Killings of Iraqi activists create “climate of fear” ahead of elections


Iraqi activists linked to entrenched political parties have killed and kidnapped dozens of political activists, analysts say, creating a climate of fear ahead of the October parliamentary elections.

Despite government promises to protect activists and punish aggressors, analysts said powerful paramilitary groups aim to discourage voting and intimidate the two-year popular protest movement that wants political change in the wealthy country. oil.

The UN has documented the targeted killings of 32 “protesters and critics” between October 2019 and May 2021, while 16 other people survived attempted murders. Twenty others are missing after being kidnapped. Around 500 people were killed in the violence during the October 2019 protests, which toppled the previous government.

“We cannot say that there is a single perpetrator behind all the kidnappings and killings,” said Lahib Higel, senior Crisis Group analyst based in Baghdad. But “for activists and those who are trying to create political parties. . . it is very clear that it is politically affiliated paramilitary groups that carry out this type of intimidation. They want to dissuade them from participating in formal politics. “

This pattern of violence has “contributed to a climate of fear,” Higel added.

Mourners carry the body of Ihab al-Wazni to Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala after he was shot dead outside his home by men on motorcycles © Mohammed Sawaf / AFP / Getty

No one has been charged with any of these crimes. Some nascent parties have already boycotted the elections, which are taking place for the first time since the October 2019 protests. An Iraqi activist, who is in hiding because he fears being assaulted, said he believed the attacks against the militants were “because [political elites and militias] felt the danger of the militants in the elections ”.

Shiite militias thrived in the chaos that followed the US ousting of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. Their power and popularity was bolstered by their role in the fight against Sunni jihadists Isis, which began in 2014. Sponsored security umbrella called Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces. Protesters criticized Shiite militias for their ties to Tehran, which used its Revolutionary Guards to support Iraqi groups that have regularly attacked military bases housing US troops.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has expressed his support for the protesters but is paralyzed in his efforts to curb the militias © Iraqi Prime Minister’s Media Office / Reuters

Unelected Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, installed after protesters toppled his predecessor, has expressed support for the protest movement, but is paralyzed in his efforts to curb militias that have real political clout. Their success at the polls in 2018 means that armed groups “have more state power than the prime minister.” They have access to more MPs. . . more access to justice, more access to key political actors, ”said Renad Mansour, senior researcher at Chatham House. “It is not a handful of militias that can intimidate the Prime Minister. They are inside the state system, ”he added.

Protesters had hoped that a new electoral law, ratified at the end of 2020 and increasing the number of electoral districts, would loosen the grip on power held by well-established political parties. But analysts warn that the big parties, with deeper pockets and stronger local ties, will always have the upper hand.

“The same parties that take advantage of the low turnout, they are trying to make people depressed, disappointed in the possibility of achieving change,” said an Iraqi political adviser, who requested anonymity. “And we think that even the [latest] the assassinations can be explained under this.

As cheeky attacks on militants continued, often carried out in broad daylight or captured by CCTV, public confidence in the Iraqi government collapsed. Only 22% of Iraqis said they trusted their government in an April poll by research group Al Mustakilla and Gallup International.


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