In June, Mahdi sent O’Farrell an e-mail that began, “Iraq’s new dictator wants to kill me with knives!” He believed Maliki had assigned mercenaries to stab him on the street, he told her.
Nonetheless, Mahdi had continued to attend protests each Friday this summer at Tahrir Square, even though attendance dwindled with each passing week. Those who showed up said they were often harassed by government forces.
About two months ago, Mahdi quit doing his radio show out of fear for his safety, friends said. Even as his apprehension grew, however, Mahdi remained committed to attending Friday’s scheduled protest to push for government reform. Organizers were hoping for fresh energy and new momentum after a slowdown during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“I will take part in the demonstrations, for I am one of its supporters,” he wrote Thursday on Facebook.“I firmly believe that the political process embodies a national, economic, and political failure. It deserves to change, and we deserve a better government. In short, I do not represent any political party or any other side, but rather the miserable reality in which we live.”
Mahdi stayed on Facebook until 2:30 p.m., friends believe, until he was summoned to the door of the small house just off Abu Nawas street in Baghdad. He let in his guest, or guests, then went to the kitchen to pour glasses of water. An attacker followed him, pulled out a small handgun and lodged two bullets in his skull. He was still holding the water jug when he fell.
“He always said he was on the list for assassination,” said Ammar al-Shahbander, a friend who is the Iraq chief of mission for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “I personally didn’t think it would happen. But Hadi was so sure about it.”
The demonstration that Mahdi had called for Friday turned into a wake of sorts, as about 350 protesters gathered in the sun-filled square. Some held up a large picture of Mahdi edged in black; others held banners inscribed with his last Facebook post. They sang and chanted that his blood would not be spilled in vain.
Alwan is a special correspondent. Staff writer Stephanie McCrummen in Washington contributed to this report.