Killing of Hashemi seen as Iraqi militia’s retaliation for firing of Fayyadh

Observers say that if Kadhimi fails to bring Hashemi’s killers to justice, he may lose his last chance to build trust with the Iraqi street
Wednesday 08/07/2020
Mourners attend a symbolic funeral in Baghdad for slain Iraqi extremism expert Hisham al-Hashemi, killed in the Iraqi capital, on July 7. The sign reads in Arabic: “enough killing”. (AFP)
Mourners attend a symbolic funeral in Baghdad for slain Iraqi extremism expert Hisham al-Hashemi, killed in the Iraqi capital, on July 7. The sign reads in Arabic: “enough killing”. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – Pro-Iranian militias responded to the Iraqi prime minister’s decision to relieve Faleh al-Fayyadh from sensitive security posts by assassinating security expert Hisham al-Hashemi, who was shot dead by gunmen believed to be linked to Kata’ib Hezbollah, politicians in Baghdad say.

The gunmen opened fire on Hashemi, a prominent expert on armed groups and a harsh critic of the excesses of the pro-Iranian militia in Iraq, as he was entering his home in the Zayouna neighbourhood, east of Baghdad. Hashemi’s assassination shocked the public and the political class and elicited international reactions.

Surveillance cameras at the scene of the crime showed that the assassins were waiting for Hashemi and must have known when he was expected to arrive home. The victim was returning from a TV interview, during which he spoke of the weapons and mechanisms used by pro-Iranian groups to bomb the Green Zone and the camps hosting American forces.

One of the gunmen fired four bullets at Hashemi from a distance of about one metre, hitting him in the head and chest. The victim died during his transfer to the hospital.

Iraqi President Barham Salih and Parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi issued statements condemning the assassination, while Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi vowed to pursue the killers and work on confiscating rogue weapons and fired the police chief of the sector where the crime was committed.

Two dedicated committees of high ranking officers were formed at the Ministry of the Interior. The first committee was tasked with pursuing the killers, while the second committee was to identify the security deficiencies that allowed such an assassination operation against a known figure to take place.

Arab and foreign ambassadors and diplomats condemned the operation, while the United Nations, through its permanent representative in Iraq, mourned Hashemi and called on the Kadhimi government to bring his killers to justice.

Hashemi’s assassination has also triggered great public outcry, a testament to the victim’s reputation and his impact on public life, especially since the confrontation between the Iraqi public and pro-Iranian parties intensified last October. The victim was a vocal and severe critic of what he called the surrender of the previous government headed by Adel Abdul-Mahdi to the militias’ approach in dealing with the public protests that were growing at the time.

When Kadhimi assumed the premiership, Hashemi wrote him and encouraged him to restrict the possession and carrying of weapons to the state’s regular security forces.

Close friends of Hashemi said that he had recently received death threats from Kata’ib Hezbollah, a militia founded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and accused of attacking the US Embassy and a number of military headquarters in Iraq.

Iraqi politicians told The Arab Weekly on Tuesday that they have reason to believe that Hashemi’s assassination is linked to the recent dismissal of Faleh al-Fayyadh as national security adviser and head of the National Security Agency.

They said that Iran responded to Kadhimi’s decision to fire Fayyadh by ordering the assassination of Hashemi.

Kadhimi fired Fayyadh even though the latter was a prominent ally of the Iranians.

Although he lived in Baghdad, Hashemi spoke boldly through his accounts on social media and  various local, Arab and international TV stations about the danger of Kata’ib Hezbollah’s use of Katyusha rockets to bomb targets near populated areas in central Baghdad under the pretext that these areas “host American occupiers.”

It also appears that Kata’ib Hezbollah did not forget that Hashemi was the first to discover and reveal, with documented evidence, the true identity and personal details of their commander of field operations, a man who went by the nom-de-guerre of Abu Ali al-Askari.

Observers say that with Hashemi’s assassination, the Iran-backed militias have killed more than one bird with the same stone. They got rid of a constant thorn in their side and a highly influential voice in directing public opinion against them, while also sending a warning to anyone who dares to criticise them.

A few days ago, the Kata’ib Hezbollah militias won their first confrontation with Kadhimi, forcing the latter to release a number of their members after they were caught red-handed preparing to carry out rocket attacks on Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone.

Immediately following their arrest, hundreds of Kata’ib Hezbollah members invaded the streets of Baghdad, surrounding the homes of prominent security forces officers and even getting near Kadhimi’s personal residence in Baghdad.

At the same time, official Iranian parties, as well as Shia political forces, intervened to pressure Kadhimi, who finally caved in and handed over the detainees to the Security Directorate of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). Shortly after, the judiciary released them, saying there was not “sufficient evidence” for their arrest.

Iraqi bloggers scoffed at the decision, and some wrote that even rocket launchers are not sufficient evidence in Iraq to level accusations at militia elements affiliated with Iran.

Observers say that if Kadhimi fails to bring Hashemi’s killers to justice, he may lose his last chance to build trust with the Iraqi street, which saw in his appointment as premier a sign of a potential departure from the old politics of Iraq.