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Advisor's killing deepens Iraqi leader's face-off with militias

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 Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi talked tough after the killing of a high-profile analyst and government advisor, pledging to hunt down his assailants and curb the actions of armed groups.

But the face-off between the U.S.-friendly Iraqi leader and powerful Iran-backed militias whom his entourage privately blames for Monday’s murder of Hisham al-Hashemi indicates how difficult this will be.

A series of bold moves by Kadhimi in his first two months in office, including two unsuccessful arrest raids against militias, showed the limits of his power in the face of hostile groups with influence across state institutions, according to government officials, politicians and diplomats.

Kadhimi in May succeeded Adel Abdul Mahdi, during whose tenure Iraqi militias loyal to Iran’s theocratic government deepened their sway over Iraq’s politics and economy.

Abdul Mahdi was toppled last year during mass anti-government protests in which hundreds of demonstrators were killed.

Political insiders believe the killing of Hashemi is part of the tussle with Kadhimi and leaves him with a stark choice: take on the militias, or back down and lose face.

Hashemi, a well-known analyst who had advised the government on defeating Sunni Muslim Islamic State militants and curbing the influence of the pro-Iran Shi’ite militias, was gunned down outside his Baghdad family home on Monday by men on a motorbike.

Iran-aligned paramilitary officials deny any role in the killing. Some Islamic State supporters cheered his death, but no group has claimed the murder nor been fingered publicly by the government.

Some close to Kadhimi say the killing related directly to Hashemi’s recent work on pro-Iran groups.

“He’d been threatened over the phone by men from a militia three days before his death, warning him over publishing articles,” one government official who spoke to him about those threats said.

The official and a second government source close to Kadhimi said Hashemi had been advising on plans to curb the power of pro-Iran groups, and bring smaller paramilitaries who oppose Iran under closer state control.
“This is why he was killed – they saw his work as an existential threat,” the first official said.

Hashemi’s work also dealt with how to wrest control of Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions, from Iran-aligned groups, they said.

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