Under attack, Iraqi activists flee abroad

Amjad Aldhamat was an Iraqi civil rights activist in the southern city of Amarah, along the Tigris, about halfway between Baghdad and Basra.

He took part in the mass demonstrations in 2019 that toppled the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Last year he was leaving a meeting with local police to discuss a planned protest when a car sped by and a gunman opened fire.

"At a distance of only 500 meters, he was killed with a car without number plate. A black car, with blackened windows that didn't have number plate."

His brother, Mohammed Aldhamat, says Amjad was committed to change, and like many activists, that made him a target.

"Most activists in the province of Maysan, as well as the protest leaders in the province of Maysan, have fled because of the threats sent to them via mobile phones, through others involved."

Activists, protesters and their families tell Reuters they've been targeted for assassination and kidnapping by militia groups, and many have fled the country.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took office in May, has pledged justice for activists killed or abused by armed groups, but there have been no prosecutions so far.

Hasanain Alminshid, another activist, left Iraq five days after Amjad's murder. He spoke to Reuters from an undisclosed location in Turkey.

"Amjad Aldhamat was killed close to the Maysan police station, at the governmental square, where there are all the governmental branches and establishments. During the protests, the protesters were protected by the security forces. It became clear that the security forces cannot protect us from the danger of the gangs spread throughout."

The independent rights organization Al-Amal has documented 39 killings since October 2019. It says at least 44 kidnappings and 74 attempted killings of activists have taken place in the last year.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said state institutions were "infiltrated" by parties and militia groups that had no interest in punishing the killers of protesters.

Mohammed Aldhamat said he met with Kadhimi's office but has since lost faith the government will act.

"I left the meeting, with all the others, feeling optimistic, because he promised us that he would find the killers, that he would form a committee and that he would arrest them as soon as possible. But we were shocked because the committee that was formed did not reach out to any of us."

An Iraqi government spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.