hand over the criminal, we have orders to break in and arrest him by force.”
Bidaiwi is survived by his widow and two children.
A journalist since 1993, he had been Baghdad bureau chief for Radio Free Iraq since 2006 and was also an associate professor of journalism at Baghdad’s Mustansiriyah University.
The broadcaster was established in 1998 and is a branch of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, broadcasting in Arabic from Prague and Baghdad.
The so-called “Talabani Compound” where the shooting occurred lies just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, which is home to the prime minister’s residence, parliament and the US and British embassies.
It is named after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who has been in Germany for more than a year receiving treatment for a stroke.
– Deadly country for journalists –
The compound houses presidential residences, as well as several private homes and offices, including those of Radio Free Iraq, and is guarded by Kurdish peshmerga guards.
Iraq remains one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists and is routinely criticised for its poor record on media rights. It frequently scores towards the bottom of press-freedom rankings, and tops the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index, which tracks unsolved murders of journalists.
“Many Iraqi journalists are routinely exposed to threats, murder attempts, attacks, difficulties obtaining permission, denial of access, confiscation of equipment and so on,” Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said last year.
In just the last three months of 2013, five journalists were killed in the northern city of Mosul alone.
And this year, an Iraqi cameraman and his driver were wounded in Mosul in January, while one journalist was killed and another was wounded by a bombing in restive Anbar province the same month.