Iraqis mourn shocking killing of prominent security expert

Husham Al Hashimi was shot dead outside his house in Baghdad after threats from Iran-backed militias

Mourners pray carry the coffin of slain Iraqi jihadism expert Hisham al-Hashemi, who was shot dead yesterday outside his house in the Iraqi capital, before his burial on July 7, 2020 in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf in central Iraq.
              The killing of the 47-year-old prominent expert has stirred fears Iraq is entering a dark and violent phase, as boiling tensions between pro-Iran factions and the government reach new heights.  / AFP / -
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Iraqis on Tuesday mourned the killing of prominent academic Husham Al Hashimi, who in recent weeks told friends he received threats from Iran-backed militias. 

Al Hashimi, who advised the government on security matters, was shot dead on Monday night outside his home in Baghdad’s Zeyouneh district by two gunmen riding a motorbike. He was 47.

His killing sent shock waves across the country, with many urging the government to bring his perpetrators to justice. 

“He was assassinated simply because he defended his country and supported the idea of government building,” Jaber Al Jaberi, an Iraqi MP, told The National.

Al Hashimi was a top analyst on ISIS and other militant groups, and his expertise was often sought by government officials, researchers, diplomats and reporters.

He wrote extensively about ISIS and Al Qaeda, including three books, and advised the current Iraqi government and past administrations.

“With his departure we lost a distinguished academic figure and scientific researcher known for his gentle character, balanced ideas and depth of knowledge,” Mr Al Jaberi said.

“This is horrible, shocking and chilling. He was smart, one of the best in Iraq, and a true patriot who cared deeply about his country." 

(FILES) This AFPTV screen grab from a video made on February 11, 2019 shows Jihadism expert Iraqi Hisham al-Hashemi speaking during an interview in Baghdad. 
    Al-Hisham was shot outside his home in Baghdad on July 6, 2020 and died shortly thereafter at a local hospital. He was an authoritative voice on Sunni jihadist factions including the Islamic State group, but was also frequently consulted by media and foreign governments on domestic Iraqi politics and Shiite armed groups.
 / AFP / AFPTV / -

Mourners and relatives gathered on Tuesday as his casket, covered in the Iraqi flag, was taken first to his family home in Baghdad then driven to the burial site in Najaf.

No group claimed responsibility but Al Hashimi confided to friends weeks earlier that he received threats from militia groups.

His death stirred fears that Iraq might enter a new dark and violent phase, as tensions worsen between pro-Iran factions and the government.

Hours after the incident, authorities fired the top police officer in charge of the Zeyouneh district and opened an investigation into his activities.

The Iraqi government, with help from the international community, must bring to justice those responsible for the killing, British ambassador to Iraq Stephen Hickey told The National.

The Iraqi government, with help from the international community must bring to justice those responsible for this heinous crime, the British Ambassador to Iraq, Stephen Hickey.

“It should also take pre-emptive action against those individuals and militias who threaten and incite violence against journalists and political opponents,” Mr Hickey said. 

The UK and other international partners will work to strengthen the Iraqi security forces to help them achieve this, he said. 

“We have also launched a global sanctions regime to target those responsible for these types of crimes and will in due course extend it to cover Iraq,” Mr Hickey said.

Al Hashimi, who was described by his colleagues as soft-spoken and kind-hearted, was working closely with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi and was a member of the Iraq Advisory Council, a panel of prominent experts and former policymakers.

Government officials described Al Hashimi's death as a “targeted killing” but did not blame any particular group.

"We vow to his killers that we will pursue them so they are justly punished," the prime minister's office said.

Mr Al Kadhimi said a Baghdad street would be named after Al Hashimi and pledged that Iraq would not become a nation of gangs.

The killing shows how weak the state’s security system is, Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, told The National.

“Iraqis are heartbroken for the loss of a highly respected expert and human rights defender, but this is part of the continuous violations against activists, protesters and journalists that is faced by the government’s silence,” Mr Al Bayati said.  

“We have not seen any real steps taken by the new prime minister to hold violators to account.

"When there is no punishment and accountability, these acts will carry on." 

Friends and close companions said Al Hashimi refused state protection after receiving threats from Iran-backed militias.

“We told him various times that he should have bodyguards but he refused and said the militias wouldn’t dare touch him," a government official told The National.

"He thought everyone was as good as he was.”

Condemnation from Iraqi officials poured in as news of Al Hashimi's death spread.

The president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, said “authorities must find the perpetrators of this terror act and bring them to justice”.

Al Hashimi's death also led to an outpouring of grief across social media, with international researchers, reporters and academics expressing their anger and sadness.

Al Hashimi carried himself lightly and worked tirelessly to serve his country, said Nussaibah Younis, an associate fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank.

“He was so kind to me," Ms Younis said. "He taught me, he supported me and he looked out for me, and I feel his loss deeply."

The head of an education charity, Christine van den Toorn, praised Al Hashimi for his dedication to helping others.  

“It’s impossible to sum up his work. I mourn for Iraq. His smile and generosity will be with us forever,” Ms van den Toorn said. 

A vigil was held in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in honour of Al Hashimi, who is survived by his wife and four children.