Tara Fares, Rafif al-Yaseri, and Rasha al-Hassan all died on a Thursday. They are among several Iraqi women that ran in the same circles, whose deaths have sparked speculation that there is a conspiracy at work. Known for being trailblazers, many of these women were prominent beauty stars targeted for their perceived indecency.
Yaseri, a beautician nicknamed “Iraq’s Barbie,” was the first to die on August 16, 2018. The following week, Hassan, the founder of the Viola Beauty Center in Baghdad, was also found dead. Both were found in their homes and died under “mysterious circumstances,” as reported by Arab News and Al Arabiya English.
After a preliminary investigation, the Iraqi Interior Ministry found that Yaseri’s death seemed to have been caused by complications with medicine she was taking. There are also reports that a family member of Rasha said her death was the result of high blood pressure combined with influenza, though authorities have not yet confirmed this.
So far, two of the deaths have been confirmed as murders. Soad al-Ali, an activist and businesswoman, was shot several times on September 22, while driving in Basra. The police have pegged her ex-husband, who is on the run, as the prime suspect. Fares, an envelope-pushing social media star with over 2.7 million Instagram followers, was shot the Thursday afterward in her car in Baghdad.
Fares was often harassed online for racy photos that conflicted with the hardline Islamic views of traditionalists. The harassment forced her to move from native Baghdad to the secular and more liberal Kurdistan. Unfortunately, the violence still got to her.
Former Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, seems to have connected the deaths of these four women and does not want to see another one.
“[There is] evidence suggesting that there is a plan formulated by organized parties to undermine security under the pretext of fighting against depravity,” al-Abadi said in a statement. He has ordered elite intelligence units to investigate the deaths. Yet, the numerous unanswered questions have left people concerned about what’s to come. Many believe that these specific prominent women were targeted to send a message.
“I feel like it was a message being sent: ‘Don’t be like Tara or you will end up like Tara’,” said Daryna Sarhan, a lifestyle magazine founder. Fortunately, there have been no deaths since Fares’, but many women are still receiving death threats. Shimaa Qasim, an Instagram model and former Miss Iraq winner, fears she may be next after receiving several threats of her own.
Hanae Edwar of the women’s rights organization Iraqi Al-Amal Association thinks that the deaths go beyond the women and their families.
“[They are] threatening messages sent to activists in particular, but also to the whole of society,” said Edwar in a statement. “ . . . Attacking women who are public figures is a bid to force them to shut themselves away at home.”
Whatever the intentions of the attackers, it is unlikely that their targets will “shut themselves away at home.” They are targeted because of their outspoken nature, and that trait seems to indicate that they have no intention of backing down.
by Sabine Joseph