Protesters set fire to tires and blocked roads in the Iraqi city of Karbala after a prominent civilian activist was killed by an unidentified gunman.
A statement from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said Ihab Jawad al-Wazni was killed early Sunday near his home in the predominantly Shiite city. No group has claimed responsibility.
Al-Wazni, a leading figure in the anti-government protests in the city on Sunday morning, was buried.
Witnesses said hundreds of people took to the streets in Karbala to protest the killing.
Protesters blocked several major roads in the city, demanding that security forces find and identify al-Wazni’s killers, and threatened to escalate the protests if the culprits were not identified.
“The killer groups are well known. Today, all Iraqis, even children, know which side is behind the killings. It is an armed militia backed by regional countries and the whole world knows who it is, “said Zaid al-Sumeri, a protester in Karbala.
Al-Wazni’s assassination was seen by Iraqis as a message to militias allied with political parties that they would not shy away from criticism.
One protester said, “Ihab al-Wazni’s blood was not wasted … your blood was not wasted,” one protester said.
Since October 2010, about 30 leaders and activists have been killed in targeted killings and thousands have been abducted, some briefly detained. Men on motorcycles carry out such killings at night and no one accepts responsibility.
Leaders and the UN have repeatedly blamed the “militia”.
On Sunday, Karbala Governor Nassif al-Khattabi instructed city security forces to remain vigilant in an attempt to arrest the suspects, a statement from his office said.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the southern province’s capital, Nasiriyah, to protest the killings.
Iraq has witnessed sporadic protests since October 2019 over the weak economic situation and financial and political corruption.
Official figures show that 555 protesters and security personnel were killed during the protests, with dozens of leaders and activists shot dead by unidentified gunmen.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mostafa al-Qadimi has vowed to prosecute those involved in the killings of protesters and activists, but no perpetrators have yet been brought to justice.
Al-Wazni challenged al-Qadimi in a Facebook post in February, verbally asking: “Do you know what’s going on? Did you know that they were kidnapped and killed – or you live in another country? “