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Iraq: Disappearance of prominent opposition journalist in Baghdad raises concerns

Vocal critic of Iran-backed armed militias Ali al-Mikdam went missing in the capital on Friday evening, activists say
Picture posted on social media of Ali al-Mikdam at a cafe (Facebook)

Friends have expressed concern over the whereabouts of Iraqi journalist and activist Ali al-Mikdam after he went missing in Baghdad on Friday evening.

Mikdam, a prominent voice in the anti-government protest movement, was last seen in a coffee shop in Baghdad's Karrada district, according to local activists.

According to Tishreen Media, an account linked to the movement, Mikdam had recently been receiving threats.

Activists and journalists spread the hashtag "Ali Al-Mikdam, where are you?" on social media on Saturday, calling on the authorities to investigate his whereabouts.

'It seems that Iraq is no longer safe for any human rights activity'

- Ali al-Bayati, Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights

"The Iraqi authorities are required to reveal the fate of civil activist Ali Al-Mikdam and to take quick measures that would create a safe area for the movements of journalists and activists in Baghdad and the provinces," tweeted Aziz al-Rubaye, a journalist and presenter for the Al-Sharqiya TV channel.

Activists and journalists associated with the anti-government movement that began in October 2019 have regularly faced assassination, kidnapping and threats from armed groups.

Security forces and militias have been responsible for the deaths of more than 600 people since the beginning of the protests, which have targeted unemployment, lack of services and a political class seen as irredeemably corrupt and in hock to foreign powers.

Ali al-Bayati, a member of the semi-official Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), told Middle East Eye that Mikdam's disappearance was likely more evidence of the ability of armed groups in Iraq to act with impunity against their opponents.

"It is terrible to see the activists falling one after the other before our eyes, which is not only total impunity, but such a situation will facilitate more massive violations of human rights. It seems that Iraq is no longer safe for any human rights activity," he said.

"We call on the government as part of its responsibility to declare the [identity of] the perpetrators soon - although we know very well the result."

Wave of killings

Iran-backed militias in the country have been blamed for a wave of killings in Iraq, with more than 70 activists targeted in assassinations or attempted assassinations since 2019. The number escalated sharply following the assassination by the US of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January 2020.

In the last article published before his disappearance, Mikdam warned that the militias were using repression against activists as a means of asserting their authority in the country and to gain tacit revenge against the US, who they view as backing the protests.

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"The growing opposition among Iraqis to Iran's influence is leading Iranian-backed militias to double down on repression to keep in place the political order that ensures their enrichment and power," he wrote on 26 June.

"While Iran's supporters in Iraq present the protesters as powerful foreign-backed saboteurs, Western embassies in Baghdad have so far offered activists nothing but statements of concern about the violence meted out against them."

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has promised since assuming office in May 2020 to crackdown on the militias and investigate the killing of activists. However, so far he has been seen as ineffective.

On Thursday, Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council  announced the issuance of arrest warrants for the killers of political analyst Hisham al-Hashimi, who was shot dead in July 2020.

Council head Faiq Zeidan warned that they would be considering the death sentence for Hashimi's killers, as well as for those responsible for assassinating activists and demonstrators.

"The issue of the killers of the demonstrators is complex and thorny and involves many parties, and there are political parties that have intervened for electoral purposes and to bring down other parties," he told the official Iraqi news agency.