BAGHDAD -- Dozens of Iraqi newspapers refused to publish on March 23 to protest the killing of a prominent radio journalist by what witnesses said was a member of the Iraqi president's peshmerga guard.
The one-day suspension of publication was called by the Syndicate of Iraqi Journalists, which condemned the March 22 killing of RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) Baghdad bureau chief Mohammed Bdaiwi Owaid al-Shammari as a "heinous crime."
The journalists' group also staged a protest in Baghdad on March 23 to express their outrage about al-Shammari's murder.
"It [the murder] is an attempt to weaken and threaten journalists and belittle them," said Muayad al-Lami, who heads the syndicate. "But I think the incident has sparked a backlash against the perpetrators and against those who may think of killing Iraqi journalists. The national, local, and world solidarity and the hunt for the criminal and those who back him will scare anyone who might think of targeting a journalist or anyone who might think of killing a journalist. I do not think that the one who killed Iraqi journalist Mohammed Bdaiwi will escape the gallows because it was a cold-blooded murder."
Al-Shammari was shot dead at the gates of the presidential compound in Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighborhood. The compound also includes RFI's Baghdad bureau, as well as other offices and private residences.
Witnesses said al-Shammari was driving his car through the guarded gate when he got into an argument over the right of way with a member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, who shot him dead.
The peshmerga militia is responsible for guarding the residential compound of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- an ethnic Kurd.
Iraqi state television broadcast images of the alleged shooter in police custody after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the murder scene on March 22 and ordered his arrest.
The office of President Talabani, who has been receiving medical treatment for a stroke in Germany since December 2012, called the killing a "criminal act."
Mohammed Bdaiwi Owaid al-Shammari
Mudhafar al-Rubei, deputy head of cultural relations at Iraq's Culture Ministry, told the Reuters news agency that al-Shammari's murder highlights how the peshmerga presidential guard falls outside of the control of Baghdad's defense ministry and the command structure of the Iraqi army.
"We denounce this heinous crime against journalist Mohammed Bdaiwi and the reckless behavior by a member of the peshmerga force protecting the presidential compound," he said. "We express our astonishment at the presence of this unruled force, which is not subjected to the control of the Ministry of Defense or the Baghdad Operations Command."
Al-Shammari, 46, is survived by his wife and three children.
Known on the air as Hasan Rashid, he had worked as a journalist since 1993. He joined RFI in 2006 and held the position of RFI's Baghdad bureau chief for two years.
Al-Shammari also served on the editorial boards of several Iraqi media institutions and was an associate professor of journalism at Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.
He authored several books which have been published in Arabic, including "Metamorphoses of Political Islam in Iraq" (2011) and "Iraqi Media: Reality and Challenges" (2012).
Radio Free Iraq is a branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
With reporting by Reuters and dpa