The recent slaying of a prominent Iraqi expert on jihadist groups by unknown gunmen in central Baghdad has stirred anger and shock among Iraqis, and raised fears of a new wave of assassinations targeting critics of foreign-backed militia groups operating in the country.
Husham Al-Hashimi, a 47-year-old security analyst, was gunned down by three assassins outside his home in Baghdad’s Zeyouneh neighborhood on July 6. While no group has claimed responsibility for the killing, friends said he had been receiving threats in recent weeks from Iran-backed militias in Iraq, whose interference in Iraqi affairs he had criticized.
One of the world’s leading experts on the Islamic State, or ISIS, Al-Hashimi had been a key adviser in Iraq’s fight against the terrorist group since 2014. He was a member of the nongovernmental Iraq Advisory Council, a fellow at the nonpartisan, U.S.-based Center for Global Policy, and a researcher at the Al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies, in Baghdad.
He was also a regular commentator on Iraqi and Arab television, and many Iraqi officials, journalists and scholars sought his expertise.
“His martyrdom will leave a void and have a negative impact on combating terrorism,” said Hussam Botani, director of the Istanbul-based Center of Making Policies for International and Strategic Studies. “He actively helped fight terrorist groups and other militias undermining the state.”
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Al-Hashimi regularly “exposed the militias’ connections to other countries and their dominance over Iraq’s economy and decision-making,” added Botani, whose center published one of Al-Hashimi’s last articles in July and has launched a new research program, the Husham Al-Hashimi Program for Peace Studies, in his honor.
An hour before his death, Al-Hashimi tweeted that the current division in Iraq was a result of the ethnic and religious quota system put in place after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. That post had been retweeted more than 5,000 times as of Wednesday.
Fears of More Killings
Al-Hashimi’s killing has renewed fears that Iraqi scholars might again be targeted for assassination, as they were in the decade after the toppling of Saddam. Brussels Tribunal, an activist think tank and peace organization, reported in 2013 that more than 20,000 academics and professionals had fled the country, and more than 400 had been killed. (See a related article, “Revival of Iraqi Violence Also Targets Academics.”)