The shocking truth

Tara Fares was an Iraqi beauty blogger who was murdered in Baghdad last year. An unknown assailant shot her three times at point blank range as she sat in her car. Two days earlier, women’s rights activist Suad al-Ali was murdered in Basra. A man shot her in the back of the head as she was about to get into her car. CCTV footage of both these murders was posted online and shows the utter cowardice of the perpetrators. The women had never met but they shared something in common. They were shattering social stereotypes in a country where women are rarely heard.

Fares rose to fame after showing off her tattoos and demonstrating make-up techniques to her 2.7 million followers on Instagram. She had been trolled by ultra-conservatives who hated her content and branded her ‘un-Islamic’. Months before her murder, Fares posted: ‘I’m afraid of the one who denies the existence of God, but I’m really afraid of the one who kills and chops off the heads to prove the existence of God.’ Shockingly, a journalist working for a state-run news channel tweeted shortly after Fares’ murder: ‘She is a whore and deserved to be killed’.

Suad al-Ali had been a vocal critic of the Iraqi government. During the scorching summer of 2018 she had helped organise protests in the city of Basra which had been beset by power cuts and polluted drinking water. Ali had been considered a major female presence in demonstrations dominated by men. Aside from her activism, Ali’s human rights work aimed to ‘establish cultural and economic conferences, seminars and educational workshops for our society which we have the duty to develop and advance.’ Ali is survived by her husband (who was also shot) and her four children.  

Lara Zara

These murders show just how difficult it is for women in Iraq to take the lead in the public sphere. In a report published last week, the British government identified one of its principle concerns in Iraq as ‘gender disparity in society and politics’. We were invited to the launch of this report at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. On first reading there is much to praise. For example, the government’s support of a women’s caucus in the Iraqi parliament is laudable. However, women at the coal face of Iraq’s myriad conflicts are still vulnerable.

We spoke with Lara Zara, Mayor of the Christian village of Alqosh in the Nineveh Plain. At the time of the interview, we were told that Lara Zara was the only female mayor in Iraq (an astonishing achievement). However, her mayorship is contested. Lara Zara is backed by the Kurds who claim that Alqosh is in their territory. Many Christians supported her election and credit the Kurds with driving ISIS out of the area. However, others say she is a puppet of the KRG and is aiding the forced ‘Kurdization’ of the Nineveh Plain.

We do not take sides in Iraq. Whatever Lara Zara’s affiliation, she spoke to us sincerely of the need for jobs and investment in the Nineveh Plain. This is certainly the case. We have seen first-hand the challenges that returning Christians face and lack of jobs is the biggest challenge of all. This is why we set up our Nineveh SEED initiative

Women going forward

Women’s rights activist Hanna Edwar, known by some as ‘Iraq’s Mother Teresa’, was hit by a car in Baghdad this week. Local reports suggest that Ms Edwar was hit deliberately following a speech she gave criticising the Iraqi government. Her non-violent protests go back a long way. In 2011 she interrupted a televised government conference to challenge Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki about the army having arrested protestors. Following this, a bullet was left in an envelope outside her office. We pray for Ms Edwar’s full recovery.

It is vital that women in Iraq come to the fore. We applaud the British government’s efforts in highlighting this issue, but most of all we pay tribute to the brave women mentioned in this update (and those who aren’t) who continue to put themselves in harm’s way to further the cause of women’s rights in Iraq.

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