Three of Hisham Al-Hashimi’s children and his distraught young wife watched as his bloodied, bullet-riddled body was dragged from his car moments after masked men on motorcycles shot him repeatedly at point-blank range. CCTV footage amply displays the cold-blooded professionalism of Hashimi’s killers, obviously experienced in what they were doing.
One of Iraq’s foremost young intellectuals, Hashimi was targeted for being a leading expert on Iran-backed militias. He had received death threats from Kata’ib Hezbollah, and had been personally threatened by its spokesman Hussain Mounis. As one Iraq expert, Adel Bakawan, warned: “This may be the first prominent figure killed but it won’t be the last. There are other names on this blacklist.
Hashimi had previously expressed admiration for the Iran Militia in Iraq and Syria (IMIS) paramilitary movement, but he was outraged when its snipers and gunmen killed upwards of 500 protesters in Iraq in the last three months of 2019. Hashimi perhaps signed his own death warrant by publishing a report demonstrating how hardliners (such as Kata’ib Hezbollah) loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei had come to dominate the IMIS, pushing aside moderates loyal to Ayatollah Sistani and Iraq.
Assassination by gunmen on motorcycles outside the victim’s home is a favored modus operandi for Iran-backed militias. Shiite activist and novelist Alaa Mashzub was shot dead in Karbala in February 2019 after criticizing Ayatollah Khomeini on social media; gunmen murdered activists Abdul Quddus Qasim and lawyer Karar Adel in Amara in March 2020; TV correspondent Ahmad Abdelsamad and his cameraman Safaa Ghali were killed in January 2020 near a Basra police station when paramilitary gunmen fired on their car; photojournalist Ahmed Al-Lami and Hisham Fares Al-Adhami were shot dead by snipers while covering Baghdad protests in 2019 (about 200 journalists have been killed in Iraq since 2003, many of them assassinated); a motorcyclist pumped bullets into the car of 22-year-old Iraqi social media star Tara Fares In September 2018, one of a series of murders of women including two others from the beauty industry, Rasha Al-Hassan and Rafif Al-Yasiri, and Basra activist Souad Al-Ali — killed by a gunman as she approached her car.
These same paramilitaries were responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in post-2003 sectarian cleansing, often targeting Christian and Sunni families.
Thousands were held for ransom, then tortured and killed by their kidnappers.
Kata’ib Hezbollah accuses Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi of colluding with the Americans to murder their commander, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, in the same drone strike in January this year that killed Quds Force commander Qassim Soleimani. Since Muhandis’s death, Tehran has been reorganizing Kata’ib Hezbollah as an elite terrorist force to strike Western targets; the group deliberately escalated attacks against US assets to embarrass and undermine Kadhimi.
When Kata’ib Hezbollah fired rockets into the Green Zone near the US Embassy in Baghdad, Kadhimi ordered a raid on the group’s headquarters. Troops from the Counter-Terrorism Squad arrested 14 paramilitaries who had previously attacked the Green Zone and Baghdad airport.
Immediately after the raid, a 30-vehicle armed column of paramilitaries entered the Green Zone and encircled the Counter-Terrorism Squad HQ with the aim of taking hostages until the detainees were released. As powerful IMIS advocates Nouri Al-Maliki, Faleh Al-Fayyadh and Hadi Al-Amiri tried to mediate, the prime minister refused to comply. Instead he handed the detainees over to the IMIS security directorate, which promptly freed all but one of them — a calculated snub to Kadhimi. IMIS-aligned media outlets and politicians are aggressively denouncing the prime minister for launching the operation in the first place.
IMIS expert Fanar Haddad has stated categorically that Hisham Al-Hashimi’s killing was retaliation for the raid on Kata’ib Hezbollah. Given that Hashimi was advising the prime minister on how to address IMIS militancy, it was a chillingly brazen gesture of intent. Like Kata’ib Hezbollah’s raid on the Counter-Terrorism Squad HQ, this wasn’t a hidden crime; the IMIS wants Iraqis and their leaders to cower in terror, knowing it can murder anyone at any time.
Hezbollah and Bashar Assad have assassinated many of Lebanon’s most respected national figures — Rafiq Hariri, Gebran Tueni, Samir Kassir, Gen. Wissam Al-Hassan — because they knew they would get away with it. The recent frightening escalation in physical attacks against activists, lawyers and journalists is a warning of how easily Lebanon could revert to those dark days.
Hezbollah’s persecution of Shiite cleric, Sayyed Ali Al-Amin, highlights this peril.
Amin is an inspirational role model for the enlightened, anti-sectarian face of religion, but persistent death threats after his strident criticism of Hezbollah’s “policy of oppression and domination” forced him to flee his home town of Chakra. The latest phase of this vicious campaign is a Hezbollah-backed lawsuit citing Amin’s attendance at a conference in Bahrain at which Israelis happened to be present. The lawsuit accuses him of “attacking the resistance and its martyrs on a permanent basis, inciting strife between sects, sowing discord and sedition, and violating the Sharia laws.” If the Lebanese court system had any semblance of backbone or independence, those leveling such baseless, libelous, evil charges against a national hero would themselves face trial.
In a state infiltrated at all levels by pro-Tehran militants, Prime Minister Kadhimi’s primary strength derives from the Iraqi street. Thousands of nationalist Iraqis expressed outrage at Hashimi’s death, particularly as members of the protest movement saw so many comrades murdered after denouncing the IMIS.
When militias beholden to a hostile foreign power threaten to outgun the state, it is only with active international support (the West and Arab nations) and engagement by nationalist citizens that the balance can be swung back in favor of the forces of justice, order and accountable governance. Backing down would represent a catastrophic loss of face, and proof that all-powerful Iran-backed paramilitaries can murder and pillage with impunity.
The deranged leaders of the IMIS and Hezbollah are so in thrall to their paymasters in Tehran that they can’t comprehend the courageous nationalism of their own compatriots; when they murdered 500 Iraqis, 5 million poured on the streets to denounce them.
Ultimately we are faced with the existential question of who runs Iraq and Lebanon. With the IMIS and Hezbollah emerging supreme, if citizens and their friends overseas hope to prevent an eruption of killings, terrorism and paramilitary oppression, Hashimi’s murder must be a wake-up call.
If the IMIS blacklist does indeed have many more names written on it, for Heaven’s sake let us not passively await the next CCTV video nasty or grim newspaper headlines to find out who.