Iraq arrests ‘death squad’ over assassination of activists

Two senior security officials said on Sunday that Iraqi authorities had arrested four people in the southern city of Basra on suspicion of being behind a series of assassinations of activists and journalists, marking the first known arrests of their kind.
Monday 15/02/2021
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during a meeting with security leaders, in Basra, Iraq, August 22, 2020. (AFP)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks during a meeting with security leaders, in Basra, Iraq, August 22, 2020. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced early on Monday morning the arrest of a so-called “death squad” he said was responsible for assassinating activists in Basra in southern Iraq.

Kadhimi wrote on Twitter: “The death squad which terrorised our people in Basra, and killed innocents, are now in the hands of our heroic forces, on their way to a fair trial.”

“We got the killers of Jinan and Abdulsamad, and we will get the killers of Reham, Hosham, and all others. Justice will not sleep.” he added, referring to a number of activists, analysts and journalists killed last year.

Ahmed Abdul Samad, a 37-year-old correspondent for the Dijla channel in Basra, and his fellow cameraman, Safaa Ghali, 26, were assassinated by gunmen on January 10.

Other Basra activists were assassinated last year, including prominent activist and fitness trainer Reham Yacoub.

Two senior security officials said on Sunday that Iraqi authorities had arrested four people in the southern city of Basra on suspicion of being behind a series of assassinations of activists and journalists, marking the first known arrests of their kind.

“An intelligence force managed to arrest four suspects within a network of 16 people responsible for the assassinations that targeted activists in Basra,” an unnamed senior security official said.

The source stated that the defendants confessed to crimes, including the killing of Iraqi activist and journalist Ahmed Abdul Samad and others, indicating that investigations are underway to identify the rest of the cell members.

Hardline units of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) are widely accused of killing many protesters and activists.

Dozens of Iraqi youth were killed in the protests by gunfire or tear gas canisters. Others were specifically sought out and assassinated, like security analyst and government adviser Hisham al-Hashemi, who was killed in front of his house in July.

“We know who killed Husham, for example, but we cannot pursue them,” a source said, saying his assassins were linked to powerful paramilitary groups.
Kadhimi has repeatedly pledged to hold the killers accountable, but there had been no arrests or public trials.

Several other activists nationwide, including women, have been assassinated or have survived attempts on their lives.

Fahim al-Taie, an activist from Karbala, was killed outside his home in December by unknown gunmen riding a motorcycle.

Most of the slain activists and journalists had criticised Iran’s influence in Iraq, including the deadly role played by Tehran-backed militias.

At least 600 protesters and members of the security forces had been killed and more than 18,000 injured as of January 2020, according to Amnesty International.

Kadhimi previously dismissed Basra Police Chief Lieutenant General Rashid Fuleih and a number of security chiefs from their positions due to assassinations that took place in the governorate, pledging to pressure security forces to carry out their duties.

In December, eight human rights organisations said the Iraqi government had “failed” in its pledge to bring these individuals to justice, thus “entrenching decades of impunity.”