Protests are expected again in Iraq after demonstrators set fire to trailers belonging to Iran’s consulate in Karbala as anger spread over the killing of a prominent activist in the southern city.
Ihab Jawad al-Wazni, who was active in the organisation of the anti-government protests that swept Iraq in October 2019, was shot dead on Sunday outside his home by unknown assailants. His death sparked daylong protests in Karbala that saw demonstrators block roads and bridges with burning tyres.
An Iraqi journalist, meanwhile, was in intensive care after being shot in the head early on Monday, doctors said, only 24 hours after al-Wazni was killed.
Al-Wazni had led protests in the Shia shrine city of Karbala, where pro-Iran armed groups hold major sway. He was shot outside his home by men on motorbikes using a gun equipped with a silencer in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras.“The threats are coming from the militias. The militias are everywhere in the streets,” Samira Abbas Kadhum said. “They mingle with the protesters. They have a list that includes the names of all the activists. They will kill them one by one. Today they killed my son – and after two or three days another one will be killed.”
About 30 activists have been killed and dozens of others abducted since October 2019.
Hours after his death, reporter Ahmed Hassan was in intensive care after being hit by “two bullets in the head and one in the shoulder”, a doctor told AFP news agency.
“He was targeted as he got out of his car to go home” in Diwaniya in the south of the country, according to a witness.
Iran consulate targeted
In a video recording in the morgue where al-Wazni’s body was initially held, a fellow activist blamed pro-Tehran groups for the killing. “It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” said the unidentified activist.
On Sunday night, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Iranian consulate, setting fire to several trailers parked outside, according to police and videos posted online.
The protests in Karbala, Baghdad, and cities across southern Iraq often turn violent with security forces opening fire and demonstrators torching government buildings and the headquarters of Iran-backed militias.
Iran’s foreign ministry “strongly condemned” the attack, calling on the Iraqi government to protect its diplomatic missions based on its duties under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said a letter of protest had been handed to the Iraqi embassy in Tehran.
“It is natural that our expectation of the Iraqi government is to enforce its duties in the best way possible,” he said during a press conference on Monday.
The protests, which began in October 2019 and lasted for months, were directed at a post-war political system and a class of elite leaders that Iraqis accuse of pillaging Iraq’s wealth while the country grows poorer.
Protesters have also directed their rage at neighbouring Iran and the powerful Iraqi militias tied to it.
Similar scenes played out in November 2019 during protests in the capital Baghdad and Iraq’s majority-Shia provinces in the south, with protesters on at least one occasion scaling concrete barriers around the Iranian consulate in Karbala to bring down Iran’s flag and replace it with the Iraqi flag.
Government critics said they expect violence to further flare ahead of October elections.