The deaths of four prominent young women have created a fearful climate in Iraq, bringing concerns that this trend of violence is a tactic to silence successful women who do not conform to traditional views. In the wake of the recent murder of the social media star Tara Fares, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has stated that her murder, as well as possible connections to the three victims before her, will be investigated. Fares, the former Miss Baghdad, a model, and an Instagram star with 2.7 million followers, was shot dead on September 27 in broad daylight while in her car. According to Abadi, as cited by the New York Times, these recent deaths “give the impression that there is a plan behind these crimes.”
This series of attacks began two months earlier in August with the mysterious deaths of two famous beauticians, Rasha al-Hassan and Rafif al-Yasiri, who died one week apart with no clear causes of death announced at the time of this article. Shortly before Fares’ death, human rights activist Suad al-Ali, a prominent voice in protests against power cuts and water shortages in Basra, was gunned down while on her way to her car with her husband. While there are no direct links between the victims, they all seem to share one trait: “they had a public presence and were critical of the rigid views that exist in their society about how women should think, dress and behave,” according to Gulf News.
Tara Fares was well known for living a Western lifestyle, dressing the way she wanted to and going against the norms of her society. In the words of Daryna Sarhan, the founder of a lifestyle magazine in Erbil and one of Fares’ Instagram followers, Fares’ death seemed like a warning to other women: “I feel like it was a message being sent: ‘Don’t be like Tara or you will end up like Tara,’” she told the New York Times.
Occurring more prominently, women have been on the receiving end of increasingly violent threats, often times leading them to fear for their lives. After receiving death threats, Shimaa Qasim, an Iraqi model and the 2015 Miss Iraq, fled to Jordan for safety. Damouh Thissin, the winner of the fourth season of Iraq’s singing competition show, The Voice, also reported to having received death threats.
Nibras al-Maamouri, head of the Iraqi Women Journalists Forum, noted that Fares traveled in the same social circles as the other victims, suggesting that influential or outspoken women are “being targeted to create chaos,” according to the New York Times. All the same, the violence has sent Iraq into an uneasy climate: “The killings of women in the daytime are messages to confuse the security situation in Baghdad, to weaken the trust of the citizens,” stated Mohammad Nasir al-Karbouli, a member of Parliament.
Some have speculated the spike in numbers of these murders runs deeper than this, including Elie Abdou, whose article “Why Women and Gays are Getting Killed in Iraq,” published in Al Quds, the London-based Arab daily newspaper. In the wake of the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, the changes overlooked social minority groups, recognizing only women affiliated with religious parties instead. Gay people and women were viewed as invisible and pressured into hiding, especially gay people, whose existences were denied by all political parties. Women, for example, were forced to turn to religious parties, particularly Shiite, in order to ensure their rights and receive protection. Anyone who was not a part of these parties -- namely gay people and women like Fares, Hassan, Yasiri, and Ali, who embraced lives that were not recognized by political parties -- remained vulnerable and unprotected from attacks.
The connections between the deaths of these four women remain under investigation, though police have arrested a suspect, according to the National. Nonetheless, the upsurge in violence and threats has left not just women, but the entire country on guard.
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