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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 April 2019

Iraqi poet shot dead in Karbala

Alaa Mashzoub was a critic of Iraq's political system

Iraqi poet Alaa Mashzoub was shot dead in the Holy city of Karbala this month. Facebook. 
Iraqi poet Alaa Mashzoub was shot dead in the Holy city of Karbala this month. Facebook. 

An Iraqi poet known for his criticism of corruption and foreign interference in his country has been shot dead by unknown attackers in the city of Karbala.

Alaa Mashzoub, 51, was shot 13 times on Saturday evening by two armed men in front of his house in Bab Al Khan, a neighbourhood in the heart of Karbala, the Iraqi Literature Association said.

“He was on his way back home from a weekly meeting at the headquarters of the Union of Writers in Karbala when he was assassinated,” said Amar Al Massodi, head of Karbala’s Literature Group, which is a branch of the association.

It is unclear who killed Mashzoub.

He was known as a bold writer who was not afraid to broach political and religious taboos in his writings.

The Iraqi writer graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Baghdad University in 1993 and held a doctorate in fine arts. He began his career writing for local media outlets and published various short stories and novels.

His research into the history of his hometown was published in two parts as A Summary of Karbala Cultural History.

Mashzoub spoke out against sectarianism and militias. His first book in 2008, In the Homeland and Nationalism, was a collection of poetry critical of foreign interference in Iraq and the role of religious clerics.

In a Facebook post on January 17, Mashzoub criticised Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's 1979 revolution.

He also took part in last year’s protests against poor public services and lack of jobs.

Iraq’s Ministry of Culture condemned his murder.

"In his departure, Iraq's cultural hub has lost one of its outstanding creators and writers," the ministry said.

Mashzoub’s brother Kassem said that anyone who spoke out against corruption in Iraq was liable to become a victim of “free speech”.

“All he ever wanted was to see Iraq in a beautiful state,” Mr Mashzoub said.

The assassination of Mr Mashzoub is part of a criminal group that intends to spread terror and fear among Iraqis and restrict their freedom of expression, Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, told The National.

"The previous assassinations of media and civil activists certainly reflects the weakness of the intelligence services in detecting such operations," he said, adding that criminal investigations will not be disclosed for the public.

Fans posted condolences online after hearing of Mashzoub's death, with many expressing anger at the country’s conservative attitudes towards freedom of speech.

“Honourable Iraqi voices will not be silenced or hidden by corrupt bullets and attacks,” Ahmed Al Khader, an Iraqi writer, said on Twitter.

Iraqis called on the government to open an investigation into his death.

“Alaa was a humble poet. We have lost a personality who defended the rights of innocent people,” Fatima Ali, a student in Baghdad University, wrote on Twitter.

Mashzoub's death follows other recent killings of Iraqi activists and social media personalities.

In September last year, social media star and model Tara Fares was murdered in Baghdad.

Her death came two days after the murder of Soad Al Ali, a human rights activist and mother of four who was gunned down in the streets of Basra.

Updated: February 3, 2019 08:09 PM

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