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Iraq's anti-corruption protests marred by wave of murders

People shout slogans during a demonstration against corruption, poor services and power cuts in Baghdad, Iraq, August 21, 2015
People shout slogans during a demonstration against corruption, poor services and power cuts in Baghdad, Iraq, August 21, 2015

REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

In recent weeks, several Iraqi provinces have witnessed the violent deaths of political activists and tribal leaders supportive of Iraq's nation-wide anti-corruption protests.

The protests, which began as a complaint against electricity shortages, have since escalated into an expression of public outrage over systemic corruption, incompetent governance, and lack of basic services. They have been hailed for their non-sectarian and grassroots nature.

While their demands have been met with promises of reform from Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, many of the protesters have received anonymous death threats which do not appear to have been taken seriously by the government.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), political activist Haider Ghaleb al-Rabei, 35, is the latest to be assassinated in a string of killings documented since 29 August 2015. His body was found on 9 September by a police patrol, which deemed his murder “criminal in nature” and excluded the potential existence of a political motive.

A few days earlier, on 31 August, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) expressed alarm over the assassinations. "The Iraqi authorities must prosecute anyone trying to deviate the peaceful protests or prevent journalists from carrying out their duties," said Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of UNAMI Jan Kubis.

At least four activists—all of whom were closely involved in the protests—have been killed so far.

Khalid Al-Akili, one of the most prominent voices of the anti-corruption movement, was one of them. He was killed in front of his home on 29 August by unknown armed men. Government officials have claimed his death was a result of tribal conflict.

“The recurrent assassinations of civilians calling for protests against corruption in a number of Iraqi provinces points very clearly to the existence of political motives behind these incidents of murder.” stated ANHRI, “The Iraqi authorities' keenness to disregard such motives is questionable and will only encourage the perpetrators to continue targeting activists.”

Head of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate's Basra branch Haidar Al Mansouri has received several death threats since the union extended support to journalists covering the protest last week. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has been quick to call on the Iraqi government to take the death threats seriously and protect Al Mansouri from imminent danger.

“Threats against journalists in Iraq are never to be taken lightly, and many murdered journalists were threatened before they were killed,” said IFJ President, Jim Boumelha. “The Iraqi government should be capable of tracing the source of these threats and taking action.”

Undaunted by the killings and the government's apparent inability or unwillingness to respond to them, protesters have vowed to keep demonstrating until their demands are met.

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