Two activists under a week have been assassinated and three more narrowly survived murder attempts in southern Iraq, where tensions between pro-Iran groups and a Western-leaning government are claiming new victims.
One of them was Riham Yaaqub, a 29-year-old athletics coach who was deeply involved in anti-government protests and who was shot dead in the southern province of Basra on Wednesday.
Five days earlier in Basra, activist Tahsin al-Shahmani died after being shot more than two dozen times.
The targeted killings sent shivers down spines in Iraq’s civil society, already deeply disturbed by the July killing in Baghdad of Hisham al-Hashemi, a government adviser and widely respected scholar on jihadism.
“The government and security forces have done nothing, but everyone knows the killers are the same… (they) killed Riham, Tahsin, and Hisham al-Hashemi,” said Ammar al-Hilfi, a prominent activist in Basra.about:blank
The list of victims is long: dozens of activists have been killed in Iraq in recent years, including during bloody protests in 2018 over a public health crisis in Basra that had put more than 100,000 people in hospital.
Then, in October, widespread rallies erupted across Baghdad and the south against a government seen as corrupt, inept and beholden to neighbouring Iran.
Protest-related violence left nearly 600 dead, including some shot dead while walking home from demonstrations.
Still others were kidnapped, assaulted or threatened.
On Monday, three more activists in Basra — Ludia Rimon, Fahad al-Zubaydi and Abbas al-Subhi — were heading to the Shahmani family home to offer their condolences when a car full of armed men began firing at them.
The trio managed to escape, wounded and shaken but alive.
The city’s activist collectives have been left reeling by the sudden spree of violence.
“During the month of August, there have been six assassinations or attempted killings,” said Mehdi al-Tamimi, who heads the city’s Human Rights Council.
In total over the last year, Tamimi told AFP, the city has been hit by eight such murders and seven attempted killings.
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