Prominent Iraqi Activist Reham Yacoub Killed in Southern Iraq

August 20, 2020 Updated: August 23, 2020

Dr. Reham Yacoub, a prominent Iraqi civilian activist, was assassinated by unknown gunmen on Wednesday in central Basra, a port city in southeastern Iraq, according to reports.

Basra Police Chief Major General Abbas Naji confirmed her death, telling reporters in a statement, “It was decided to form a committee of senior police officers to investigate the murder of Dr. Reham Yaqoub,” according to Gulf News. He added that “the perpetrators must be arrested within 72 hours, to bring them to justice.”

Majid Hamid, a Baghdad correspondent for Al-Arabiya, reported that Yacoub, whose name is also spelt Riham Yaqoob, was one of four activists who was targeted and killed in Basra late Wednesday. The Saudi Arabia-owned, Dubai-based outlet published photos of the aftermath of the assassination showing a car with a broken windshield and blood-stained seats.

Yacoub, a nutritionist and media personality, was a prominent figure in Basra who participated in recent anti-government protests. She has been an activist in the local protest movement since 2018 and had led several women’s marches.

The shooting took place on Al Tijari Street and was the third attack by unknown gunmen against anti-government activists in the past week, according to Abu Dhabi-based private newspaper The National.

Mohammed Qasim, identified by the outlet as a fellow activist and friend of Yacoub, told the paper that her 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.”

The recent wave of violence begun when activist Tahseen Osama was assassinated on Aug. 14, sparking a return of street protests in the city for 3 days, in which security forces opened live fire on protesters who threw rocks and petrol bombs at the governor’s house, and blocked several main roads.

iraqi protest
Iraqis lift national flags as they demonstrate near the governor’s residence in the southern city of Basra, to protest assassinations and demand the resignation of top security officials, on Aug. 16, 2020. (Hussein Faleh/AFP via Getty Images)

Following the weekend’s violence, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on Aug. 17 sacked Basra police and national security chiefs and ordered an investigation into the assassinations and violence.

“Colluding with the killers or submitting to their threats is unacceptable, and we will do whatever is necessary by the Ministry of Interior and security agencies to undertake the task of protecting society’s security from the threats of outlaws,” he said on his Twitter account on Wednesday, according to a Google translation.

The latest killings of Yacoub and fellow activists come after a leading Iraqi security expert and researcher, Hisham al-Hashimi, was shot dead in Baghdad in early July.

Al-Kadhimi took office in May, becoming the third Iraqi head of government after months of deadly protests in the country, which has been exhausted by decades of sanctions, war, corruption, and economic challenges.

Mass protests 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.

The protests led to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who was replaced in May by Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the prime minister’s office in Baghdad, Iraq, on June 4, 2020. (Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via Reuters)

Al-Kadhimi’s administration 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.

President Donald Trump is set to meet Al-Kadhimi at the White House on Thursday morning. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the Trump administration will continue to support Iraq as it confronts the threat posed by the ISIS terrorist group, and called for the Baghdad government to redouble efforts to rein in pro-Iran militias.

Fouad Hussein Mike Pompeo
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein speaks at the State Department during a news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Aug. 19, 2020. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

“There’s still work to do,” Pompeo told reporters at a State Department news conference with Iraq’s foreign minister Fuad Hussein. “Armed groups not under the full control of the prime minister [Al-Kadhimi] have impeded our progress.”

“Those groups need to be replaced by local police as soon as possible. I assured [Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein] that we could help and we would help,” he added.

Pompeo also said that the United States is committed to supporting Iraq’s security forces “to curb the power of militias that have for far too long terrorized the Iraqi people and undermined Iraq’s national sovereignty.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy