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Iraqi Beauty Queens Become Targets
A person looks at a profile page of Iraqi model Tara Fares in Baghdad over the weekend. Fares had been shot dead at the wheel of her Porsche convertible in central Baghdad, sending ripples through the country’s social media circles. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi Beauty Queens Become Targets

The war-torn country is witnessing a perplexing spate of murders targeting primarily female public figures in the beauty industry

Iraq is witnessing multiple murders of female public figures. The latest was the killing of a former beauty pageant winner, Tara Fares, who was nominated Miss Baghdad in 2015. Other female victims worked to promote civil and women’s rights in Iraq. Some openly declared on social media their support for popular demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra.

Beyond Fares, in recent days Baghdad has also witnessed the murders of Rafiq al-Yasiri, a beauty expert, and Rasha al-Hassan, owner of a beauty center. Both women were said to have been killed under mysterious circumstances, even though some of them, including Fares and Suad Ali, a women right activists, were killed in sight of surveillance cameras.

Recently, the Iraqi Interior Ministry revealed details about the death of Fares, a 22-year-old model. In a statement, it said that “unknown gunmen in the area of Camp Sarah in Baghdad attacked Tara Fares, initially trying to kidnap her… After the armed group failed to force her to accompany them, members of the group beat her before firing several bullets to her head and chest, killing her instantly.”

Taybeh Imad, an Iraqi legal expert and activist, told The Media Line that Iraq is seeing a campaign of targeting “celebrities,” especially females.

“The government is registering the latest incidents as normal criminal cases, but I doubt that,” she said.  Imad explained that criminal investigations of the deaths of al-Yasiri and al-Hassan are unclear and incomplete. “The records show that one died of an overdose, and the other of a sudden heart-attack,” while the investigations of the cases involving Ali and Fares are ongoing.

Moreover, Imad claimed that on the same day Fares was killed, Sahar al-Ibrahimi, an owner of a massage center, was also killed. “There were other women killed, but the media doesn’t focus on them as they are not well-known like the other victims.

“The government bears responsibility for what is happening, which is a result of the poor security situation pervading the country,” Imad said, stressing that the chain of murders could be a “tool to distract the Iraqi streets” from the failure of recently elected officials to form a new government in Iraq.

She explained that because of “foreign involvement” as Iraq tries to form a new government, the Iraqi people have grown upset and have been protesting against what they see as foreign interventions in their internal affairs. Imad additionally pointed to the Iraqi government’s approval of the U.S. decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran. “This is what gives Tehran a motive to shake up Iraq’s security. Iran is undoubtedly a malicious neighbor.”

Ali al-Bayati, a high-ranking member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) who is stationed in Iraq, urged the government to provide details regarding the deaths of the Iraqi women.

He explained that his office follows up investigations of crimes in accordance with UNHCR’s Law, but in these cases of the murdered women, his office “did not see cooperation from the appropriate authorities who failed to provide investigative and legal documents.” Al-Bayati called on Baghdad to “direct all departments to cooperate with the UNHCR to maintain procedural transparency and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Al-Bayati stressed that the proliferation of weapons in the country is increasing while the government lacks the authority to stop limit the flow of arms. This lack of government intervention is behind the recent spate of murders, he contended.

“It is necessary to take appropriate measures to maintain civil peace and to protect Iraqi citizens,” Al-Bayati said, adding that Iraq already “suffers from hate speech and calls for violent action,” fueled by decades of extremism, sectarian tensions, and the country’s chronic instability.

An Iraqi political analyst based in Kirkuk who asked to remain anonymous out of security reasons told The Media Line that the recent murders are an attempt to kill off personal freedoms and basic human rights of Iraqi citizens. “There is a flagrant violation against minorities and freedoms in Iraq; the aim is to create chaos. This violence forces educated and well-established Iraqi citizens to leave the country, while only the ignorant remain.”

The analyst further argued that political parties in the country are testing the resolve of Iraqi citizens to respond to the violence or simply leave Baghdad. “The actor is radicalism, while the victims are the Iraqi people.”

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