A police official said Soad al-Ali, 46, who has been involved in organising protests demanding better services in the city, was killed instantly on Tuesday by the attackers who fled the scene after shooting at her and her husband as they were getting in their car.
Ali’s husband was wounded and was being treated in a hospital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s attack.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to give official statements.
The killing, which occurred on a street in the Abbasiya district in the centre of Basra, is the first such incident since protests erupted this summer.
Angry Basra residents have repeatedly taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest failing government services, including water contamination that sent tens of thousands to hospitals.
Earlier this month, protests turned violent when demonstrators attacked and torched government offices, the headquarters of the Iranian-backed armed groups and Iran’s consulate in Basra – in a show of anger over what many residents perceive as Iran‘s outsized control over local affairs.
The events in Basra reflect the growing influence of the armed groups, which played a major role in retaking Iraqi territory from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.
Activists have described a campaign of intimidation and arbitrary detentions by the powerful armed and political groups that control Basra, a city of more than two million people in southern Iraq’s Shia Muslim heartland.
Ali has been pictured during a meeting she held with Timmy Davis, the US consul general in the province of Basra, more than a month ago.