Iraqi forces launch operation against militias in Basra following killings of activists

Iraqi forces launch operation against militias in Basra following killings of activists
Iraqi security forces have launched a new operation in Basra against secretive militias responsible for recent killings of anti-corruption activists, following a visit to the city by Prime Minister Kadhimi
3 min read
23 August, 2020
Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi told security chiefs he was 'awaiting serious action' [Getty]
Iraqi Interior Minister Othman Al-Ghanemi has announced a new military operation in the southern city of Basra against militias responsible for killing anti-corruption activists.

Al-Ghanemi said that security forces began the operation early on Sunday.

On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi visited Basra and held a meeting with security chiefs, telling them: "I await serious action from you, and you must find the criminals as soon as possible."

He also said that "groups outside the law were trying to terrorize the people of Basra, and they are a threat to all citizens.

"Our presence here is due to exceptional circumstances. Basra is important to us and we will not accept failures in protecting its security," he added.

The previous day, angry protesters torched buildings belonging to the Iraqi parliament in the city, after two anti-corruption activists were murdered.

On Wednesday Reham Yacoub was killed by unidentified gunmen, and the previous Friday, Tahsin Osamah Al-Shahmani was killed by suspected Iran-linked militiamen.

Both were activists had played a leading role in the anti-corruption protests, which broke out in Iraq in October 2019 in response to high rates of poverty, corruption and unemployment as well as government neglect of essential services.

On Sunday, a protest took place in Baghdad's iconic Tahrir Square to denounce the killings of the Basra activists.

Read more: US calls on Iraq to dismantle armed groups

Al-Ghanemi said that special forces had now been deployed to Basra to arrest those behind the killings, saying: "We will pursue the criminals and arrest the killers within hours."

A government source told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that Al-Kadhimi would hold a meeting on Sunday, which will include Interior Minister Al-Ghanemi, the head of Iraq’s counterterrorism agency and other security chiefs.

The source said that Kadhimi considered the security of Basra to be a challenge to his government and that there were armed factions seeking to prevent the government from restoring security to the city.

Kadhimi, a former director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, became prime minister of Iraq in May 2020, over strong objections from pro-Iran militias, such as Kataib Hezbollah.

In addition to the presence of pro-Iran militias outside the government's control, Basra often sees armed clashes between tribal groups.

Anti-corruption activists have accused the governor of Basra province Asaad Al-Idani of suppressing peaceful protests.

Activist Ali Al-Miahi blamed Al-Idani for the militia activity in Basra.

"The governor of Basra, some security chiefs, and some of the militia leaders he holds meetings with are a cause for concern and they should be investigated over the security violations," he told The New Arab’s Arabic service.

"Kadhimi must ensure that the investigation goes beyond mere words, and there have to be specialized committees handling the investigation under his direct supervision. He should not involve the provincial governor," Al-Miahi added.

Hundreds of protesters have been killed and thousands more injured since the start of anti-corruption protests in October 2019, with secretive pro-Iran militias often being involved in the killings, as well as security forces. A previous round of arrests in Basra in May, focusing on the Tha’r Allah militia group, led to no prosecutions.

Renad Mansour, a researcher at Chatham House, has cast serious doubts on the Iraqi government's ability to act against the militias.

"In reality, the Prime Minister and his team are unable to control these groups," the Arabic news site Arabi21 quoted him as saying.

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