The Stream

Why are activists in Iraq being targeted?

Protest movements on edge following recent targeted attacks on civil society voices.

On Monday, September 14 at 19:30 GMT:
Nearly a year has passed since a wave of popular protest began in Iraq, with people across the country voicing their frustration over issues such as poor public services, unemployment, and corruption. Regular demonstrations have continued, but a string of attacks against activists and analysts has highlighted the ever-present danger of speaking out. 

Two deadly attacks in Basra recently made headlines around the world. Reham Yacoub, a 30-year-old doctor and women’s rights advocate, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the southern port city on August 19. She was killed five days after Tahseen Osama, a father-of-four who regularly took part in anti-corruption protests, was shot dead by attackers who stormed the internet centre he owned. Two other activists in Basra were hurt in an apparent assassination attempt that same week.

News of the assaults was met with anger by Iraqis already on edge over the killing in July of Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on armed groups who had received threats from Iran-backed militia organisations. Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has sacked Basra’s police chief and says the killers of Yacoub and Osama will be brought to justice.

But security experts warn that Iraq’s perennially weak government has little control over militia groups, particularly in southern Iraq. Meanwhile, protesters commonly face abuse, arbitrary arrest and assault by Iraqi security forces, according to a report (PDF) released by the United Nations in August. Iraq’s government said on July 30 that at least 560 people – protesters and police – had died since October in protests and demonstrations.

The Stream will look at what spurred the attacks in Basra, the daily risks that pro-change voices in Iraq are facing, and what more the country’s government can and should do to protect them. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Dorsa Jabbari, @DorsaJabbari
Correspondent, Al Jazeera English

Hamzoz, @Hamzoz
Founder and CEO, Iraqi Network for Social Media

Ali Al Bayati, @aliakramalbayat
Member, Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights

Read more:
Iraqis protest as hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients – Al Jazeera
Protesters set fire to Iraq parliament’s regional office in Basra – Al Jazeera