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The Cruel Murder of Alaa Mashzoub

From the photographs the poet, novelist and historian Alaa Mashzoub looks out at us with an intense and thoughtful stare. It is a look that fixes his world and holds it up to scrutiny. It is also a look of love for his locale - the holy city of Kerbala with its centuries of layered and alloyed culture; a city that served as a microcosm for all of Iraq in his varied writing. 

Therefore, it is difficult to refrain from invective when writing about the callous murder last week of the middle-aged writer, shot down as he rode his moped in the city that he loved. Such was the spectrum of Alaa Mashzoub’s writing talents that he would have been called a renaissance man in the west. However, all this was extinguished last week in a hail of bullets. 

Of course, the world knows that Iraq has been mired in blood for years. There are no eulogies for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead. Yet occasionally one death occurs that causes the world to catch its breath and reflect. So too with the murder of Alaa Mashzoub – it is an individual tragedy but also symbolic of the state of Iraq and all those murders of Iraqis that are quickly forgotten. 

For what raises us a species above the animals is our gift of language, and Alaa Mashzoub was a master of language. Writing holds a mirror to society and the best writing tells truth to power. Throughout history, writers have been targeted because of this. Time and time again corrupt regimes and vicious factions across the world have demonstrated an intolerance of those who criticize them in print.

Thus this latest murder of a writer has given the world a brief pause and to question why Alaa Mashzoub needed to die. The answer emerging is one that reaches deeply into the murky waters of Iraqi politics and the continuing pernicious influence of Iran.


Alaa Mashzoub was a sensitive writer but he was not afraid to address the enduring and raw issues that are hindering Iraq’s emergence as a stable, sovereign state. As with all writers of conscience he was fearless in his desire to address religious and political taboos.


In the present strive-riven climate in Iraq this was enough to place him within the sights of ruthless operators. However, as long ago as 2008, in his poetry collection In the Homeland and Nationalism, Alaa Mashzoub wrote about Iran’s encroachment in Iraq.


As a writer of conscience, he continued to address this in an unflinching manner. He spoke out on the power of religious clerics. On January 17th he posted critical comments about Ayatollah Khomeini.  

These comments, so close to Iran’s commemoration of the 1979 revolution may well have pricked the ire of those in pay of the Tehran regime. He often condemned the influence and power of sectarian and proxy militias.  

For this Alaa Mashzoub seems to have paid the ultimate price. Now questions arise about how this can happen in, so-called, ‘post-conflict Iraq?’  The truth is apparent for all to see, the murder of a writer has all the trappings of a cowardly mafia hit by thugs who feel they are immune from the normal laws of society.


Plainly the current Iraqi government cannot protect its citizens from those in the pay and influence of Iran and therefore, truly it has come to resemble a state blighted by gangsterism. The murder of a writer is the attempt to nullify free speech, the hallmark of a settled and democratic society. 

Without naming the perpetrators directly Ali al Bayati of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights stated that ‘the assassination of Mr. Mashzoub was the act of a criminal group that intends to spread terror and fear among Iraqis and restrict their freedom of expression.’

However, it is perhaps it is best to leave the final testimony to Alaa Mashzoub’s brother Kassem who said that ‘anyone who spoke out against corruption in Iraq was liable to become a victim of free speech.’ 


Moreover, in a lasting comment worthy of his late brother and a message to his countrymen and its enemies, Mr. Mashzoub added ‘All he ever wanted was to see Iraq in a beautiful state.’