Security forces stand guard at the assassination scene of Hisham al-Hashimi, in Zeyouneh area, Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, July, 7, 2020. (AP)

By Track Persia

July 12, 2020

The assassination of the prominent Iraqi security and extremism in Baghdad on 6 July 2020  may prove to be a covert message from Iran to its opponents in Iraq and worldwide. Hisham al Hashimi was assassinated near his home by four gunmen on a motorbike outside the 47-year-old Husham al-Hashimi’s house in the darkness on that night. When Hashimi, pulled up in his car, one of the four men approached his vehicle and started shooting. Then, the gunman ran back to his motorcycle and the group sped off. Those last moments of Hashimi’s life were captured on CCTV footage.

The death of Hashimi who had appeared on TV less than an hour before he got assassinated left many in Iraq and beyond in shock.  Many who knew Hashimi say he was a popular intellectual advocating for an Iraq liberated from gangs, religious orders and particularly from the influence of Iran. he had a deep knowledge of ISIS and other jihadi militant groups and published several books and worked with research centres in the UK and the US. Hashimi was defending the independence of the state, arguing that Iraqi security forces should operate under a constitutional and legal rule, and not be tied to any particular sect, therefore, he was loved by both Sunnis and Shia in Iraq.

So far, no group has officially claimed responsibility for Hashimi’s death, but shortly after the news broke, a journalist who knew Hashimi said he had received WhatsApp messages from him, saying Hashimi had been threatened by a member of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed, Shiite militia operating within government-government recognised Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella of Shiite militias.

Additionally, the national uproar in Iraq and among the larger international community accuse Iran of having a hand in the assassination of the Iraqi security expert because it sees political opponents such as al-Hashimi as a threat to its influence in Iraq. The majority of the Shiite militant groups within PMF are under Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

After the US sanctions re-imposed by the Trump administration in 2018, the regime in Iran finds Iraq an existential factor for its survival, therefore it has shown a lot of efforts to stay in this country. Iran’s proxies in Iraq are accused of killing more than 700 Iraqi protesters and activists and wounding and kidnaping more than 25 thousands of them. Al-Hashimi became a target by these militias which are under direct influence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Moreover, given that Hashimi was a regular commentator for some Western media outlets, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, a theory has emerged about the assassination being a way of subtly, but effectively warning Washington, conveying the message that Iran remains influential in Iraq. The assassination of Iranian Genera; Qassem Suleiman came to represent the culmination of escalation between the United States on the one hand and Iran and its proxies from the Popular Mobilization Factions in Iraq. Al-Hashimi saw these proxies were responsible for destructing the Iraqi state and building deep state inside it.

Those who knew al-Hashimi say that under the new government of Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who is a former intelligence chief and a friend to Hashimi,  Iraqi analysts and commentators feel more liberated and al-Hashimi was happy about the performance of al-Kadhimi government. They believe that Iran-backed militias in Iraq are possibly responsible for the assassination al-Hashimi because the latter was an informal adviser to the Iraqi government and made regular TV appearances speaking publicly about the implications of the dominance of the Iranian-backed militias for the Iraqi state and how they had created a state within a state through infiltrating  Iraqi security and other vital sectors such as economy and finance. Initially, Hashimi’s work focused on al-Qaeda and ISIS. But over time, he started to write about the Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq.

Before his death al-Hashimi was planning to disclose more irregular Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and how they were operating out of control Iraqi state, using the extremist Sunni group Islamic State (IS) threat as a pretext. He was also planning to disclose the number of generals and fighter pilots who served during the Iraq-Iran War who were killed by these groups according to his close friends.

In his last published report before his assassination titled “The internal dispute within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Hashimi had pointed out that the PMF is made up of some 67 Shiite militias that were set up in Iraq in 2014 to help defeat ISIS. Some of these militias have received funding and support from the Iranian government. He disclosed how much of the country’s revenue had been pocketed by Iran-backed groups. He said that it would be impossible for Iraqi people to progress both economically and politically as long as it is under Iranian influence and defended a vision of an independent Iraqi republic. But since ISIS’ defeat in Iraq, the government has sought to bring these militia groups under Iraqi security forces’ control. But they have continued to operate independently. These views were seen by Iran’s proxies in Iraq as being against Iranian interests. An hour before his assassination, Hashimi was speaking on Iraqi TV channel about how these Iran-backed Shia militias which were challenging the state’s authority and operating out of government control. He was criticising them. saying that they are targeting Americans with rocket attacks.

Late last month, Iraqi security forces stormed Kataib Hezbollahthe group’s base in southern Baghdad and arrested 14 of its members, who were allegedly planning an attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the US Embassy and other foreign missions are located. They were freed soon after when members of the militia group entered the Green Zone and demanded their release.

While the suspected Iran-backed Shii militias have denied any involvement in al-Hashimi’s assassination, claiming the potential perpetrators are the extremist group IS, evidence indicates Katai’b Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigade) is still accused by many Iraqis of carrying out the assassination. Their accusations are based on the fact that Hashimi’s friends gave evidence that he was receiving death threats from this militia a few days before his assassination.

Despite the assassination was recorded on CCTV, the details of the investigation have not yet been disclosed.  Many assassinations have happened in Iraq, and the government has not revealed the perpetrators.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.