UN’s Iraq envoy visits murdered activist’s family after apparent snub

Ihab Al Wazni's mother has been protesting alone in Karbala demanding for accountability

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (L), visits the mother of assassinated Iraqi activist Ihab Jawad al-Wazni (image), in her home in the central city of Karbala, on June 24, 2021. Wazni, an Iraqi pro-democracy activists was shot dead on May 9 by men on motorbikes using a silencer in an ambush outside his home in the city of Karbala.   / AFP / Mohammed SAWAF

The UN Envoy to Iraq has visited the family of slain activist Ihab Al Wazni after a UN official appeared to snub the protest leader’s mother earlier this week as she approached a diplomatic car on the streets of Karbala.

Samira Al Wazni has been protesting for days outside a Karbala court building demanding accountability for the murder of her son, who has been a figurehead in the ongoing youth uprising against corruption, nepotism, unemployment and the rule of militias in Iraq. Ms Al Wazni has continued her protests despite threats against her life.

Many in Iraq showed support for Ms Al Wazni after a video was shared online this week showing her approach a UN vehicle whose occupants refused to speak to her before it drove off.

UN Special Representative to Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert visited Ms Al Wazni on Thursday, expressing her heartfelt condolences. She “explained the UN’s efforts to promote accountability for the attacks targeting civic and political activists,” the UN’s office in Iraq said.

“She underlined that the perpetrators of these hideous crimes must be brought to justice.”

Since late 2019, thousand have been protesting the state of the nation, the failures of successive governments to provide basic services such as employment, security and protection.

But, in recent months, militias and armed groups in the country have targeted the leaders of the protests, killing dozens of prominent activists like Ihab Al Wazni, since dubbed the “hero of Karbala”.

“What have we done? Did we commit any crime? They are all the gangs and traitors,” Mrs Al Wazni told the UN official.

“Our problem is that we want a country to live in and a flag made out of nylon. Why are they carrying weapons and opening fire on us?" she said.

Ihab Al Wazni was shot dead on May 9 by men on motorbikes using a silencer in an ambush outside his home in Karbala. No one has been arrested for the killing.

His brother, Ali Al Wazni, urged the UN official to take strong action against the killers.

"We are living in a state full of militias and gangs, we do not want to see any statement denouncing or expressing concern, we want action," he said.

Following the meeting with Ms Al Wazni, Ms Hennis-Plasschaert met with the Karbala Governor Nassif Jassem Al Khattabi.

"They discussed the need to ensure accountability for crimes against civic and political activists," the UN said.

Mrs Al Wazni’s plea for justice pushed several other mothers to call for accountability for the killings of their sons.

The mothers of Amjad Al Duhamat, Ali Jasseb Hattab, Abid Quddous – all assassinated activists – have all joined Mrs Al Wazni in her call for justice.

Videos circulated online of each of the mothers, holding pictures of their murdered sons, calling on authorities to identify the perpetrators and to put an end to targeted killings.

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