Without accountability, al-Hashimi's assassination will not be the last

Without accountability, al-Hashimi's assassination will not be the last
Comment: Al-Hashimi was working towards a robust and inclusive Iraqi state. His assassination must not be met with impunity. What comes next is crucial, writes Hayder Al-Shakeri.
5 min read
10 Jul, 2020
Hisham al-Hashimi's killing sparked an outpouring of grief [Getty]
Earlier this week, Iraq witnessed the horrific assassination of Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi researcher and expert on extremism and a commentator on Iraqi politics and affairs.

He was murdered by a group of armed men on motorcycles, suspected to have been sent by Shia militias who rode to his home in Baghdad and shot him, leaving his children to find him. 

Al-Hashimi's assassination has been condemned in Iraq and internationally. But despite the availability of clear CCTV footage, no one has been arrested or held to account. Instead, yet another investigation has opened into the killing of an Iraqi who dared to criticise the powerful government affiliated militias who control Iraq. Many fear that the investigation, like many before it, will be just another dead end. 

Al-Hashimi had been actively engaged in the Iraqi analysis scene for years, commenting on Islamic State (IS) operations in Iraq and studying their movements. His analysis was one of the instrumental tools that helped the defeat of IS and liberation of the cities they had captured.

He was an expert on Iraqi affairs and wrote about the faults of the Iraqi 
ethno-sectarian political system and the way that it had promoted and encouraged violence in Iraq post-2003. Al-Hashimi was also a critic of the increasing power Shia armed groups and militias wielded over Iraq following the defeat of IS. 

While his writing and commentary undoubtedly made him some enemies, his balanced and refined work had made him even more friends, including many in high positions. The timing of his murder suggests that those who carried it out are trying to convey a message: The first is to new Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who was working with al-Hashimi on restructuring the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) at the time of his death.

Iraqis know better than to put their trust in a political system that has betrayed them more times than it has protected them

The second, is to the Iraqi public more broadly, showing them that Iraq is still under the control of militias, and that there are consequences to face for those who try to defy them.

Following Al-Hashimi's assassination, al-Kadhimi issued a 
statement denouncing the killing, and pledging to pursue those responsible. However, many Iraqis have taken this with a pinch of salt. Iraqis know better than to put their trust in a political system that has betrayed them more times than it has protected them. This has led to a division between those who want to pressure the government to find Al-Hashimi's killers and those who see the assassination as the straw that broke the camel's back and lost hope altogether. 

Since October 2019, many Iraqis have been assassinated in similar ways to Al-Hashimi for criticising the government and associated militias. That is not to mention the hundreds who have been killed and thousands injured during protests calling for basic rights.

Some, like those in Al-Khilani Square massacre, were killed when convoys of "unknown" armed men opened fire on them. Others died as a result of sniper shots directly targeting protestors. More well-known figures such as Basra journalists Ahmed Abdelsamad and Safaa Ghali were murdered in broad daylight as people looked on. 

The aftermath of assassinations in Iraq has become routine: blame always falls on "unknown armed men" and an investigation committee is formed soon after. Sometime later, when these so-called investigations come to nothing, the issue slowly fades away and the attention of Iraqis is diverted to the next tragedy, with no one held to account. 

The Iraq Report: Hisham al-Hashimi's killing sends a grim message to opponents of Shia militias

What is common knowledge among Iraqis, is that the reason behind this is that militias have the power, resources and motivation to carry out violent acts across Iraq with impunity. For example, just last month, Iraqi security forces arrested a group of men who were believed to be part of the Kataib Hezbollah faction in the PMF and accused them of carrying out rocket attacks. However, such is the power of these groups that they were released after Al-Kadhimi came under political pressure. 

This begs the question of whether al-Kadhimi will be able to follow through on his vow to bring those who assassinated al-Hashimi to justice, especially given that he made a similar promise to protesters almost two months ago, with no accountability to date.

What's more, the new prime minister is part of a larger political system that has allowed assassinations of those who question the status quo to happen over and over again, without any reforms. The fact that militias are able to roam freely, securing vehicles, weapons, money and information with no perceptible penalties from law enforcement officials in Iraq reveals just how powerful they really are. 

Militias have the power, resources and motivation to carry out violent acts across Iraq with impunity

Unlike protesters and others who were cowardly assassinated however, what makes al-Hashimi's case different and perhaps more worrying is that he was perceived as a neutral character who made as few enemies as possible. He did not mind talking to political leaders and various powerful groups and he was a firm believer in dialogue.

This not only suggests a darker era in Iraq's future, but perhaps also makes it easier and more urgent to find those who killed him. To do so, might also open the way for the prosecution of those who have killed journalists and protesters in recent months.

What comes next is crucial. This seems to be clear to Al-Kadhimi's government, the Iraqi people and the international community. Al-Hashimi was working towards a robust and inclusive state and this cannot happen without proper reforms and accountability.

Hayder Al-Shakeri is a development practitioner and commentator on Iraqi affairs. 
He currently works with a Geneva-based NGO on cooperation programmes between Arab countries. He previously worked for the UN in Iraq, HRW in the UK and SIDA in Iraq. Hayder has contributed to the Guardian, BBC, Al-Jazeera and others. 

Follow him on Twitter: @HayderSH

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.