Protesters have burned tyres and blocked roads in the Iraqi city of Karbala after a prominent civil activist was killed by unknown gunmen.
Ihab Jawad Al-Wazni was killed in the early hours of Sunday near his home in the predominantly Shia city, according to a statement by the Iraqi defence ministry. No group claimed responsibility.
Al-Wazni, a leading figure in protests against the government in the city, was buried on Sunday morning.
Witnesses said hundreds of people took to the streets in Karbala in demonstrations condemning the activist’s assassination.
Protesters blocked a number of main roads in the city and demanded security forces find and identify al-Wazni’s killers, and threatened to escalate protests if the perpetrators were not exposed.
“The killer parties are well known. Today all Iraqis even kids know which party is carrying out the killings. It is armed militias supported by regional countries and the whole world knows who it is,” said Zeid al-Sumeri, a protester from Karbala.
The killing of al-Wazni is seen by Iraqis as a message by militias affiliated with political parties that they will not back down from criticism.
“Ihab al-Wazni’s blood wasn’t in vain… Your blood wasn’t wasted,” said one protester.
About 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others abducted, some detained briefly, since October 2019. Such assassinations are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorcycles, and nobody claims responsibility.
Activists and the UN repeatedly blame “militias”.
Karbala Governor Nassif al-Khattabi on Sunday ordered security forces in the city to be on alert in an effort to arrest the suspects, a statement by his office said.
Hundreds of demonstrators also took to the streets in the city of Nasiriya, capital of the southern province of Dhi Qar, closing down a number of main roads to protest the killing.
Iraq has witnessed sporadic protests since October 2019 over poor economic conditions and financial and political corruption.
Government figures indicate that 565 protesters and security personnel were killed during the demonstrations, among them dozens of activists assassinated by unknown gunmen.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has pledged to prosecute those involved in the killing of protesters and activists, but no perpetrators have been brought to justice so far.
Al-Wazni challenged al-Kadhimi in a Facebook post in February, asking rhetorically: “Do you know what is going on? You know that they kidnap and kill – or you live in another country?”