Iraq protests expected to reignite after recent assassinations

Hundreds plan to take to the streets demanding accountability for killing of activists

A picture taken  on May 23, 2021 shows a graffiti reading in Arabic "Where's my killer?" and depicting renowned Iraqi anti-government activist Ihab al-Wazni (Ehab al-Ouazni), who was shot dead in an ambush earlier this month,  in the shrine city of Karbala. A wave of deadly attacks on pro-democracy activists and journalists in Iraq have sparked mounting calls to boycott October parliamentary elections, as perpetrators go unpunished. Killings, attempted murder and abductions have targeted more than 70 activists since a protest movement erupted against government corruption and incompetence in 2019. / AFP / Mohammed SAWAF

Iraq's protests co-ordination committee called for nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday demanding accountability following a rise in targeted assassinations, activists and human rights groups told The National.

Under the slogan of "Who killed me?" hundreds are expected to demand the arrest of Karbala activist Ihab Al Wazni's killers and accountability for the increase of killings of journalists, activists and members of Iraq's civil society.

"The central committee for protests, which consists of activists and protesters, has organised a demonstration to be held on May 25, that calls on millions to march to Baghdad from across the country calling for Al Wazni's killers to be held accountable," Dhia Al Hindi, a leader in Karbala's protest movement, told The National.

Iraq's protest movement started in late 2019 that called for an end to foreign meddling in Iraq's internal affairs, adequate public services and employment opportunities.

They also called for the ousting of the government who they believe is corrupt.

Tuesday's demonstration is set to start at 10am where protesters will gather in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, Mr Al Hindi said.

"We are expecting thousands to participate and call for justice as we've lost many lives simply by asking for our rights."

Mr Al Hindi said Iraqi public was convinced the perpetrators were known by security forces, but had not been arrested because of links with neighbouring Iran.

Dozens of activists were killed since 2019 and the government is yet to reveal the identity of the killers.

He believes that the killings will continue until the end of the upcoming elections that are expected to be held in October.

The calls made by the protesters to resume their movement are simply due to the lack of action and broken promises made by the government to meet their demands, Inas Jabbar, a human rights activist from Baghdad, told The National.

“The lack of accountability for the increased number of assassinations of male and female activists and many protest leaders who have nominated themselves for the elections can no longer participate have also contributed to this,” she said.

Ms Jabbar, who will be participating in the movement on Tuesday, said those who have been pushing for this protest to take place are worried for their safety but cannot stay silent anymore because “the situation is deteriorating from bad to worse.”

Many activists have fled to the northern region of Kurdistan, Ms Jabber said, leaving their families behind and are in hiding.

“We cannot continue living like this, we need to put an end to it, I'm sure the government knows who is behind these acts but yet they are silent,” she said.

Activists have repeatedly blamed Iran-linked armed groups who have considerable influence in Iraq for the killings and intimidation.

Al Wazni had for many years criticised Iraqi armed groups and Iran's meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

The day after he was killed, prominent journalist Ahmed Hassan was also shot in southern Iraq.

He remains in a coma after undergoing brain surgery.

Authorities have consistently failed to publicly identify or charge the perpetrators of the killings, which have not been claimed.

Ali Al Bayati, a member of the semi-official Iraqi Human Rights Commission said Tuesday’s protest will reflect an “outcry” on what is going on in the streets against activists and members of civil rights groups.

"We hope that security institutions will keep calm and deal with protesters without violence," Mr Al Bayati told The National.

The movement, Mr Al Bayati said, had been arranged by the protest co-ordination committee, which had based their demonstration on the recent assassinations.

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