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Abd Al-Malek… the Orphan Who Sang and Was Shot

Mizer Kamal
Iraqi Journalist
March 25, 2020
Abd Al-Malek was one of the protesters who were killed by security forces using hunting weapons, but they couldn’t kill his beautiful voice and memories with his family and friends who are still holding on to videos that capture the moments of joy and sorrow he’d express in his singing.

Abd Al-Malek was one of the protesters who were killed by security forces using hunting weapons, but they couldn’t kill his beautiful voice and memories with his family and friends who are still holding on to videos that capture the moments of joy and sorrow he’d express in his singing.

Abd Al-Malek during a gathering in Tahrir Square in Baghdad.

The river of lashes on my back floods with pain

“Here are my wrists, for whoever is considering placing shackles around them, for I’ve often been shackled and endured, Baghdad shackled me for twenty three years, Tehran whipped me, and the river of lashes on my back floods with pain every night..” These lines part of a poem entitled “Al-Mu’alem thu Al-Mahdar Al-Samaky” (roughly translates to ‘the skilled man with the fishy record’) by Muzaffer Al Nawab, the famous poet, which was the last post shared by the young Abd Al-Malek, 16, on his “Instagram” account, alongside three night photos taken in Tahrir Square, which had been considered the largest gathering of Iraqi protesters in Baghdad since their protests erupted in October 2019.

After 54 days of these photos in Tahrir Square, on the cold night of the 4th of February 2020, Abd Al-Malek was killed in Wathba Square while participating in the daily demonstrations protesting the widespread corruption in the country, and the sectarian and confessional divisions adopted by the ruling parties in running Iraq since 2003.

Abd Al-Malek was shot with a hail of lead “Sajem” bullets, as the Iraqi’s call them, which are weapons mainly used to hunt animals. The United Nations had condemned the way Iraqi security forces resorted to this method of supressing protesters. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, said that the UN mission in Iraq “UNAMI” has received credible information confirming targeting protesters with hunting rifles on the road linking Tahrir Square to al-Khilany Square in Baghdad.

Abd Al-Malek was one of the protesters who were killed by security forces using hunting weapons, but they couldn’t kill his beautiful voice and memories with his family and friends who are still holding on to videos that capture the moments of joy and sorrow he’d express in his singing.

The Orphan That Sang

“After our father had died, we (she, Abd Al-Malek and their mother) lived in our uncle’s house in the al-Dora region in Baghdad, then Abd Al-Malek moved to live in our grandfather’s house in Iskan district,” Malak Ihsan, Abd Al-Malek’s sister, explains. “He was always isolated and melancholy because of our father’s death, he always missed him and felt that he needed his presence.”

“In the month of Ramadan in 2019, our grandmother on my father’s side died and was another shock for Abd Al-Malek, because she loved us and he loved her in particular, having grown attached to her after the death of our father, which increased his isolation and sorrow,” Malak adds.

The life of sadness and loss that Abd Al-Malek lived due to his father’s death and his moving into and out of several homes affected his primary education. He failed the fifth grade, and then after his grandmother’s death he also failed the ninth grade; he then he decided to complete his studies to join the Military college.

His beautiful voice and passion for singing shifted his path from the military, and he decided to join the Institute of Fine Arts to exercise his hobby and talent in singing and music instead. In 2016, Abd Al-Malek began filming spontaneous singing clips and sharing them on his “social media” accounts. We were able to obtain some of them from his family members.

When the protests first erupted on 1st of October 2019, followed by a second wave of demonstrations on the 25th of October 2019, Abd Al-Malek was collecting donations for the protestors. Malak, his sister, says that he committed to the student strike announced by Iraqi students to support the “revolution”, which led to his dismissal from school, but he did not care.

Life Does not Only Grant us Happiness

“The revolution changed Abd Al-Malek character,” Malak says, adding “it made him strong and fearless, and he became more bold and courageous, and he also came out of his isolation. He used to spend most of his time in demonstrations, going out with his friends to Tahrir Square. Abd Al-Malek became different from the isolated sad person he used to be.”

