Iraqi PM Vows to Hunt Down the Killers of Basra Protesters

August 23, 2020 Updated: August 23, 2020

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi vowed to hunt down the killers of protesters and to keep illegally armed groups in check during a visit to the southern city of Basra on Saturday.

Speaking to media after meeting with security leaders in Basra, Kadhimi said that “the killers of protesters would not escape punishment.”

Activist Reham Yacoub, who had led several women’s marches in the past, was killed on Aug. 19 and three others wounded when gunmen, brandishing assault rifles on the back of a motorcycle, opened fire on their car.

Mohammed Qasim, a fellow activist and friend of Yacoub, told local media earlier in the week that Yacoub’s death was like “the assassination of all Iraqis” and that he now fears for his own life after her death, adding that “Basra has lost its sons and daughters because of Iran-backed militias.”

Yacoub had been very active since 2018 and took a leading role in the mass anti-regime protests that erupted in October last year and continued for several months, with hundreds of thousands of Iraq is demanding jobs, services, and the removal of the ruling elite, which they said was corrupt.

It was the third incident this week in which gunmen targeted an civilian political activist, after one activist was killed and four others had their car fired upon in a separate incident.

Kadhimi told reporters on Saturday, ”Basra will recover again, God willing.

“This is a message to all criminals and killers. This is a new government that is working to establish the prerequisites of security. It aims to establish security and prevent crime. I’d like to tell everyone who carries a weapon contrary to the government laws, they won’t escape punishment and the killers will be brought to justice very soon. I’d like to tell the criminals who assassinated Husham al-Hashimi, Tahseen [Osama] and the young female doctor, that your blood will be a title for justice.

“The challenge is big. I was in a meeting with the military commanders and I told them that Basra should be secure, and that we will challenge all,” he added.

The recent wave of violence begun when activist Tahseen Osama was assassinated on Aug. 14, prompting a return of street demonstrations for three days.

Protesters in Basra set fire to parliament’s local office on Aug. 21 as security forces fired live rounds in the air to disperse them, a Reuters witness and security sources said.

The protesters had gathered to demand that Iraq‘s parliament sack the provincial governor. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi went ahead and sacked Basra police and national security chiefs on Aug. 17, and ordered an investigation into the assassinations and violence.

A former intelligence chief, Kadhimi took office in May, becoming the third Iraqi head of government in a chaotic 10-week period after the protests unseated the previous government last year.

His new administration has set a lofty agenda that included enacting economic reform, battling corruption, avenging protesters, and bringing arms under the authority of the state. He has pitted his government against rogue Iranian-backed militia groups.

Kadhimi met with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on on Aug. 20 as part of strategic dialogue aimed at increasing Iraq’s defensive capabilities and helping it reduce its dependence on neighbouring Iran.

Epoch Times writer Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this article.