Iraq shocked by death of Instagram model Tara Fares

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The fatal shooting of a 22-year-old former beauty queen, fashion model and social media star has shocked Iraq.

Tara Fares, who won fame as much for her outspoken social media comments on personal freedom as her daring outfits in the conservative, Muslim-majority country, was shot dead at the wheel of her Porsche in Baghdad.

She was killed last week in broad daylight by a man who leaned into her car and opened fire before escaping on a motorcycle with an accomplice.

Tara Fares
Tara Fares had gathered millions of social media followers (AP)

The violence has raised fears of a return to the kind of attacks on prominent figures that plagued the country at the height of its sectarian strife.

Iraq is still recovering from its fight against Islamic State militants. The country has been without a government since national elections in May, and riots have repeatedly broken out in the south over the authorities’ failure to provide basic services.

Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar said: “These harrowing crimes are worrying us.

“There are groups that want to terrify society through the killing of popular women and activists … and to tell other women to abandon their work and stay at home.”

The scene of an assassination
A protest takes place at the scene of the assassination of Iraqi activist Soad al-Ali (AP)

Ms Fares, who had an Iraqi father and a Lebanese mother, first became famous in 2015 when she won an unofficial Baghdad beauty pageant organised by a social club.

She became a social media darling, attracting 2.2 million followers with bold posts and photos of herself wearing make-up, jeans and blouses that showed off her tattoos.

A YouTube channel drew more than 120,000 followers in addition to those on Instagram, where she shared make-up tips.

She gave details of a brief marriage at 16 to an abusive husband who posted intimate photos of her on social media and took away their now three-year-old son. Fares said the experience taught her “strength … and how not to let anyone control me in anything”.

Ms Fares also spoke out occasionally against religious, tribal and political leaders.

While many young Iraqis shared her videos and pictures, others criticised her lifestyle as provocative and un-Islamic.

Iraqi activists
An Iraqi activist covers her face in Basra (AP)

Hours after she was gunned down on September 27, a video on social media showed her body being carried away by a group of young people, with her face and white shirt stained with blood.

She was buried in the Shia holy city of Najaf.

In August, Dr Rafeef al-Yassiri, a plastic surgeon labelled “Iraq’s Barbie” who also posted images of herself on social media, died under mysterious circumstances. Authorities initially called it a drug overdose but have not offered an update in over a month, leading to rumours she might have been poisoned.

A week after her death, Rasha al-Hassan, the owner of a well-known beauty centre in Baghdad, was found dead in her home. Authorities initially said she had suffered a heart attack.

Tara Fares
Ms Fares was buried in Najaf (AP)

Police said the killing was “purely personal” and had nothing to do with the protests.

Last weekend, another former beauty queen, Shaimaa Qassim, posted a video on Instagram in which she tearfully said she had received threats through social media.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into what he called “well-planned kidnappings and killings”.

He said organised groups are “carrying out a plan to destabilise the security situation under the pretext of fighting perversion”.

Security agencies have not yet commented on the investigation into Ms Fares’ death and no group has claimed responsibility.

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