Rights groups sound alarm on jump in Iraqi activist killings

BASRA, IRAQ (AP) — Human rights monitors sounded the alarm over a recent spike in assassinations targetting civil rights activists in Iraq’s south on Thursday, ahead of a much anticipated meeting between the prime minister and the United States (US) president as part of ongoing strategic talks.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi departed for an official trip to Washington this week and is expected to meet with US President Donald Trump later in the day, to conclude strategic talks expected to shape the future of Iraq-US ties.

Meanwhile back home, rockets have continued to strike at the seat of his government, while assassination plots have targeted more civil activists this month in southern Iraq, compared to the period at the height of the protest movement in October, monitors said. Iran-backed militia groups are widely suspected of being behind both types of attacks. Tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in October to decry rampant government corruption, poor services and unemployment in Baghdad and across Iraq’s south. Hundreds died as Iraqi forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Activist Reham Yacoub was gunned down in the southern province of Basra on Wednesday by unidentified gunmen, a security official and human rights watcher said, marking the second such killing in the span of a week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Activist Tahseen Osama was killed last Friday, prompting dozens to take to the streets and block roads. Police responded by firing live rounds at the demonstrators.

Yacoub was a respected activist who took part in many protests in 2018 and last October.