On September 26th, Tara Fares, a 22-year-old social media star in Iraq, was shot dead in broad daylight in Baghdad’s Camp Sarah neighborhood. The attack, captured on security cameras, showed two motorcyclists appearing next to her vehicle and opening fire. Ms. Fares, a former Miss Baghdad winner, captivated her 2.7 million followers on Instagram with her daring personality. The divorced single mother defied conservative cultural norms by frequently posting pictures of herself online showing her elaborate makeup, tightly fitted or revealing clothes that allowed her followers to admire her ornate tattoos.
Tara’s murder follows a string of violence against prominent women in Iraq. In the southern city of Basra, an unknown gunman shot and killed a female human rights activist, Suaad al-Ali, in a market, according to CNN news. Two other women were killed in August under mysterious conditions. Dr. Rafeef al-Yaseri, called the Barbie of Iraq, a plastic surgeon who helped women through nationwide medical programs was killed inside her home. A few days later, Rasha al-Hassan, a well-known beautician who owned Viola Beauty Center in Baghdad was found dead in her home. CTV news reported that another former beauty queen, Shaimaa Qassim, fearing for her life posted a video crying stating that she has received multiple death threats through social networking sites.
The series of violence against prominent women prompted the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to order an investigation. According to CTV news, he commented that the high-profile cases are “well-planned kidnappings and killings” by organized groups “carrying out a plan to destabilize the security situation under the pretext of fighting perversion.” Speaking to the New York Times Nibras al-Maamouri, the head of the Iraqi Women Journalists Forum, suggested that all the deaths are connected. “This is not something new, but to reach to the level of direct killing in front of people is dangerous,” Dr. Maamouri said. “What happened to Tara Fares was abhorrent.”
It takes courage for women to break away from outdated traditions in a conservative society. However, that courage is considered a threat and their voices are silenced in the most violent way to send a message. The series of murders involving influential women in Iraq is intended to strike fear in those who express their individuality. The government should work with non-governmental organizations to initiate a program advocating tolerance. They should also extend legal and security protection for women who are facing imminent threats for their outspoken attitudes. Unless concrete measures are not enforced women enacting their individual freedoms will be victims of atrocious crimes. Thus, NGOs with governmental help could instigate a change and prevent others from suffering the same fate as Fares, Suaad and Rasha.
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