The killings of Iraqi activists create an “atmosphere of fear” before the election

Iraqi militants linked to radical political parties have killed and abducted many political activists, analysts say, creating a climate of fear ahead of the October parliamentary elections.

Despite the government’s promises to protect activists and punish attackers, analysts say powerful paramilitary groups aim to disrupt the vote, intimidating a two-year-old protest movement seeking political change in the oil-rich country.

The UN documented the targeted killings of 32 “protesters and critics” between October 2019 and May 2021, while a further 16 people survived the assassination attempt. Twenty people are reported missing after the abduction. Around 500 people were killed in violence during the October 2019 protests, which toppled the previous government.

“We can not say that there is a single culprit behind all the kidnappings and killings,” said Lahib Higel, a senior analyst at Crisis Group in Baghdad. But for “activists” who are trying to form political parties. It is very clear that this terrorist act is driven by politically connected paramilitary groups. “They want to encourage them by participating in official politics.”

This example of violence “contributed to the atmosphere of fear,” Hiegel added.

Mourners transport Ihab al-Wazni’s body to Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala after he was shot by men on a motorcycle near his home © Mohammed Sawaf / AFP / Getty

None of these crimes have been charged. Some newly formed parties have already boycotted the elections, which are being held for the first time since the October 2019 protests. An Iraqi activist who went into hiding for fear of being attacked said he felt the attacks on the activists were “because [political elites and militias] felt the danger of activists in the elections. “

Shiite militias have risen in chaos since the overthrow of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in the United States. Their strength and popularity boosted their role in the fight against the Sunni jihadist Isis, which began in 2014. A sponsored security umbrella called Hashd al-Shaabi or the Popular People’s Mobilization Forces. Protesters have criticized Shiite militias for their links to Tehran, which has used its Revolutionary Guards to assist Iraqi militias that regularly attack US military bases.

To the Prime Minister of Iraq Mustafa al-Qadimi
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadimi expresses support for protesters but thwarts efforts to contain militant groups © Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office / Reuters

Unelected Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadimi, who was ousted after the overthrow of his predecessor, has expressed support for the protest movement but has thwarted efforts to contain militias with real political power. Their success in the ballot box in 2018 means that the armed groups “have more state power than the prime minister has. They have more deputies available. “More access to the judiciary, more access to key political actors,” said Renad Mansour, a senior fellow at Chatham House. “Not a handful of armed groups can intimidate the prime minister. “They are within the state system,” he added.

The Democrats hoped it would new election law, which was ratified at the end of 2020, increases the number of constituencies, will weaken the control of the established political parties. But analysts warn that larger parties with deeper pockets and stronger local ties will still prevail.

“The same parties that win the low turnout are trying to pressure people, to discourage them from achieving change,” said the Iraqi political adviser, who asked not to be named. “It simply came to our notice then [latest] That may explain the killings. “

As the brutal attacks on activists continue, often in broad daylight or on television, public confidence in the Iraqi government has plummeted. Only 22 percent of Iraqis said they trusted their government asked: in April by Al Mustakilla Research Group և Gallup International.

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