Slain Iraqi novelist had criticised Iran and allied militias
Iraqi writer Alaa Mashzoub, who was killed by unknown gunmen in Karbala on Saturday, was a prominent critic of corruption and foreign influence in the country.
His brother told the Associated Press he was killed for criticising the late Iranian leader Ayotallah Khomeini on social media. If proved, this would be the latest in a string of politically motivated assassinations by armed militias across the country.
The late writer, who published 20 books and wrote extensively about the history of Karbala, was attacked on his way home from a cultural event on Saturday evening. When riding his bicycle, Mashzoub was shot from behind by a man on a motorbike, knocking him to the ground. A group of gunmen then shot him another 12 times.
No group has claimed responsibility for the killing of the 51-year-old father of four. Qassim Mashzoub is among many who suspect his brother was assassinated by Iran-linked Shia militias, known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces.
"In his writings, he spoke out against corruption and criticised neighboring countries for their intervention in Iraqi affairs," said his brother. Alluding to the Popular Mobilisation Forces, he said "everyone knows Iran and Turkey are present in Iraq, this is not a secret".
Qassim Mashzoub believes a Facebook post written by his brother may have been the trigger for his killing. In the post, Alaa Mashzoub wrote about the Karbala street where Khomeini lived before moving to France, criticising the late Iranian leader for turning against the country which had hosted him for more than a decade.
"I expect that those who assassinated him are the militias who did not appreciate Alaa’s writings," said his brother, adding that a week before his death, the writer had expressed concern that he was being monitored. According to his brother, Alaa suspected that he was in danger of being killed.
The killing has triggered widespread condemnation of the security forces in Iraq for their failure to protect figures such as Mashzoub and Tara Fares, a social media star who was shot dead in Baghdad in September 2018.
Last year also saw the killings of Souad al-Ali, an activist from Basra, and Rafif al-Yassiri and Rasha al-Hassan, two beauty experts. Al-Ali was a prominent activist who campaigned for improved services in the southern city of Basra and spoke out against the influence of Iranian militias in the country.
Although the militias suspected in the string of assassinations were a major player in Iraq's battle against the Islamic State group, which was declared complete last year, many Iraqis resent the Popular Mobilisation Forces for allegedly rampant corruption, political meddling and rights violations.
Last year the Iraqi parliament formalised the Popular Mobilisation Forces as an official but distinct branch of the Iraqi forces, a move which should make them answerable to the prime minister's office. However, in practice the militias act independently from the Iraqi government, instead taking orders from Iran.
In a statement on Sunday, Iraq's Culture and Tourism Minister Abdul Amir al-Hamdani said the "cultural scene has lost one of its special authors and creators" in Alaa Mashzoub. Mirroring the distrust with which many Iraqis view the security forces, Qassim Mashzoub said "we will uncover the perpetrators before the government does".