Iraqis living in fear thanks to Iran-fueled violence
Death has become a major part of Iraq’s daily routine. Pro-Iran militias, death squads, hit lists and cold-blooded assassinations highlight how failed the state of Iraq is despite the international and local denial.
When five Iraqis die, it is not news any more. When 50 get killed, it is not breaking news. When 100 lose their lives in a terrorist attack, Western media may generously talk about it for a couple of hours.
In October 2019, widespread anti-government protests took place in Baghdad and several southern provinces, with protesters speaking out against corruption, outlaw militias and foreign loyalty. Even though the demands of the young demonstrators were not outrageous or luxurious, they were faced with violence and brutality.
More than 800 peaceful protesters were killed, about 25,000 were injured and hundreds were kidnapped, while the government was busy forming fact-finding committees, releasing condemning statements and hiding the real identities of the murderers under the pretext of protecting the Iraqi political process and the new democracy.
Nurturing a young democracy and building an institutional state has never been achieved thanks to the successive governments that have been in power since 2003, which have continued to adopt oppressive policies or provide legal cover for such practices. This means that the dark age of Saddam Hussein’s regime remains as it was, only with different names and political affiliations.
Who is leading these death squads and how do they pick their targets? If any Iraqi official or politician says he does not have an answer, he is hiding the truth, which makes him an accomplice to these heinous crimes.
Despite being filled with thousands of surveillance cameras, main streets and popular squares have witnessed political and human rights activists being gunned down, with the executioners always vanishing into thin air, filled with confidence that their images would never be caught on tape.
Only last week, activist Ihab Al-Wazni, who was leading protests in the Iraqi city of Karbala, was assassinated in front of his own home by a motorcyclist. Al-Wazni’s neighborhood is one of the most protected areas due to its proximity to Shiite holy sites.
The dark age of Saddam Hussein’s regime remains as it was, only with different names and political affiliations.
Al-Wazni, like millions of other Iraqis, yearned for a homeland that gives his children hope for a brighter future. A previous attempt to kill him in 2019 did not stop him from continuing to stand against tyranny. He was vocal about the dangers of the regime in Tehran, about the corruption of the Islamists in his province, and about the importance of maintaining the peaceful and focused nature of the protests.
The assassination process in Iraq starts with one of two types of fatwa issued by religious politicians like Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who is known for operating one of the biggest and most brutal pro-Iran militias in the country. The Mahdi Army (Saraya Al-Salam), which was created in July 2003, is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people around the country. It is led by ruthless thugs. Al-Sadr was once wanted for his role in the assassination of senior Shiite cleric Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim in the city of Najaf. Ironically, he described Al-Wazni’s murder as a “cowardly” act, calling on the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The first type of fatwa is a general order to punish, kill or kidnap anyone who does not show support for the Popular Mobilization Forces or criticizes its leaders. Basically, it is a license to kill. The second type is a specific order to assassinate a certain individual who is causing irreparable harm to the reputation of Al-Sadr or other militia leaders. The leaders develop a plan to monitor the victim’s movements, pick the method of execution, and then assign the location, date and time, as well as the assassin.
Security and extremism expert Hisham Al-Hashimi was previously assassinated in front of his home in Baghdad in July 2020, but still the government of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has failed to stop the series of deaths.
Saraya Al-Salam is not the only pro-Iran militia spreading terror among the Iraqi people. More than 70 militias are operating in the country, serving the greed of the Iranian regime. These include Kata’ib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba, Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, Rabaallah, Saraya Al-Khorasani and Saraya Awliya’ Al-Dam.
The assassination of Al-Wazni triggered memories of the many protesters who chose to put their lives on the line for their homeland and paid the ultimate price, including Safaa Al-Saray, Hussein Adel Al-Madani and his wife Sarah Talib, and Fahim Al-Taie.
After Al-Wazni’s death, the Iranian embassy in Baghdad chose to insult the intelligence of the Iraqi people by issuing a satirical statement condemning its own doing. “Iran has not and will not demand the killing and assassination of Iraqi citizens, and it condemns in the strongest terms these terrorist acts. The Islamic Republic of Iran has always favored security, peace and prosperity for the Iraqi people.”
With these words, the government of Iran gave the order to assassinate the victims all over again.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi