Iraqis mourn assassinated journalists covering protests

In his last video posted on social media, one of the journalists denounced the ongoing use of violence by the security forces to deter protests.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Unidentified gunmen on Friday evening assassinated al-Dijla channel correspondent Ahmad Abdul Samad and photographer Safaa Ghali while they were covering protests in Iraq’s Basra, an oil-rich city in the southern part of the country.

Besides being a reporter, Abdul Samad has been a vocal supporter of anti-government protests that began in early October 2019, calling for the departure of the ruling elite whom demonstrators see as corrupt and blind to the public’s suffering.

In his last video posted on social media, Abdul Samad denounced the security forces, especially Iranian proxy militias and their use of violence against protesters. He has also frequently criticized Iran and its interference in Iraqi affairs.

On Saturday, protesters in Basra took to the streets to honor the two journalists.

Basra police said they had opened an investigation into the incident.

Though the authorities have claimed to be examining such cases in the past, they have never announced results of an investigation into the assassinations against journalists.

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At the start, demonstrators expressed long-held grievances from low-quality public services to lack of access to jobs and institutional corruption. But their demands later grew, with them insisting on widespread reforms and the ouster of the entire ruling elite they see as unashamedly corrupt.

After a period of quiet as fears of a stand-off between the US and Iran and its proxy militias inside Iraqi territory increased, the demonstrations have now regained momentum, with violence committed against them reportedly ongoing.

The rise in violence has been channeled into assassinations and kidnappings of senior figures that have emerged from the demonstrations and journalists covering them.

According to official statistics, unidentified gunmen have assassinated up to 30 activists, most of whom participated in the anti-government protests that erupted late last year to call for the ouster of Iraq’s ruling elite.

While the Iraqi government has taken responsibility for some of the killings, allegations have been leveled at Iranian-backed militias for many incidents involving dozens of deaths among protesters, who have also decried Tehran’s influence in Baghdad.

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In late December, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) announced that close to 70 people had been reported abducted or missing since the start of the protests. The interior ministry, IHCHR said, “continues to search and investigate the fate of those missing and [will] rescue them as soon as possible.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany