Outraged Iraqis blame Iran-backed militias after latest activist shooting

Scores of activists have been shot dead near their homes or kidnapped amid a national protest movement

Mourners react next to a coffin of Iraqi civil society activist Ehab al-Wazni, who was killed by unidentified gunmen, during a funeral in Kerbala, Iraq, May 9, 2021. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deen
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Iraqi activists are calling on the international community to intervene and protect civilians following the attempted killing of a journalist and the assassination of activist Ihab Al Wazni.

Both attacks have occurred in the last 24 hours.

Outrage has spread across the country’s civil society groups as reporter Ahmed Hassan is currently in a critical condition, after being shot. On Sunday, Al Wazni was shot dead in the holy city of Karbala.

Anyone who speaks out against the militias will be killed instantly

The country’s protest movement took to the streets to vent their frustration, demanding an end to the bloodshed and what is widely perceived as official impunity.

"There must be a way to protect civilians, the international community must intervene to save Iraqis. We are being killed one by one," Inas Jabbar, a human rights activist, told The National.

Ms Jabbar said officials must be held accountable for the amount of people being targeted and killed.

“The attempted assassination of Ahmed Hassan is unacceptable, this needs to stop, we cannot keep losing lives. When will the government wake up? How many lives will it take to stop?” she said.

Mr Hassan was shot several times by an assailant as he arrived home at night near Diwaniyah. Images of his shooting were captured on a surveillance camera, as has been the case in a string of previous attacks.

He had to be transported to a hospital in the capital that specialises in neurological surgery.

Local reports said that he had undergone brain surgery and remains in critical condition.

Al Wazni, who was killed less than 24 hrs before assailants targeted Mr Hassan, was known as the Hero of Karbala for his support for the protest movement. He killed by gunmen near his home.

His death has sparked outrage at the lack of action taken by authorities to protect civilians and provide them with basic public services.

Activists claim that Iranian backed militias are responsible for the killings, intimidation and targeting of civilians.

"Anyone who speaks out against the militias will be killed instantly," Ahmed Al Hashimi, a rights activist from Baghdad, told The National.

“Their actions will not stop us from fighting for our rights,” he said, adding that there must be a better system to ensure accountability and protection for Iraqis.

“We will all be killed if this continues, we need outside assistance,” Mr Al Hashimi said.

The targeted killings are the result of the absence of accountability and a culture of impunity, Ali Al Bayati, a member of the semi-official Iraqi Human Rights Commission said.

"The government must stop from only criticising some unlawful groups and launch some real steps to bring them to accountability and help the judiciary open investigations," Mr Al Bayati told The National.

“It is unbelievable that in each city we have more than five branches of security forces and no one is capable of stopping such crimes,” he said.

Iraq’s security system “must bear responsibility when such violence does not stop,” Mr Al Bayati said.

In October 2019, widespread rallies erupted across Baghdad and the south against a government seen as corrupt, inept and beholden to neighboring Iran.

Protest-related violence left at least 550 dead and thousands more injured, while hundreds were detained.

Some protesters were shot dead while walking home from demonstrations.

Others were kidnapped, assaulted and threatened.

Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others have been abducted since October 2019.

“We cannot stop, we must continue to fight for justice and for those who have been killed,” Ms Jabbar said.