London, 24 Sep - A young activist in Iraq has told the story of how she was attacked by masked men as part of an intimidation campaign by the Iranian Mullahs.
Hajar Youssif, 24, had taken a taxi to her job as an office administrator and realised that her driver had not taken the usual route. When she questioned this, the driver locked the doors and sped up.
She said: "I started to feel uneasy and knew that something bad was going to happen."
He swerved into a courtyard, where three masked men were waiting. They told Youssif that they would teach her a lesson for taking part in protests over the lack of clean water, frequent power cuts and soaring unemployment in Basra, and that it should serve as a “warning” to other protesters. They slapped and beat her, pulled off her Islamic headscarf and grabbed her by the hair, before blindfolding her and dumping her on the streets.
Youssif believes the attack was part of an intimidation campaign by the powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias that control Basra, in response to increased protests by angry residents over failing government services. These protests led to attacks on the headquarters of the Iranian-backed militias and Iran's consulate in Basra earlier this month, because of the people’s frustration on Iran's interference in the country.
Iran-backed militias flooded Iraq in 2003, following the US-led invasion, and numerous reports have surfaced that they abused the Sunni community.
Bassem al-Khafaji, head of Sayyed al-Shuhada, one of several Basra militias, has denied the intimidation campaign, but other militia leaders have accused protesters of working with the US to curb Iranian influence in Iraq.
One even vowed to retaliate for the attacks on the government buildings.
He said: "We have pictures of those who burned down our headquarters and they will pay dearly. We will not let them attack us again and if they do we'll open fire. That's what we've agreed on, all of us."
Many protesters have been detained by security agencies, but many are unaccounted for. Activist Naqeeb al-Luaibi has only been able to track only 30 protesters (11 are still in custody) and said that dozens more are still being held, but it’s difficult to track them.
One activist, Mahdi Salah Hassan, 26, said that he was arrested by security forces in early August. He was handcuffed, blindfolded, and initially held in a room with 33 other protesters.
Over the next three days, Hassan was slapped in the face, hit with a cable on his feet and back and hung by the arms from the ceiling, before being transferred to two other lockups and then released with a threat against protesting again. He said he will continue to protest.
Two other activists, Ahmed al-Wihaili and Sara Talib, both 23, said they have been threatened and followed.
Youssif, who wore white scrubs during the protests as a volunteer medic, said: "I'm taking to the streets for the sake of my town Basra, to get public services and to get rid of those militias and political parties. I'm not afraid of them. These militias will not deter me from going out until we change our life.”