Seven anti-corruption activists kidnapped in Baghdad

#InsideIraq

Hooded gunmen kidnapped the student activists early on Monday morning in a raid on their home in central Baghdad

Iraqi protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against corruption in Baghdad's Tahrir Square (AFP)
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Last update: 
Tuesday 9 May 2017 7:45 UTC
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Seven anti-corruption activists have been kidnapped overnight in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad by unknown gunmen.

According to a statement released by the "Civilians" activist organisation, the young activists were abducted by a group of hooded men in an SUV with tinted windows from their communal home in the Bab al-Sharqi district of central Baghdad just after 1am.

The men, college students - some members of the Iraqi Communist Party - had been involved in the ongoing anti-corruption campaign in Iraq, which originally began with protests in August 2015, led by largely secular youth activists.

Later, the followers of the popular cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took the lead in protests, which led to the Civilians activists breaking away, concerned about the impact of the Sadrists on the campaign.

Corruption is endemic “from top to bottom” in Iraq, with the country ranking 166 out of 176 in Transparency International’s corruption index. However, many are afraid of speaking out for fear of incurring the wrath of the country’s militias, who are often linked to parliamentarians and government ministers.

The organisation said in a statement on its Facebook page that because previous threats and intimidation against anti-corruption activists had gone unpunished, the authorities had effectively given a "green light" to this incident.

'We have many corrupted powerful men who could be happy to see them out of the political scene' - Civilians

"We hold the presidents of the Republic and the Council of Ministers responsible for any harm to any activist, both those who were kidnapped yesterday or those who are on the list of terrorist militias," said the group.

One Baghdad-based activist, who asked for his name to be withheld over fears for his safety, told Middle East Eye that he suspected the kidnapping happened “to send a message, to scare certain people or to show power”.

“I wouldn't be able to know who is behind the kidnapping, but judging from what people are saying, it's a militia who have been able to move around Baghdad crossing checkpoints with their weapons,” he explained.

“When it comes to safety, talking about the state of safety of anyone in Baghdad is absurd. No one can feel safe (except for people living in the Green Zone maybe). So activists have to face an extra level of danger especially if they talk about certain figures.”

A spokesperson for Civilians, speaking to MEE, said of the activists there were "many corrupted powerful men who could be happy to see them out of the political scene". 

Iraqi militias maintain a lot of power in the country and their activities are often allowed to go unchecked by the government and security services.

A Qatari hunting party that was kidnapped by a militia in southern Iraq in 2015 was freed in late April after being used as part of a deal to end a siege on a number of Shia towns in Syria.

The militia that held them, the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah, was able to hold them for 18 months without intervention from the central government.

Nevertheless, a leaked memo in the Independent indicated that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was privately furious about the incident, particularly at the reported sum of $500m being handed over by Qatar to the militiamen, which was seized by government officials.

Many militias are very popular in Iraq, however, as they have been seen as the vanguard against the Islamic State (IS) group.

Parliament passed legislation in November to integrate some militias - from the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) created in 2014 to fight IS - into the Iraqi army, a move which provoked outrage from some politicians who feared they could become an alternative state apparatus akin to Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corp.