Iraq mourns assassination of IS expert, vows to pursue his killers

Iraq mourns assassination of IS expert, vows to pursue his killers
National and international figures mourned the killing of Hisham al-Hashemi, who was gunned down on Monday in capital city of Baghdad.
4 min read
07 July, 2020
Hashemi, 47, was buried on Tuesday in Baghdad [Getty]
The assassination of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a renowned expert on jihadism who was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside his home in Baghdad on Monday, has been met with national and international condemnation as Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi swore to pursue the killers.

Hashemi, 47, was buried on Tuesday in Baghdad following a funeral procession attended by dozens amid coronavirus restrictions.

Hashemi was an authoritative voice on Sunni jihadist factions, including the Islamic State group, but was also frequently consulted by media and foreign governments on domestic Iraqi politics and Shia armed groups.

He had warm ties with top decision-makers, including President Barham Saleh, but was also trusted by rival parties and armed groups who used him as a mediator. 

"We vow to his killers that we will pursue them, so they are justly punished. We will not allow assassinations to return to Iraq for a single second," Kadhemi said in a statement. 

President Barham Salih called the assassination a "despicable crime targeting the Iraqi person, and his right to a free and dignified life", stressing in a statement that "it is a duty to find the criminals and refer them to justice".

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Speaker of Parliament Mohamed al-Halbousi condemned "the cowardly assassination", urging "the responsible government agencies to make public the outcome of their investigation and reveal the party behind these acts, especially after the repeated kidnappings and assassination of a number of national figures".

From protesters and activists to foreign ambassadors and the United Nations, many were quick to mourn him. 

"Cowards killed my friend and one of the brightest researchers in Iraq, Hisham al-Hashemi. I am shocked," wrote Harith Hasan, who was an academic researcher before being appointed an advisor to Iraq's current premier. 

Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabi, a state-sponsored network of armed factions - including many who are close to Iran - also released a statement mourning his death.

"We demand security forces follow up on this crime and catch the terrorist group that assassinated Hashemi, considered one of the most prominent writers and experts on IS terrorist groups, and who had a huge role in uncovering their secrets," it said.

The US embassy in Baghdad said in a Facebook post that it was "deeply shocked and saddened by the cowardly murder".

"Our deepest condolences to his family and to the people of Iraq for the tragic loss of this Iraqi national treasure. We call on the Iraqi government to bring those responsible for his murder to swift justice."

The UN's top official in Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert slammed the killing as a "despicable act of cowardice".

"Our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones. I call on the government to quickly identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice," she wrote. 

Hashemi walked out of his home in east Baghdad and was getting into his car when three gunmen on two motorcycles fired at him from metres away, local media reported.

He was wounded and ducked behind his car, but the gunmen approached and shot him four times in the head at close range, reports said.

The Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq said in a statement on Tuesday it will coordinate with the interior ministry to "form an investigative body of three judges and a member of the Public Prosecution to look into the assassinations in the capital city Baghdad and the rest of provinces".

No stranger to threats

Raised in Baghdad, Hashemi published several books on jihadism, then went on to work with top research centres including Chatham House in London and most recently the Center for Global Policy in Washington, DC. 

He had come out strongly in favour of the popular protests that erupted across Baghdad and Iraq's Shia-majority south in October, which had slammed the government as corrupt, inefficient and beholden to neighbouring Iran.

More than 500 people lost their lives in protest-related violence, including several prominent activists who were gunned down in Baghdad, Basra in the south, and other cities gripped by the rallies.

Hashimi's brother told people at his funeral on Tuesday that "Shortly before the assassination, he told the family about the death threats [IS] had made."

In April, he was threatened again by anonymous Twitter users who deemed him too close to the US government.

Acquaintances told The Washington Post that Hashimi had briefly stopped speaking to the media in November after being warned by Kataib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades) - a Iran-backed militia suspected of carrying out a string of rocket attacks targeting US bases in Iraq and the US embassy in Baghdad.

Iraqi activist Ghaith al-Tamimi also tweeted screenshots of what he said were WhatsApp messages sent about a month ago by Hashimi, in which he wrote that he had been threatened by Kataib Hezbollah and asked for his advice.

In some of his final tweets before he was killed, Hashimi lamented the country's bitter divisions and the corruption plaguing its political system.

"The rights, blood and dignity of Iraqis have been lost, and their money gone into the pockets of corrupt politicians," he tweeted on Sunday.

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