High-profile women gunned down in broad daylight in Iraq — sparking concerns of a ‘witch-hunt’

Social media star and former beauty queen Tara Fares was killed in broad daylight in Baghdad, the latest in a series of brazen killings. Instagram / its.tarafares

It was broad daylight when a gunman rode up to a car on a motorbike and shot a woman last Friday in Baghdad.

Social media star Tara Fares, a former Miss Baghdad, and runner-up for Miss Iraq, was killed during the event — and the brazen assassination is just one of four that rocked Iraq in recent months.

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Along with 22-year-old Fares, feminist and activist Suaad al-Ali was gunned down in the city of Basra, in southern Iraq. Before that, two beauticians, Rasha al-Hassan and Rafif al-Yasiri, were killed in mysterious circumstances, one week apart.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has said the killings were not random and ordered an investigation into whether they were linked.

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Abadi said the nature of the crimes gives “the impression that there is a plan behind these crimes.”

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Many people remembered Fares fondly.

“She was very beautiful and nice and wanted to be happy and to live her life how the rest of the world lives: without restraint and hatred,” Omar Moner, a Baghdad-based photographer and friend of Fares told The New York Times.

Just one day before her death she was voted one of Iraq’s most popular social media stars.

But others took exception to her and her use of social media and her “perceived lack of modesty,” the BBC reported.

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One Iraqi state official was fired after calling her a “whore” after her death on social media posts.

Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi who leads Women for Women International in Washington, told the Guardian she saw many negative social media posts.

“The enormous amount of messages I noticed on social media have made me sick,” she said. “They say: ‘They deserved what they got because of their actions.’”

She, along with other activists, warned that there has been an increase of violence against women.

“Women are being hit left, right and centre. Everywhere. We are living in the modern witch-hunt,” Salbi said.

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“This is not something new, but to reach to the level of direct killing in front of people is dangerous,” Nibras al-Maamouri, the head of the Iraqi Women Journalists Forum, told The New York Times. “What happened to Tara Fares was abhorrent.”

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One day after Fares’ death, another former beauty queen said she received death threats.

Shimaa Qassem, who won Miss Iraq in 2015, said in a video posted on Youtube that she’d received a message saying that she would “be next.”

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