Clockwise from left: Tara Fares, Souad Al-Ali Rasha, Hassan and Dr Rafif Yasiri Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Tara Fares, an Iraqi model and Instagram star, was shot dead at the wheel of her car as she was driving through central Baghdad on Thursday.

The 22- year-old, who has 2.7 million followers on social media, was assassinated in broad daylight by two men on a motorbike.

Fares died on the spot; one bullet pierced her skull and two others hit her chest.

“She was very beautiful and nice, and wanted to be happy and to live her life how the rest of the world lives: without restraint and hatred,” Omar Moner, Baghdad-based photographer and Fares’ friend, told The New York Times.

“But here in Iraq, there is no acceptance of the freedoms of others,” he added.

Fares’ assassination sparked a wave of anger on social networking sites. Some posts stated she paid the ultimate price for choosing to live the life she wanted instead of what society dictated.

One social media user wrote: “I should note that she was critical of her society and religious misogyny. She was brave and her memory and the memory of every courageous woman that was killed for simply being a woman who doesn't obey their misogynistic rules and challenges them.”

Fares’ murder was the fourth in a series of killings that targeted successful women in the country in the past two months.

There was no connection between the victims — other than they had a public presence and were critical of the rigid views that exist in their society about how women should think, dress and behave.

Gunman fled scene

Just days earlier, Souad Al-Ali was shot dead in Basra, a city in southern Iraq.

Officials said she was killed by a gunman who fled the scene after shooting at her husband and her as they were getting into their car.

“The moment of the assassination of activist Souad Ali with a bullet in the head...! The activist was supporting protests in Basra and was carrying a strong speech against corrupt officials and demanding rights for Iraqi citizens! This was a message to those who dare to oppose militias and power parties.” one Iraqi tweeted along with the video of the assassination.

Souad Al-Ali was a women’s rights activist, and was one of the major organisers of the recent protests against power cuts and water shortages in her city Basra.

One user on twitter wrote: “She was assassinated today in Basra, God has mercy on her. Dr Souad Al-Ali in the hands of God.  A Martyr of speech."

Nibras Maamouri, the head of the Iraqi Women Journalists Forum talking to The New York Times, said that the targeting of well-known women in Iraq had "greatly increased".

Maamouri said she believed "Fares' killing may be linked to the deaths of Rasha Hassan and Rafif Yasiri, who died in mysterious circumstances in Baghdad in August. Fares travelled in the same social circles as both women."

In August, Rasha Hassan and Doctor Rafifi Yasiri were killed one week apart. Both owned famous beauty clinics and had a huge fan base not just in Iraq but across the region. Both were found dead in their homes. The police are yet to release the official report of autopsy and declare the cause of death for both; initially they issued a statement saying they might have been taking diet pills which caused their hearts to stop.

Managing Editor of Irfaa Sawtak magazine,  Rasha Al Aqeedi made the link back then, tweeting: “Second beauty expert to die in Baghdad within a week. After Dr Rafeef Al Yasiri sudden death, Rasha Al Hassan passes away in unclear circumstances. Both beauticians are leading female social media figures in Iraq.”

Dr Rafeef had a great fan base because she had made her life’s mission one to help Iraqi children who were victims of war. Rafeef would travel the world to find cures for them and would help them at her own expense. This was one of her latest posts with one of her patients called Hussein, who suffered from severe burns. In her post she said she would not lose hope and would ensure he could look into the mirror again.


A post shared by د.رفيف الياسري (@dr_rafeef) on

Ahmad Al Basheer, an Iraqi satirist who lives in exile in Jordan after having faced death threats, condemned the murder of Fares. "Anyone who finds excuses for those who kill a girl just because she had decided to live like most other girls on the planet is an accomplice to her murder," he wrote.

Saleh Al Hamdani, a journalist and TV presenter, has also written a sarcastic tweet about a society that is killing its women, saying: “"The society (person) is not spoiled by beautiful women, nor by the beauty centers. "The society" is corrupted by the absence of social justice, sectarianism, and "legitimate tricks"!

On Friday, Prime Minister Haider Abadi of Iraq ordered the country's Interior Ministry and its intelligence service to investigate the killing. He also said in a statement that officials would explore possible links between Fares' killing and other recent killings and kidnappings in Baghdad and Basra. Abadi said the killings "give the impression that there is a plan behind these crimes".