Protesters set fire to the entrances and gates of the Iranian consulate in Iraq’s Karbala following the funeral of assassinated activist Ehab Al-Wazni, May 9, 2021. (Supplied)

By Track Persia

May 15, 2021

Early Sunday, an anti-corruption campaigner Ihab al-Wazni was shot dead in Karbala, Iraq’s holiest Shi’ite Muslim city where Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed, is believed to be buried and pro-Tehran armed groups hold major sway, sending protest movement supporters onto the streets to demand an end to the continued bloodshed of Iraqi activists and official impunity.

Wazni was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes using a gun equipped with a silencer, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras according to security forces and activists. Only a few hours after Wazni’s death, an Iraqi journalist and reporter Ahmed Hassan was in intensive care after being shot in his head and shoulder early morning.  Hassan was targeted as he got out of his car to go home in Diwaniya city south of Iraq as shown in a camera recording and according to witnesses. Such killings in Iraq are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorbikes, and nobody claims responsibility.

Activists and the UN have repeatedly blame pro-Tehran Shi’ite militias for the killings, kidnapping and torturing protesters and activists. Iraqi authorities have consistently failed to publicly identify or charge the perpetrators of these killings. Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi who took office a year ago vowed to rein in rogue factions, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited reforms after years of war and insurgency but he has not been able to meet his promises. When on Sunday Kadhemi pledged after the assassination of Wzani to catch all the killers including those who killed Wazni, the latter’s family said it would not accept the traditional visits of condolences until the assailants were unmasked.

Both Wazni and Hassan were key activists in the popular protest movement that erupted in October 2019 in the middle and south of Iraq over government corruption and the crime committed by pro-Iran Shi’ite militias which have become more powerful and the Iraqi state.

According to human rights organizations, more than 700 Iraqi activists have been killed and more than 25 thousand have been injured, among them are those who sustained severe injuries and have become disabled.  Some of these activists were targeted on their doorsteps.

Protests broke out in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq in reaction to Wazni’s killing, as people called for an end to the bloodshed and the rampant corruption. Most remarkably, the protesters blamed pro-Tehran groups for the killing of activists including Wazni and kidnapping many others.

On Sunday, hundreds of mourners chanted “Iran out!” and “The people want the fall the regime!” as they were carrying Wazni’s body to the Shi’ite shrines in Karbala, under a sea of Iraqi flags. This funeral procession was followed by torching part of the Iranian consulate in Karbala shedding light on the anger of these Iraqis against the regime in Iran.

Why do Iraqis hold Tehran responsible for the killing and kidnappings of thousands of activists and protesters? One of the main features of Tehran’s foreign policies since the foundation of the Islamic Republic in Iran in 1979 is the destructive activities and meddling in the affairs of the regional and neighbouring counties. These destructive activities include the foundation of extremist Shiite militia proxy groups that use Islam to achieve the ultimate goal of the Islamic Republic, which is a Shiite crescent.

Since the success of the Islamic Revolution led by Iran’s late supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini more than 40 years ago, the theocratic regime in Iran has intensively involved in aggressive activities in the region starting the Iran-Iraq war to the war in Lebanon, then in Syria and Yemen.

However, the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US-led coalition forces in March 2003 that overthrew the former President Saddam Hussein, encouraged the theocratic regime in Iran to create a regime like itself in Iraq. The theocracy found the collapse and the removal of its formidable enemy in Baghdad a desirable perfection. This encouraged it to commence its revenge campaign by ordering its proxy Shiite militias in Iraq the assassinations of a major part of former Iraqi officials, doctors, scientists and military officers who participated in defending Iraqi lands during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. This nefarious policy was followed by committing crimes and ethnic cleansing against the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, especially after a military campaign against the Islamic State which was controlling large swathes of western and northern Iraq on the pretext of fighting the extremist group. Those Iraqis who paid the highest cost of Iran’s interference policy in their country are the Sunni Arab Muslims. Thousands of them who are innocent civilians have been killed and displaced by Iran proxies as the result of the supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s interference in Iraq.

However, these persecutions and the crimes against Iraqis at the hands of Iran’s proxy militias have exceeded targeting the Sunni Arabs Iraqis to include the Shiite population opposing the destructive policies of Iran’s Khamenei in Iraq and its regime since the eruption of the anti-government corruption protest movement in Iraq in October 2019. Since then, Iran’s proxies in Iraq have committed mass assassination campaigns at the hands of the death squads formed and trained by Quds Force, the external wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

It is worth noting that since the start of US President Joe Biden’s administration, Iran’s proxy militias in Iraq have carried out more than 25 military strikes against US interests in Iraq. On April 23, 2021, the Kata’ib Hezbollah group officially announced that it refused to abandon its weapons and Abu Ali al-Askari, the spokesperson of this group said: ” The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) will never be dissolved, and Kata’ib Hezbollah delivers its weapons only on the advent of Imam Zaman (Mainly known as Imam Mahdi, which is the twelfth and last Imam for the Shia.”

The impacts of the Iranian interference in Iraq have had huge negative impacts on Iraq, including the Iraqi state and Iraqi population. These impacts have made most Iraqis hold the Iranian regime responsible for the killings of the protesters and activists and for the obstruction of building a sound political system and sovereign state in Iraq.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.