Outspoken Iraqis fear rogue groups after analyst killed

BAGHDAD (AP) — The killing of a prominent security analyst who had received threats from Iran-backed militias has struck fear in the hearts of outspoken Iraqis concerned that they, too, could be targetted by armed groups.

The death of Hisham al-Hashimi also highlighted the limits of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s power to reign in armed groups acting outside the state’s authority, experts and Iraqi officials said on Tuesday.

Iraqi mourners and relatives of al-Hashimi carried his body in a funeral procession hours after he was gunned down on Monday night outside his home in Baghdad’s Zeyouneh neighbourhood. His casket, draped in the Iraqi flag, was taken to his family home before being driven to the burial site in the holy city of Najaf.

Al-Hashimi, a leading expert on the Islamic State (IS) group and other militant organisations, was a regular fixture on Iraqi television and his expertise was often sought by government officials, journalists and researchers.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the killing, which comes weeks after he confided to close friends that he had received threats from militia groups. The slaying also coincides with a spate of rocket attacks targetting United States (US) interests that has been blamed on Iran-backed armed groups.

Mourners carry the flag-draped coffin of Hisham al-Hashimi in the Zeyouneh area of Baghdad, Iraq. PHOTO: AP

Al-Kadhimi vowed to pursue al-Hashimi’s killers, saying “Iraq would not sleep” until they were brought to justice, during his weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

But critical voices in Iraq, especially those supporting anti-government protests and people outspoken against militia groups, are contemplating changing their online presence in the aftermath of al-Hashimi’s death.

Mariam, 26, an activist who participated in anti-government protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square that erupted last October, said she has stopped posting on social media for the time being.

“What has shocked us is that they killed someone with Hisham’s connections and influence. Activists across Iraq have been killed with impunity for years, and especially during the protests,” Mariam said, asking that her last name not be used for fear of retribution. “With his death we are in disbelief, and we are being careful.”