Islamic State expert’s murder in Baghdad marks critical moment for Iraq | Iraq

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On Monday evening, as Hisham al-Hashimi stopped in front of his home in Baghdad, an armed man deliberately aimed at the Iraqi official’s white 4 × 4, fired a pistol and fired four shots at the window. of the driver.

Each lightning bolt was captured by security images from a camera on Hashimi’s roof. It was the same for the escape of the hitman on the back of a motorcycle, and the helpless vigil of his three young children while the body of their father was dragged down the aisle.

In a city numbed by decades of brutality, violent deaths like this have left an ever-decreasing mark. But the brazen assassination of one of the country’s most famous intellectuals cast a veil over the Iraqi capital, leading many to weigh in on the cost of speaking out and forcing leaders to swear that the struggling state had begun to prevail over the country’s powerful militias.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi, with whom Hashimi had worked closely as the chief of national intelligence before the latter became leader earlier this year, promised that there would be a transparent investigation into his murder and pledged to name a street in Baghdad after its most trusted advisor. on Isis and jihadist thought.

Relations have strengthened over the past four months in government, when Kadhimi, as prime minister, challenged the Iranian-sponsored militias that have often dictated conditions in Iraq. Two weeks ago, Kadhimi ordered the arrest of 14 members of a group, Kata’ib Hezbollah, suspected of having fired rockets into the green area of ​​Baghdad.

The arrest was a daunting challenge for the group and Hashimi had offered solid support through his prolific and widely read publications and appearances on social media on Iraqi television. Hashimi knew the risks, explaining his fears to the Guardian in recent weeks and to a London-based friend Ghaith al-Tamimi, to whom he wrote on Monday: “I was threatened with death by Kata’ib Hezbollah. How should I deal with them, in your expertise? ”

Al-Tamimi’s response was “Can we speak?”. Hashimi was shot hours later.

CCTV capture from security camera footage of a gunman approaching Hashimi’s vehicle.

Hashimi, 47, has been a prominent figure in the upheaval in Iraq for more than 20 years. In the late 1990s, he was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein for being a Salafist religious; he was released in 2002 before the invasion the following year. Then came the chaos of the U.S.-led occupation, the jihadist insurgency that emerged in its emptiness, and the ensuing political and security unrest, during which he became the adviser of choice for the first leaders and senior political leaders.

His life and death have followed Iraq’s fortune poorly; Hashimi had preached to the man who would later become the head of Isis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, before moving away from a fundamentalist interpretation of the faith. He was then targeted by all the incarnations of the terrorist al-Qaida juggernaut. in Isis, when it raged in Iraq and Syria, before disintegrating mainly at the beginning of last year.

He also rubbed shoulders with Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, the powerful overlord who ran Iraqi affairs until he was assassinated in Baghdad by an American drone in early January. A second Iranian loyalist, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed during the strike. He was the leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, who vowed to avenge his death.

Throughout the post-war trajectory in Iraq, Hashimi advised Iraqi intelligence services and the United States military. He was consulted by spies from Britain and France and became more important than any other Iraqi in informing the world about the inner workings of Isis.

Hashimi
Hashimi advised the US military as well as Iraqi intelligence. Photography: Reuters

His expertise was sought by the Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, both of whom consulted him personally. He crossed Europe and the region, interviewing captured jihadists and informing the authorities of his discoveries.

“Dr. Hisham al-Hashimi was a brilliant analyst, prolific writer and respected commentator on Iraqi affairs,” said Emma Sky, author of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq and senior political adviser to the US military leadership. in Iraq from 2007 to 2010. “He had unique knowledge of the motivation, ideology and internal functioning of extremist groups. But he also spoke out against the corrupt political class and Iranian interference that keeps Iraq in a state of dysfunction. Despite constant threats to his life, he refused to leave Baghdad. He paid for his bravery with his life.

“He loved Iraq and had the best interests of Iraqis at heart – regardless of sect or ethnicity. It represented the hope that a different Iraq was possible. The government must bring its killers to justice and crush the militias, otherwise Iraq will never become a functioning state. “

Sir John Jenkins, former British ambassador to Iraq, said that Hashimi’s death was an obvious challenge for Kadhimi’s authority. Washington saw the new leader as closer to his interests than his predecessors. But he remains the central figure in a struggle for the region’s fate between Iran, which has made huge strategic gains in Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and the United States, which is struggling to assert a lasting influence since then.

“This is a coup by a militia with ties to Iran,” he said. “Arresting them and bringing those responsible to justice is the only test that matters to the Iraqi government. First of all, they come for writers, lawyers, academics, protesters and activists. This happened in Iraq and Egypt after 1962, in Iran in 1979-1983, in Algeria in 1990-1992 and in Lebanon ten years ago. This will not end until we collectively stop pleasing those who despise our common humanity. “

Hashimi was buried Tuesday in Najaf, south of Baghdad, and a wake took place at his home in the Zayouna neighborhood of Baghdad. Despite testimonies from officials on the Iraqi media and social platforms, there was no state presence at his funeral.

“It is worth listening to them to prove what they say,” said 37-year-old mourning Issam Jabouri. “He was a courageous man who gave his life offering truths. The state must honor him by arresting his killers. If they don’t, it’s a huge step backwards for Iraq. “

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