Protests

Many kidnapped Iraqi activists are still missing

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad

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Protestors chant slogans as they walk past a billboard promoting Iran-backed militia Kataib Hizbullah on January 17th, during a protest in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. [Hussein Faleh/AFP]

Months after they were abducted for taking part in popular protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq against government corruption and the creeping influence of Iran, the fate of more than two dozen Iraqi activists remains unknown.

Each Friday, however, their families hold a vigil in Baghdad's Tahrir Square to keep their plight in the public eye and urge the government to ascertain their fate and identify those involved in their abduction.

Around 30 activists who were kidnapped from Baghdad, Dhi Qar, Babil, Maysan and other Iraqi provinces are still missing, according to an official at the Ministry of Interior, who asked to remain anonymous.

Each had been active in the popular demonstrations, he told Diyaruna, and were known for their opposition to the Iran-affiliated militias operating in Iraq.

Investigations being conducted by the police and Iraqi intelligence service point to the involvement of Iran-aligned militias Kataib Hizbullah and Harakat al-Nujaba in the abductions, as well as other groups allied with them, he said.

Unfortunately, there is still no indication as to whether the abductees are still alive or have been killed, he said, adding that in the coming days new actions might include searches of militia headquarters and other suspected sites.

According to the ministry official, university students and some youth who were under the age of 20 are among those who were kidnapped in Baghdad after taking part in the popular demonstrations.

There have been ongoing efforts to find them and ascertain their fate, he said, which have intensified since Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi ordered the launch of an independent investigation into each of the missing activists.

Many remain missing

Among the abductees are university professor Majid al-Dhafiri, kidnapped in November; demonstrator and activist Qutaiba al-Sudani; and photojournalist Usama al-Tamimi, kidnapped in December after leaving Tahrir Square.

Also missing are human rights activist Abdul Maseeh Romeo Sarkis, kidnapped in early March; prominent Iraqi writer Mazen Latif, kidnapped in February; and his colleague Tawfiq al-Tamimi, who was kidnapped a few days later.

Activist Ibrahim Jaddo and lawyer Ali Jassib, who was kidnapped in Maysan province in southern Iraq, also remain missing.

During a May 17th visit to the Interior Ministry's Baghdad headquarters, where he met with security leaders, Kadhemi directed the ministry to make all efforts to uncover the fate of the abductees.

"The kidnappings target almost exclusively activists calling for a civil and free state without external interference," said Hamed al-Mutlaq, a leading figure in al-Wataniya coalition.

It is clear that there is just one party responsible for these kidnappings, "namely militias that do not want Iraq to be sovereign", he told Diyaruna, adding that "unfortunately, the militias want to kidnap the state, not just the activists".

Militias are likely to blame

Iraqi MP Bassem Khashan said the kidnapping of activists taking part in popular demonstrations is one of the most important issues, and the government must disclose what it has learned about the fate of the youth and their abductors.

Armed factions are most likely involved in their abduction, he told Diyaruna, "because the demonstrations made them nervous, and threatened to bring about positive change in Iraq that cannot be in their interest".

Baghdad activist Ali Fadel told Diyaruna it is agonizing to see, every Friday, the families of the abducted come to Tahrir Square holding portraits of their loved ones to remind the government and the world they remain missing.

"This increases our determination to continue the movement to demand fair elections, without interference from the militias and those who support them," he said.

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