On January 4, 2020, Telegram channels affiliated with Iran-backed militias in Iraq posted responses to a BBC televised report that marked the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, on January 3, 2020.
The report, which included an interview with Hosham Dawood, the top advisor of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, prompted a series of death threats against him, after he told the BBC that the assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis weakened the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, and suggested that these militias are now facing internal splits and are unable to fill the shoes of the two assassinated leaders.
Highlighting the Iraqi government's efforts to curtail Iranian influence in Iraq following the assassination of Soleimani, Dawood said that Ismael Qaani, Iran's new commander of the IRGC's Quds Force, unlike his predecessor Soleimani, who would "enter and leave Iraq whenever he wanted", is required to "obtain an Iraqi visa before he visits Iraq."
Dawood explained that under the current government of Al-Kadhimi, all of Qaani's visits to the country were coordinated with the Iraqi state and were conducted according to diplomatic norms.
In his assessment of Soleimani, the top advisor to the Iraqi Prime Minister elaborated that Soleimani was keen to protect Iran's interests, not Iraq's. "Soleimani, who [was] an Iranian national, felt that his responsibility in Iraq is superior and more significant, compared with others [Iraqi officials]. Thus, the interests of the Iraqi state [were] not among his priorities."
Dawood's remarks came amid simmering tensions as thousands of supporters of Iran-backed militias staged protests across the country to mark the first anniversary of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis' killing, vowing to avenge them.
On January 5, Jabaht Abu Jedaha (The Cigarette Lighter Front,) a street gang affiliated with Iran-backed militias, posted on its Telegram channel a photo of Dawood with an X on his forehead, a sign these militias often use to indicate their next target. Along with the photo, the group shared a post in which it addressed Dawood directly, threatening to kill him and reminding him that the group's members were previously involved in the storming and torching of the Baghdad offices of Dijla TV, owned by Jamal Al-Kurboli, back in August 2020.
"A clear message, clear as Soleimani's courage: To the bastard, Hosham Dawood, advisor to the Prime Minister of scums [Mustafa Al-Kadhimi]. You have become a legitimate target for the members of Jabhat Abu Jidaha and your fate will be like the fate of Dijla [TV station] owned by Al-Karbouli.