Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday that his government had delivered a “letter of protest” to the Iraqi Embassy in Tehran condemning a raid by Iraqi protesters on an Iranian diplomatic facility in Karbala. Activist Ehab al-Wazni, who organized protests against corruption and Iran’s influence on the Iraqi government, was shot and killed outside his home on Saturday night by unknown assailants on motorbikes in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras.
Wazni narrowly escaped a similar fate in December 2019 when men on motorbikes killed fellow activist Fahem al-Tai as he was dropping Wazni home in Karbala. In response to Wazni’s killing, Iraqi protesters in Karbala, who said Tehran was responsible for the murder of the activist, blocked roads and bridges with burning tires, and on Sunday night set fire to trailers at the Iranian Consulate.
The scene was a replay of violent demonstrations that rocked Baghdad and swept across the country’s Shiite-majority south in October 2019, protesting government corruption, widespread poverty, and the growing influence of Iran on Iraq’s ruling elite. Iraqi security forces and pro-Iranian militias assassinated prominent activists and killed hundreds of rank-and-file protesters in the monthslong campaign, which was finally overtaken as a focus of public attention by the coronavirus pandemic. Daily new cases of COVID-19 in Iraq have been declining since late April. If the trend continues, renewed interest in mass protests could follow.