Because of his love for singing, Abd Al-Malek wanted to learn to play the Oud, to write poetry, and he had ambitions to launch his own project; he talked about his intentions to open a barber shop in Baghdad, according to his sister Malak, who insists that he started enjoying going out with his friends, and rarely came back home.  

But because life doesn’t only grant us happiness, Abd Al-Malek was startled again, this time by the killing of one of the most influential activists in the demonstrations, Safaa al-Saray, 26, a poet, painter and computer programmer, who was killed on October 28, 2019, when a tear-gas canister fired by the Iraqi security forces in Tahrir Square landed on his head.

Abd Al-Malek greatly admired Safaa al-Saray, according to his sister, and was deeply affected by his death. It was because of him that Abd Al-Malek loved the poet Muzaffer Al Nawab, and memorized his revolutionary poetry, using them as captions to his pictures on his social media accounts, as well as in daily ‘Stories’.

“He used to swear by Safaa’s soul and the wound of Iraq,” says his sister Malak, confirming that he was always present at the ‘Sons of Thanwa’ tent, which was the tent of Safaa’s friends in which they’d protest in Tahrir Square. The tent was named after Safaa’s mother, whom he dearly loved, and who died of cancer.

Two Weeks before He was Killed

Abd Al-Malek, like the rest of the protesters stationed in Tahrir Square, was demonstrating during the day and striking during the night, rarely returning home. He had dreams of change, eliminating corruption, creating a homeland that respects the rights of its citizens, in which law and safety prevails; But those dreams were shattered by the large boulder of sectarianism, unbudging corruption, and the armed militias and political parties that owe their allegiance to the neighboring countries of Iraq.

Two weeks before his death in Wathba Square, Abd Al-Malek had injured his leg, but he did not tell his mother about it, fearing that she would prevent him from staying in Tahrir Square and continue to participate in the demonstrations. Malak remembers that he remained at home afterwards for a period of time after that, because he believed that the revolution had been conspired against.

“Abd Al-Malek decided to return to school, and my mother mediated with the principal of the school for that, and he agreed to let him return,” Malak continues. “Abd Al-Malek promised his mother he would compensate for the lectures and exams he had missed throughout his strike and participation in the demonstrations, and indeed he began to do that.”

“Malak continued narrating the story of the last few days of her brother’s life, saying: “Meanwhile, his fellow protesters started to contact him. One of them sent him a message saying: ‘What are you doing at home?’ to which Abd Al-Malek responded: ‘I decided to go back to school’. His friend then replied with: ‘How can you do that! People here are dying, while you go back to school?’ and encouraged him to return to the protests.”

On the day Abd Al-Malek was killed, he left early in the morning, leaving a kiss on his mother’s forehead, without eating his breakfast. His friend who had encouraged him to return to the protests was waiting for him aso they could go together, and indeed they went. At the time, al-Wathba Square in Baghdad was witnessing tension and huge crowds of demonstrators, as well as clear repression by the security forces, who were attacking the unarmed protestors with live bullets and tear gas, as well as using hunting weapons that were originally used to kill animals.

That day, Abd Al-Malek was shot with a burst of hunting rifle bullets in the chest from a close distance, after which he was transported in a tuk tuk to the nearby Ibn Al-Nafis hospital. Doctors tried to resuscitate him with electric shocks, but his small body did not respond and he died as a result of his wounds after a journey searching for his homeland.

Abd Al-Malek’s family say that their pride and admiration for him are greater than their sorrow, for he had always wanted to die with dignity, to be martyred for a deserving cause, and there is no better or more important cause than the Homeland. Abd Al-Malek died, but he left a legacy of memories with his friends and family, his voice is still singing the beautiful local Iraqi tunes, his picture still hanging alongside the pictures of Safaa al-Saray, Omar al-Saadoun, Tha’er al-Tayeb, and other activists of the Iraqi demonstrations, which are still going on until now.

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