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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Iraqi beauty queen escapes to Jordan after targeting of women

Violence against women has reverberated across Iraq during the last few months

Iraqi beauty queen Shaimaa Qasim. AFP
Iraqi beauty queen Shaimaa Qasim. AFP

A former Iraqi beauty queen has shed light on her decision to leave the country after a series of killings targeting high-profile women that have sent shockwaves across the country.

Shimaa Qasim, who was crowned Miss Iraq in 2015, said on Wednesday that she left her home city of Baghdad and is currently in the Jordanian capital of Amman after she felt her life was in danger.

"I was threatened with murder. The killing of this many people scared me," Ms Qasim told local Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.

Ms Qasim's escape to Amman follows a series of high-profile killings that targeted successful business women in the country. There are no connections between the women, apart from the fact that they had a public presence and were critical of the country's dire situation.

"I wasn't comfortable living there anymore and that is why I left Iraq and came to Jordan," she said.

Fans of former beauty queen and social media star Tara Fares left flowers and candles at her gravesite, in Najaf, Iraq. AP
Fans of former beauty queen and social media star Tara Fares left flowers and candles at her gravesite, in Najaf, Iraq. AP

Social media star Tara Fares was shot dead at the wheel of her white Porsche on a busy Baghdad street on September 27, apparently by a man who leaned in briefly and opened fire before speeding away on a motorcycle with an accomplice.

Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem Al Arajai said on Monday that members of a well-known extremist group were responsible for her murder.

“Security forces are advancing in their search to arrest the killers," Mr Al Araji said, adding that security forces will "bring justice" to her murderers.

Ms Fares's murder came just two days after the assassination of Soad Al Ali, a 46-year-old mother of four and human rights activist, who was killed in the southern city of Basra.

Mrs Al Ali, mother of four, was the head of an organisation called Al Wid Al Alaiami For Human Rights in Basra.

Its goal – as written by Al Ali on the organisation's website – is to promote "true human spirit in society" by helping others who are in need.

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The shooting followed the mysterious deaths of the managers of two of Baghdad's most high-profile beauty centres.

Rafeef Al Yassiri, who was sometimes called the "Barbie of Iraq", encouraged women to gain their independence by changing their appearance. After she was found dead at her home, Iraqi officials claimed she died of a drug overdose.

A week later Rasha Al Hassan, founder of the Viola Beauty Centre, was also found dead at her house.

A viewer looks at the profile page of Iraqi model and Instagram starlet Tara Fares in Baghdad. AFP
A viewer looks at the profile page of Iraqi model and Instagram starlet Tara Fares in Baghdad. AFP

Last month, an Iraqi activist and medic volunteer, Hajar Youssif, was kidnapped, beaten and threatened for attending protests in the southern city of Basra.

In another development, 15-year old, Mahmoud Al Mutairi, was found dead in Baghdad on Tuesday, as a result of alleged hateful attitudes towards his sexual orientation. There was no claim of responsibility for the attacks.

The failure of state institutions to protect citizens is the reason for the targeting of these individuals, Ali Al Bayati, a board member of the Independent High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq told The National.

"The state with its various institutions must be conscious and responsible to protect the citizens in all its orientations and tendencies. It is not enough to provide justifications for the reasons of targeting, killing and assault," Mr Al Bayati said.

The government needs to raise awareness among Iraqi citizens to eliminate the culture of violence, extremism and hatred through national programs and plans, he demanded.

"Domestic violence has increased in Iraq for many reasons including absence of domestic violence combating law or act, low education and poverty of most of Iraqis as well as bad roles of hate speech of Media and political parties," he continued.

Last week, outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi acknowledged the killings were not random, saying there was "evidence suggesting that there is a plan formulated by organised parties to undermine security under the pretext of fighting against depravity".

He has pledged to hunt down the killers.