On Sunday, the body of a young Baghdad man, Karar Nushi, was found in one of the garbage dumping areas on Palestine Street, one of the more upmarket areas in the Iraqi capital. His relatives said the aspiring actor and male model had been tortured, stabbed and hanged before being shot in the head. The Ministry of the Interior says it has started an investigation into the young man’s murder. But Nushi's death has kept all of Baghdad talking anyway.
Nushi was a star on Facebook, the social media website frequented by many Iraqis, where they get their news, go shopping, share gossip and join clubs. Nushi drew attention because of his long, dyed blonde hair, his fashionable clothing, and the fact that he competed in a male beauty pageant. Nushi’s relatives told local media that the young man had been getting threats for some time because of the way he looked. Nushi would often post videos about friendship, love, patriotism and anti-extremism in Iraq on his Facebook page. A student of fine arts, he had also acted in a play in Baghdad recently.
Who dares kidnap a man, kill him in cold blood and throw his body in the garbage in Palestine Street, in central Baghdad, without being afraid of the police, or security forces, who are everywhere on the city streets?
For locals, Nushi’s murder took on broader dimensions. It reminded many residents in the capital of the dark days between 2006 and 2007 when home grown religious militias and soldiers began fighting in the streets, making random arrests, and kidnapping individuals they didn’t like the look of, or whom they suspected of belonging to any group other than their own. There was an increase in crime of all kinds and anyone who looked unusual, including men who looked like they might be homosexuals (according to conservative Iraqi style), were often targeted. Locals in Baghdad fear that the same thing is starting to happen in Baghdad again, now that the fight against the extremist group known as the Islamic State is drawing to an end and an enemy that united various antipathetic forces in the city is no longer around.
“Records from the central police headquarters in Baghdad show that there has been an increase in theft and kidnapping,” confirms Khader al-Tamimi, a police lieutenant in Baghdad. “Often wealthier people are the victims of these crimes and they happen all over the city.”
Asked whether the Baghdad police could be doing more to prevent these kinds of incidents, al-Tamimi replies that security in the capital is the responsibility of a number of different groups. “And sometimes the criminals use the names of certain [Shiite Muslim] militias, even if they are not part of them,” he added.
The lack of an enemy seems to be a growing problem on the streets of Baghdad. At the moment the young men who volunteered to fight the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group, are gainfully employed. But when the IS group is finally pushed out of the country, there are concerns that the Iraqi government might stop paying their wages, or that, even if they do still get paid, they will have nothing to do.
And there is a growing divide between the city’s more liberal activists and the men of the militias. “Who dares kidnap a man, kill him in cold blood and throw his body in the garbage in Palestine Street, in central Baghdad, without being afraid of the police, or security forces, who are everywhere on the city streets?” asked Ahmad Abdul-Hussein, a journalist and activist and one of the leaders of the weekly anti-corruption demonstrations in Baghdad. “It is definitely an influential party, a state within the state, and a party that is even stronger than the state’s own apparatuses.”
The subtext to that dangerous comment: Abdul-Hussein was talking about the powerful and controversial Shiite Muslim militias potentially being responsible for Nushi’s abduction and murder.
Aside from the growing fear that looking unusual on the street can be cause enough for a beating, kidnapping or worse, there is also concern that public freedoms were being reduced again.
There is fear of this, Imran Naseef, another civil society activist, told NIQASH, “because of the growing power of the military here, the weakness of the police forces and the use of this security crisis as an excuse to restrict freedom of expression.”
“The Iraqi army fought the IS group because of the group’s extremist ideas. So how is it logical to try and apply those same rules again, except this time through unfair new legislation and government authorities?”
It is true that there are some controversial laws in the parliamentary pipeline. Politicians have started to discuss a new version of the country’s personal status law, which would negatively impact women’s rights in Iraq, MP Rizan al-Sheik Daleer told NIQASH.
"There are some political groups who are seeking to reintroduce the law but in a different formulation in order to avoid the widespread criticism the law got last time,” Daleer, a member of the parliamentary committee on women, family and children, noted.
Politicians have also been trying to discuss another law on freedom of expression and peaceful protests, Naseef added. “Basically, they are trying to pass as many laws as possible while people are busy worrying about the IS group,” he concluded.