Killing of Salah Al Iraqi: a brother's tribute to 'a simple kind of man with a pure heart'

Al Iraqi is the latest in a long list of protesters gunned down by unknown militants since last October when pro-reform protests broke out

The two men approached Salah Al Iraqi on Tuesday as he stood in his small kiosk selling mobile phones in one of Baghdad’s outdoor markets.

One of the men called Salah by name before shooting him with a pistol when he turned towards them. The other filmed the killing on his phone.

Al Iraqi, 38, was the latest on a growing list of Iraqi activists gunned down by unknown militants since October last year when widespread pro-reform protests broke out.

Since then, Iraqis have taken to the streets to demand action on poor public services, rocketing unemployment and endemic corruption. Among their key demands were the removal of the country's political elite and a call to hold early elections.

"He was a simple kind of man with a pure heart," his brother, Falah Al Shamari, told The National over the phone hours after the burial.

“Unfortunately, we have to accept this reality: we have a beautiful country but in a very terrible situation,” Mr Al Shamari said.

“His love for Iraq and his role in the protests earned him the nickname ‘Al Iraqi’,” he said, and revealed that Al Iraqi received numerous threats and had been wounded four times since last year.

Based on statistics released by the government on July 30, at least 560 protesters and members of security forces have been killed, while tens of thousands of others were wounded – many suffering life-changing injuries – since protests began.

Most of those killed or wounded are protesters, hit by security forces and state-sanctioned militias firing live rounds and military-grade smoke bombs.

Some activists were kidnapped or assassinated outside the protest encampments.

When he took office in May, Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi pledged to investigate the killings. But his government has failed to hold anyone accountable so far, offering only promises of justice and financial aid to victims.

A day before his assassination, Al Iraqi released a video attacking the government and militias for attempting to quell protests in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

“I will talk for like five minutes because we are all subject to kidnapping and repression now,” he said as he started the live video on his Facebook page.

“Upon an agreement with the corrupt Al Kadhimi, the security forces along with the militias are repressing the protesters [in Nasiriyah]”, he said.

“I’m not afraid of you Al Kadhimi nor your militias or the mean people who chase us. You know very well that your bats kidnap, stab and kill the protesters,” he said.

Among his friends at the heart of the protest movement in Baghdad’s Tahiri Square, Al Iraqi was known for his enthusiasm and charisma.

“When I met him, I thought he was a journalist because he was actively documenting the protests, mainly through live feeds on his Facebook page where thousands of people follow him,” activist Hashim Al Jabouri said.

“Despite differences among protesters and activists, he maintained good relations with all,” Mr Al Jabouri said.

The last time he was shot was in July, Mr Al Jabouri said. Since then, he lived with a bullet in his leg because he could not afford surgery to have it removed.

“He failed to pay the rent of his house for four months so we submitted his name among the others who need medical help as per the government pledge [to cover costs], but nothing happened,” Mr Al Jabouri said.

“He died with the bullet in his leg,” his brother Falah said.

Soon after the assassination, the picture of Salah covered with a plastic sheet and his face stained with blood was widely circulated on social media.

The protests in Nasiriyah are still strong despite the government having dismantled encampments in other cities. But the situation deteriorated late last month.

Dozens of followers of firebrand cleric Moqtada Al Sadr stormed the main protest encampment in the city's Haboubi Square, burning tents and attacking protesters with guns, knives and batons.

At least seven protesters were killed and more than 50 wounded, according to local police and health officials.

Alarmed by the situation, Baghdad sent federal forces to the city to protect the protesters and a senior government delegation. But activists complain that the authorities are chasing the activists.

“Are you trying to end the October Revolution? No, that’s impossible ... impossible,” Al Iraqi said in his feed, calling on Iraqis in other parts of Iraq to support Nasiriyah protesters.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and two boys.

In his last post on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, he wrote: "The innocent die while the cowards rule."