Iraqi activist’s murder casts doubt on authorities’ ability to end killings

Since Iraqi protesters took to the streets last October, Iran-backed militias have been suspected of carrying out numerous assassinations against prominent activists and critics.
Thursday 17/09/2020
Security forces stand guard at the assassination scene of Hisham al-Hashemi, in Baghdad,  July, 7. (AP)
Security forces stand guard at the assassination scene of Hisham al-Hashemi, in Baghdad, July, 7. (AP)

BAGHDAD – The murder of a young woman activist and her family sent shock-waves through Iraq, with many suspecting the crime of being politically motivated.

The murders came as Iraqi protesters continued to direct anger at the government and other influential actors, including leaders of religious parties and militias for alleged corruption and mismanagement.

Since Iraqi protesters took to the streets last October, Iran-backed militias have been accused of carrying out numerous assassinations against prominent activists and critics.

A security source reported on Wednesday that Iraqi activist Sheelan Dara Raouf and her parents were killed by unknown individuals in the capital Baghdad.

“Unidentified gunmen have stormed a house in Al-Mansour district, west of Baghdad, on Tuesday evening, and slaughtered the pharmacist Sheelan Dara, and her parents,” said. Baghdad Police Captain Hatem Al-Jabri.

Jabri added the gunmen stole valuables from the house before fleeing and that authorities had opened an investigation into the crime, which preliminary data indicates to have been “motivated by theft.”

By not classifying the case as politically-motivated, Iraqi authorities could be spared further embarrassment over their inability to stop continued assassinations or bring those responsible to justice, as repeatedly promised by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Some Iraqi sources believe it is possible the Shia militias are in part motivated by their objective to embarrass Kadhimi, with whom they have a lack of trust.

Many have pointed the finger at Iran-backed militias for the assassinations of critics and protesters, saying they are attempting to intimidate their detractors in order to preserve Iran’s influence.

Raouf, who is of Kurish origins, was a well-known face in the protest movement, activists say, playing a major role in treating the injured during street confrontations in Baghdad between the demonstrators, and policemen and militias

Activists say Raouf was even celebrated as “the paramedic of Tahrir,” a reference to Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square that was the main scene of sit-ins and demonstrations.

Tariq Al-Husseini, an activist in anti-government protests, said the recent attack was aimed to “liquidate Sheelan” (Raouf). He called on the Iraqi government to fulfil its pledge to prosecute those involved in the killing of protesters and activists and bring them to justice.

Other activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Raouf had previously received death threats from unknown people and that her family had been harassed, eventually forcing her to stop participating in protests. The activists said authorities had repeatedly been made aware of the threats against her.

In activists’ testimonies circulated on social media and reported by local Iraqi media, shocking details emerged about the killing of Raouf and her family. Some claimed she had been raped and amputated, which activists say points to the culpability of Shia militias. They accused the militias of committing brutal acts of violence to exact revenge and intimidate activists, especially women who have been active in the popular uprising.

Many political figures reacted to Raouf’s murder, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) calling on Kadhimi to quickly make public “the circumstances of the heinous crime that was committed in Al Mansour area in Baghdad.”

Second Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi parliament Basheer Haddad described the “brutal” killings as “a treacherous and cowardly act” and called on authorities to “expedite the investigation, find the perpetrators and bring them to justice as soon as possible.”

Kadhimi’s government has pledged to prosecute those involved in the killing of protesters and activists, but none have so far been brought to justice.

In August, there were a series assassination attempts against anti-government protesters, the most violent of which occurred in Basra governorate.

Last week, three activists and two other citizens were killed in Basra. According to local media, other activists survived assassination attempts in Basra and Dhi Qar, south of Baghdad.

According to government figures, 565 protesters and security personnel have been killed since anti-government protests broke out in October last year, among them dozens of activists assassinated by unknown gunmen.

The assassinations have even targeted individuals close to the premier himself. Last July, unidentified gunmen killed security expert Hisham Al-Hashemi, known to be close to Kadhimi, in front of his home in Al Zayouna neighbourhood of the Iraqi capital.

As the toll grows, no assailants have been officially identified, casting doubt on the Iraqi government’s ability to put an end to the crimes.