Furious protests broke out in the Iraqi governorate of Karbala this week after an activist was assassinated and a TV journalist shot in the head in attacks blamed on Iran-backed militias.
On Sunday, May 9 unidentified gunmen murdered Ihab Jahad al-Wazni, a prominent civil rights campaigner, in front of his house in Karbala’s Al-Haddad Street.
Al-Wazni had railed against corruption in Iraq, the stranglehold of Tehran-linked armed groups over the government and Iran’s influence in the country as well has his own Shia shrine city.
He had survived a previous assassination attempt in December 2019 and his mother told Al-Jazeera that he had received numerous death threats from Iran-linked groups.
Then on Monday, May 10, an Iraqi satellite TV correspondent, Ahmed Hassan, was shot in the head by a masked assailant as he emerged from his car in the al-Shamiya area of Diwaniya province. He is in intensive care in a hospital in Baghdad after undergoing brain surgery.
Al-Wazni’s death sparked mass demonstrations in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq, with protesters blocking streets and bridges while demanding justice for the slain activist.
Demonstrators also set fire to trailers belonging to Iran’s consulate in Karbala. Many people close to al-Wazni have blamed Iran-backed militias for the murder.
“It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” one said in a video released from the morgue where his body was initially held. “They are going to kill all of us.”
Activist Raya Barazajani said on Twitter: “Shame on the corrupt government for not being able to protect peaceful activists from rogue Iranian-backed armed militias.”
IranWire’s Arabic sister website has obtained video footage of al-Wazni addressing police at a rally before he died, telling them about the death threats he received and warning he held them responsible for his safety.
In a statement, Iraqi security services said Karbala provincial police were mobilizing and would “stop at nothing” to catch the “terrorist elements” responsible.
Meanwhile, crowds gathered outside Al-Diwaniyah Hospital on Monday, with activists and well-wishers desperately seeking an update on the status of TV journalist Ahmad Hassan.
The wounded reporter was later conveyed by ambulance to Al-Jumla al-Asabia Hospital in Baghdad due to the severity of his injuries, which doctors did not have the capacity to treat locally.
A wave of attacks on activists, media professionals community figures has taken place in Iraq since anti-government protests first started in October 2019. Many have been killed and others kidnapped and beaten, with some still missing.
The current government headed by Mustafa Al-Kazemi, which came to power last May, has vowed to prosecute those involved in the killing of demonstrators. But the violence continues and many of those affected have little faith in the state to resolve the situation.