‘The country is boiling’: Anti-government activists in Iraq are living in fear as assassinations become increasingly frequent

Image: Riham Yaqoub (l) was een arts en activist die sinds 2018 deelnam aan de protesten in Basra. Photo via Twitter

August 27, 2020

Two Iraqi activists, Riham Yaqoub and Tahseen Osama, were murdered in Basra, in the south of Iraq, by unidentified assailants last week. Two other activists were also attacked by gunmen. Since the start of the anti-government protests in Iraq in October 2019, Iraqi political activists, protestors and journalists have been facing violent assaults, assassinations, and forced disappearances.

Riham Yaqoub was a doctor and an activist who supported and participated in the protests in Basra since 2018. She was at the forefront of the recent demonstrations and active in organizing women marches. She was vocal against corruption, youth unemployment, and the severe lack of services provided to the Iraqi people. Riham was shot dead by a gunman while in her car on 19 August 2020.

Days earlier, the activist Tahseen Osama was assassinated, and two other activists escaped assassination attempts. Zainab[1], a female activist and volunteer in the PAX Musawat project, who is also a staff of a PAX partner organization, was one of them. In a recent phone conversation with Zainab, she shared that her fear for her life is constant. However, she sounded resilient and grateful that she survived despite the injuries she sustains.

Armed groups organizing these attacks on activists 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. The recent attacks sparked protestors to return to the streets in Basra to demand the government to investigate who is responsible for these murders. The protestors set fire to the Iraq parliament’s regional office in Basra on Friday 21 August.

Background about the protests in Iraq

Protests in Iraq started in October 2019 as a result of corruption, lack of employment, lack of basic services, economic crisis, and foreign interventions in Iraq. Some 500 people have been killed and thousands have been injured since October 2019. These demonstrations have led to the resignation of the Iraqi government in December last year.

The concerns that keep driving the brave Iraqi protesters on to the streets are legitimate already for years. Like many other organizations, nation states and supranational bodies, we call on the Iraqi government and PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi specifically, to continue and intensify the efforts in holding the perpetrators accountable.

What PAX does

Along with local partners PAX works on several peacebuilding, social cohesion and active citizenship projects in Iraq. PAX has supported efforts to provide protection to Iraqi activists since the start of the demonstrations in October 2019. An example of how we support protesters in Iraq to claim their rights is the campaign we ran together with female protesters last Spring.

As PAX, we wish to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to everyone affected in the latest incidents. Together with people like Zainab, PAX and partners will continue to address the multifaceted conflict in Iraq.

[1] Name was replaced to ensure anonymity

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