Iran blamed for abductions, targeted killings of Iraqi activists

The alleged killings and abductions add to a bloody crackdown on protests in which more than 500 people have died and 17,000 injured since October 1.
Sunday 15/12/2019
In the cross hairs. Mourners carry the coffin of Iraqi civil activist Fahim al-Taie in Kerbala, December 9. (Reuters)
In the cross hairs. Mourners carry the coffin of Iraqi civil activist Fahim al-Taie in Kerbala, December 9. (Reuters)

LONDON - Iraqi protesters face mounting danger amid reports of abductions, assaults and killings by Iran-backed militia groups.

Dozens of Iraqi protesters were said to be abducted and at least three killed in assaults in the past two weeks, reports stated, further inflaming tensions after more than two months of anti-government protests.

The campaign of intimidation drew concern from rights organisations and international groups, which urged the Iraqi government to hold accountable those responsible.

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq said December 12 that it received “credible allegations of deliberate killings, abduction and arbitrary detention carried out by unknown armed men described as ‘militia’, ‘unknown third parties’, ‘armed entities,’ ‘outlaws’ and ‘spoilers’.”

“The government must identify those groups responsible without delay and hold perpetrators accountable,” the report stated.

The British, French and German ambassadors to Iraq released a joint statement urging Iraq to investigate militia violence after a civil society activist was killed in a drive-by shooting December 8.

“No armed group should be able to operate outside of the control of the state,” the ambassadors said.

The most recent activist killed was Ali al-Lami, a 49-year-old father of five who travelled to Baghdad from his southern Iraq hometown of Kut to be part of the protest movement.

Lami’s body was found by his friends, who blamed militia violence for his death.

“It was the militias of a corrupt government that killed him,” a close friend, Tayssir al-Atabi, told Agence France-Presse, in an apparent reference to Iran.

Outside Baghdad, protesters throughout Iraq’s Shia-majority south have been kidnapped and assaulted by unknown men who many say are linked to Iran-backed militias such as Al-Hashed al-Shaabi.

At least 35 men, kidnapped from Al-Sinek, were found blindfolded and bound near the Tigris River, said security sources cited by Al-Araby news outlet. “”They beat us so much,” one abductee told the news site.

The alleged killings and abductions add to a bloody crackdown on protests in which more than 500 people have died and 17,000 injured since October 1. Protesters called for an end to corruption and Iranian influence that they say stunted economic growth and undermined national integrity.

Iraqi protesters are not the only ones to have been caught up in the spiralling violence. On December 9, five Iraqi counterterror personnel were wounded, one seriously, in a rocket attack near the United States diplomatic security compound in the Baghdad International Airport.

A US security official told National Public Radio that the Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) group was behind the attack and questioned the Iraqi government’s slow response.

“We know it’s KH and [the Iraqi government] know[s] it’s KH. Why is someone not holding them to account?” asked the US military official.

“My fear is if [the Iraqi government] is not willing to take action and, if they’re not willing to tamp this down, then we’re going to get to a point where we are going to be backed into a corner… We won’t just eat rockets all day until a couple of us are killed.”

On December 12, two suicide bombers carried out an attack at a base of an armed group led by Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, killing 11 fighters. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The next day, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a public rebuke of the reported abductions and killings of activists and urged the state to regain control of all weaponry.

“We strongly denounce the killings, abductions and attacks of all kinds that have been taking place,” a representative of Sistani said during Friday prayers in the Shia holy city of Karbala during Friday prayers.

The suspected militia violence, made possible by Iran’s reach into Iraq, is increasing instability and pushing Iraq further into crisis, analysts said.

“Sadly, Iraqis have had no respite from violence since 2003,” wrote Alon Ben Meir, a senior fellow at New York University’s Centre for Global Affairs, on Twitter. “(The) main grievance is that Iran exercises huge influence in every walk of life. It’s time for (the) Iraqi (government) to assert more independence from Iran and focus on economic development.”

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