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Iraqi authorities investigate string of deaths involving prominent Iraqi women

The murder of Instagram model Tara Fares is the latest in a string of mysterious deaths of Iraqi female social media influencers, prompting the government to launch an investigation. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Four high-profile Iraqi women have died in recent weeks, two in drive-by shootings and the others under mysterious circumstances. But all of them were seen as cultural trailblazers, leading the government to launch an investigation into their deaths.

What are the details?

On Thursday, Instagram model Tara Fares — who enjoyed a following of 2.7 million people — was gunned down in broad daylight while driving a convertible Porsche through her hometown of Baghdad. Fares rose to fame for her postings showing bold hairstyles and fashion trends.

According to news outlet Asharo Al-Awsat, "Fares was the target of a deluge of online insults over her perceived lack of modesty."

Last week, women's rights activist Suad al-Ali was shot while walking to her car in the city of Basra, and two high-profile managers of Iraqi aesthetic and plastic surgery centers were found dead in their homes under suspicious circumstances in August.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi acknowledged the possibility of a link between the deaths, ordering Iraqi intelligence units to get involved while saying there is "evidence suggesting that there is a plan formulated by organized parties to undermine security under the pretext of fighting against depravity," according to Al-Awsat.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that even after Fares' death, a journalist from the Iraqi Media Network referred to her as a "whore," while social media posts said she deserved her demise because she lived a "trivial and empty life."

Stylist Safaa Nasser — speaking under an assumed name for fear of retribution — told the Agence France Presse that women in Iraq have taken notice and see the murders of female social influencers as a warning.

"The last few days, my daughters and I go out less and I stay away from the fashion world," she explained. "There are people who don't want Iraq to develop, or for women to be visible. They want to take us backwards."

Hanaa Edwar of the women's rights group, Amal, told the AFP her organization is alarmed by the deaths, saying, "Armed groups, tribes, criminal gangs...all these control positions" within the government. She asserted that the killings are "threatening messages sent to activists in particular, but also to the whole of society."

Edwar added, "Attacking women who are public figures is a bid to force themselves away at home."

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