Iraqi intellectuals alone in the face of assassinations

With the death of Mashdhub, Iraq has become poorer in imagination and integrity.
Sunday 10/02/2019
Friends and relatives of Alaa Mashdhub light candles at his assassination site in Karbala, February 5. (AP)
A blow to free expression. Friends and relatives of Alaa Mashdhub light candles at his assassination site in Karbala, February 5. (AP)

What ties together the killings of Kamel Shaya in 2008 and Alaa Mashdhub in 2019 is the web of a crime that is unlikely to be unwoven soon.

Intellectuals in the Land of the Two Rivers find themselves surrounded by gangs of professional killers watching every breath they take and waiting, with a finger on the trigger, for the first word of truth that might come out of their mouths.

That word would be a death sentence, pre-issued against culture and intellectuals in a country run over by radical fundamentalist parties.

For them, intellectuals are their most dangerous enemy, whose mere existence exposes their obscurantist projects of spreading ignorance, impoverishment, corruption, death and hatred.

Thus, the assassination of Mashdhub in front of his home in Karbala in the dead of night takes on a doubly symbolic character. On the one hand, it is a message of excessive violence and cruelty sent by Iranian militias to Iraqi intellectuals to observe a humiliating silence if they fear for their lives.

On the other hand, it is an unequivocal demonstration of the state of isolation Iraqi intellectuals find themselves in as they desperately search for protection that nobody seems able to offer because the militias have overpowered Iraqi society and severed it from modernity represented by the intellectuals.

Despite Shaya being a high-level state official, Iraqi security services have failed to find his killers. His killing was not haphazard. It was the signal of the beginning of an assassination campaign targeting Iraqi intellectuals and political activists who publicly opposed the project of a theocratic corrupt state in Iraq carried out by parties in power under the auspices of Iranian supervision and protected by sectarian militias. The killing of Mashdhub is but the most recent in this campaign.

Mashdhub, a novelist and film studies professor, was assassinated on a busy street with a heavy security presence in the middle of Karbala. This is indicative of an overt complicity between security services and the assassins, who belong to a militia that overtly threatens anyone questioning Iranian hegemony over Iraq with death.

The Iraqi government’s condemnation of the incident is only an attempt to mislead and shirk responsibility.

The list of causes leading to extrajudicial killings has become public and the street assassins carrying out these sentences are well-known. The state, however, has no desire to pursue them or stop them from carrying out their heinous crimes.

It would not be speculative to say that a corrupt state would be the first to benefit from silencing intellectuals and that this is the goal of these assassinations. Nothing in the successive Iraqi governments’ treatment of intellectuals since 2003 indicates their acceptance of any of the deeds of the few brave ones who dared place themselves in the line of fire.

If the state has turned a blind eye at times, it is because it knows that those few have placed themselves in a suicidal labyrinth that will lead to their doom.

The state is fully responsible for the deterioration of the humanitarian situation of Iraqi intellectuals. The latter are caught between the hard place of isolation, fear and oppression and the rock of militias ready to strike them at any moment.

The responsibility for the killing of Mashdhub lies not only with the militias that summarily executed him but also with a state incapable of protecting society, as well as with society itself, which has left its fate in the hands of a bunch of gangsters.

With the death of Mashdhub, Iraq has become poorer in imagination and integrity.