Iraq protesters demand accountability after killings of activists

Hundreds protest in Baghdad demanding the end of impunity after the killings of dozens of pro-democracy activists.

Hundreds of Iraqis have protested in central Baghdad to demand that authorities hold accountable the killers of dozens of activists associated with a long-running protest movement.

More than 70 activists have been targeted in assassinations, attempted murders and abductions since a pro-democracy protest movement erupted against government corruption and incompetence in 2019.

“We’re here to say that we want to end impunity in Iraq,” Hussein Al-Faili, an 18-year old student, told AFP news agency on Sunday from Firdos Square, a key protest site.

“We want freedom! This revolution started because of this and we won’t stop until we win.”

Dozens also turned out in the southern city of Nasiriya, where tensions have been running high following a hospital fire that killed at least 60 people on Monday.

Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi on Friday announced the arrest of four suspects in the point-blank shooting of prominent academic and government adviser Hisham al-Hashemi a year ago.

Iraqi state television broadcast brief clips late on Friday of the alleged confession of Ahmed al-Kenani, a 36-year-old police lieutenant, who said he had used a pistol to murder al-Hashemi.

A security source told AFP Kenani was affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian militia.

But Faili said the arrests were not enough.

“We want the big man who ordered the murder,” Faili said.

The mostly young protesters on Sunday chanted against “political parties and traitors” as others tearfully remembered their assassinated comrades.

Iraq, still battered and impoverished after the 2003 US-led invasion and the turmoil that followed, has been a battleground for influence between arch-foes Washington and Tehran, which has backed paramilitaries and politicians.

Activist Shatha Al-Qaisi said, “this campaign … seeks to gain support from all over the world to stop the bloodshed. It’s not a politicised movement”.

The High Commission for Human Rights reported nearly 35 activists have been killed in Iraq since an anti-government protest movement swept Iraq in October 2019.

Many expect the killings to continue as Iraq plans to hold early elections in October, which had been a key demand of anti-government protesters.