Murders in Iraq hint at broader national chaos

What passes for government must act quickly to address this tragic situation

Demonstrators wave national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration demanding better public services and jobs in the southern city of Basra, Iraq, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018.  Masked gunmen shot dead Soad al-Ali, a human rights activist and mother of four, outside a supermarket in Basra on Tuesday, a brazen afternoon assassination that threatens to worsen tensions in the southern city wracked by violent protests. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
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In any normal scenario, in which government and the rule of law were functioning efficiently, it would be wise to urge restraint before leaping to conclusions about the murders this week of two women in Iraq, and the two suspicious deaths that preceded them. The police, it would be responsible to say, must be allowed to do their work without being impeded by idle speculation.

But the current situation in Iraq, where militias are rapidly filling the vacuum created by the failure of politicians to form a viable government, is far from normal. The prospect that high-profile women are being targeted because they have rejected the roles that reactionary elements would seek to impose upon them must be highlighted and swiftly condemned.

It has been suggested that the killings are the work of “religious fanatics”, but this term implies that justification for the slaughter of innocents can be found in the doctrine of the faith they profess to follow. It cannot. “Murderous cowards” is the correct characterisation of men who would visit violence upon defenceless women going about their everyday lives.

On Tuesday Soad Al Ali, a human-rights activist who took part recently in the protests over the collapse of public services in Basra, was shot dead on a city street by two masked gunmen. Three days later Tara Fares, a 22-year-old model and social media star, was gunned down in Baghdad.

The shootings followed the mysterious deaths last month of Rafeef al-Yaseri and Rasha al-Hassan, the owners of two beauty salons in Baghdad.

Parliamentary elections took place in May and yet Iraq remains effectively rudderless, its course to a brighter future blocked by self-serving power plays between numerous parties and sectarian blocs. Inevitably, the all-smothering weeds of bigotry and extremism will thrive in such soil, and in the absence of an effective judicial system dangerous misfits will be emboldened to pursue their agendas.

Dreadful enough in their own right, these killings are symptomatic of the broader chaos threatening to engulf this long-suffering country. What passes for government must act quickly to address this situation. To truly earn the term, a society must first be able to protect its citizens. One in which citizens are unable to pursue their lawful dreams without fear of violence is no society at all – a woeful indictment for a nation that occupies the land known to history as the cradle of civilisation.

These murdered women were not agents or advocates of violence and despair, but of peace, hope and progress. Iraq’s leaders would do well to honour their stolen lives by following their example.