Tara Fares wasa social media star whose carefully crafted lifestyle and fashion photos drew in more than 2.7 million followers on Instagram.
On September 27, she was shot dead at 22 in broad daylight in Baghdad, the latest in a series of attacks that government officials are investigating as possibly linked. Ms. Fares, a former beauty queen who was one of Iraq’s most followed social media stars, was shot three times while at the wheel of her white convertible in the upscale Camp Sarah neighborhood in the Iraqi capital.
“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,” said Omar Moner, a Baghdad-based photographer and friend. “But here in Iraq, there is no acceptance of the freedoms of others.”
Some say the recent deaths in Iraq of at least four prominent young women — all of whom were seen as being outspoken or bucking the norms of a conservative society — is a sign of a possibly coordinated campaign to silence them. Others believe the killings may just have been random acts of violence.
The day after Ms. Fares was shot, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq ordered an investigation of the killing. He said officials would explore possible links between it and other recent murders and kidnappings. He said the killings “give the impression that there is a plan behind these crimes.”
Two days before the attack on Ms. Fares, Suad al-Ali, a women’s rights activist, was gunned down in Basra.
Nibras al-Maamouri, the head of the Iraqi Women Journalists Forum, said Ms. Fares’s killing may be linked to the deaths of Rasha al-Hassan and Rafif al-Yasiri, two beauticians who died in Baghdad one week apart in August.
Mohammad Nasir al-Karbouli, a member of Parliament, said, “The killings of women in the daytime are messages to confuse the security situation in Baghdad, to weaken the trust of the citizens.”
Ms. Fares, who was originally from Baghdad, left the city three years ago to live in Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, because she felt it was safer, friends said. Recently, she had begun to spend more time in Baghdad again.
In photos on her Instagram account, she pouts and poses for the camera, decked out in wigs, elaborate makeup and close-fitting dresses, her arms covered with a smattering of tattoos. Her YouTube videos, which have garnered hundreds of thousands of views, show her singing along to pop songs, doing makeup tutorials, unwrapping gifts from fans and reviewing restaurants in Erbil.
While the videos attracted comments from fans, they also drew vitriolic messages.
“She was living a very Western lifestyle — she dressed the way she wanted to,” said Daryna Sarhan, who founded a lifestyle magazine in Erbil and has long followed Ms. Fares on Instagram.
Ms. Sarhan added: “She basically did everything the conservatives go against. She was just a normal Instagram model, but that isn’t considered normal in our society.”
Even after her death, Ms. Fares was not immune to criticism, with one journalist for the Iraqi Media Network labeling her a “whore” and other comments posted on social media saying she deserved it for living a “trivial and empty life.”
“I feel like it was a message being sent,” Ms. Sarhan said. “ ‘Don’t be like Tara or you will end up like Tara.’ ”
Fears of a plan to silence the outspoken.