And yet again a youthful peace activist in Iraq has been killed last week. On Saturday the body of 26 year-old Ali Kareem was found with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. He is the son of Basra-based Iraqi human rights activist, Fatima Al-Bahadly, a long term partner of PAX. The international community must condemn such heinous acts of violence against civilian activities in Iraq. However, this violence will not stop the peace activism. As one of Kareem’s friends said: “They [militias] think they will silence us, but we will not be silenced.”
On top of condemning the violence, the donor community working on governance in the country must work with Iraqi authorities to come up with concrete plans to protect Iraqi civilians. Especially activists from this new wave of targeted violence which has engulfed Iraq since October 2019.
By all accounts the murder of Ali Kareem was an attack meant to punish him and his family for their public activism, yet another victim in a horrifying trend of violence against civil society. At just 26 years old, he played an active role in his mother’s organization, the Iraqi Al-Firdaws Society, which focuses on the protection and education of women, and campaigns against the recruitment of young people into armed groups. Al-Firdaws is a longstanding and trusted partner of PAX.
Threats and intimidation
Fatima Al-Bahadly regularly received threats and intimidation from local militias, the last one a mere two months ago, commanding her to leave Basra. This is clearly meant to dissuade or even eliminate leadership within the grassroots protest movement. Fatima is a deeply charismatic woman, and serves as a role model to many across Basra. But today she is first and foremost a mother in mourning. While waiting at the forensics department at Basra hospital, talking to media, Fatima exclaimed: “Less than one year has passed since my son Ahmed was killed. And now the killing of my elder son. Where should I go? To whom should I complain?”
The Iraqi government has yet again failed to protect its civilians; at least 70 activists have been murdered in Iraq since 2019. Armed groups organizing these attacks move around freely without much restraint from the criticized government, which should have protection of freedom and physical integrity of its people as its main concern. Earlier this month, another prominent Baghdad based activist, Ali Al-Makdam was declared ‘kidnapped’ on July 10 and then found dumped on a highway south of Baghdad 36 hours into his disappearance. This led to the reenergising of the National Campaign to End Impunity in Iraq, led by a group of Iraqi activists. A Basra-based activist said: ‘The government has failed to protect its citizens, activists, journalists. What happened is a strong violation of human rights.’
Background about the protests in Iraq
Protests in Iraq started in October 2019 in response to widespread corruption, lack of employment, limited access to basic services, economic crisis, and ongoing foreign interventions in Iraq. Some 500 people have been killed and thousands have been injured since, with protests continuing throughout the pandemic. These demonstrations resulted in the resignation of the Iraqi government in December last year. Otherwise, there has been little to no accountability, nor meaningful attempts to address the underlying issues fuelling cycles of protest and violence. The concerns that keep driving the brave Iraqi activists like Ali Kareem to the streets are legitimate and deserve to be voiced without fear of reprisal.
PAX urges the international community to strongly condemn this targeted violence against Iraqi civilian activists. The must also formulate concrete action plans on how to protect Iraqis and bring an end to the impunity for violence which has long prevailed and prospered in Iraq. We urge the donor community working closely with their Iraqi counterparts on governance, to ensure that concrete plans and steps are included to ensure that Iraqi civilian activists are protected, and their right to peaceful protests is maintained.
As PAX, we wish to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to everyone affected in the latest incidents, especially Fatima Al-Bahadly, and the family and friends of the deceased. Together in solidarity with leaders like Fatima, and in memory of brave activists like her son, Ali Kareem, PAX and its partners will continue to address the multifaceted conflict in Iraq and make sure civilians’ voices are heard.