Pompeo hints at Iran links in killing of Hashemi
WASHINGTON--US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday demanded justice over the killing of a prominent Iraqi Islamic extremism expert and highlighted threats against him by Iran-backed groups.
Hisham al-Hashemi, an internationally known scholar whose vast contacts inside Iraq made him a mediator among rivals, was gunned down outside his Baghdad home late Monday by masked assailants on motorcycles.
“In the days leading up to his death he was repeatedly threatened by Iran-backed armed groups,” Pompeo told a news conference in Washington, without explicitly blaming Tehran directly.
“The United States joins partner nations in strongly condemning his assassination and call(ing) for the government of Iraq to bring to justice the perpetrators of this terrible crime… swiftly,” he said.
Hashemi was an authoritative voice on extremist movements including the Islamic State (ISIS) group, which are violently opposed to Iran.
But he infuriated Tehran-backed factions in Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military network through his support of popular protests last year against a Baghdad government seen as too close to Iran.
All eyes are now on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whom Hashemi frequently advised and who pledged to hold the scholar’s killers accountable.
On Wednesday evening, Kadhimi visited Hashemi’s family in Baghdad to offer his condolences, calling the slain expert a “martyr.”
He was photographed with Hashimi’s three young boys Issa, Moussa and Ahmed, which translate in Arabic to Jesus, Moses and another name for the Prophet Muhammad.
Some experts have voiced fear of renewed unrest in Iraq.
President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to check Iran’s regional activities and choke its economy, and frequently seeks to throw a spotlight on its aggressive expansionist activities backed by the clerical state.
Iraqi Government officials described the killing of Hisham al-Hashemi, who had written about politics, ISIS and the role of Iran-backed militias in Iraq, as a targeted killing but did not point the finger at any particular group or militia.
But Iraqi activist Ghaith al-Tamimi told US-based Alhurra network that Hashemi had received death threats from the pro-Iranian hardline faction Kata’ib Hezbollah.
“I need your urgent advice … Kata’ib Hezbollah has threatened to assassinate me,” Hashemi told Tamimi in a WhatsApp exchange less than a month ago.
The assassination came at a time of rising tension between the new government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and powerful Iran-backed militias and political parties who oppose him and accuse him of siding with the United States.