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July 28, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1591

Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi's Half-True Statement On Capturing Al-Hashimi's Killers Further Underlines His Incompetence In Confronting Iran-Backed Militias

July 28, 2021 | By S. A. Ali*
Iran, Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1591

Introduction

A year after vowing to bring the killers of prominent Iraqi security analyst Husham Al-Hashimi to justice, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi announced that Iraqi authorities have captured the killers, noting that the announcement is not part of his government's effort to improve its public image.

Following Al-Kadhimi's announcement, the Iraqi state TV broadcast the confession of Ahmed Al-Kinani, a first lieutenant in the Iraqi police, who said he received instructions from an unnamed person to shoot Al-Hashimi, using his police-issued gun.

Al-Hashimi who was a well-known researcher who often advised the Iraqi government and Western research institutes on their anti-terrorism efforts, including against Shi'ite militias was killed by four gunmen near his house in the Zayona district in northeast Baghdad on July 6, 2020.

His assassination is the highest-profile death among the dozens of murders of activists carried out with impunity over the past year, as authorities have largely been unable to bring the murderers, who are believed to be affiliated with Iran-backed militias, to justice.[1]

By holding Al-Hashimi's killers accountable, the government would have been meeting the demands of hundreds of young protestors who demonstrated in Baghdad on July 18 in an effort to force the government to bring the killers of their assassinated comrades before the court.

However, the prime minister's announcement, which came ahead of his visit to Washington to meet President Biden, fell short of naming the group that orchestrated the assassination, manifesting once again Al-Kahdimi's incompetence in confronting Iran aligned militias which are accused of rocket fire against U.S. forces and of involvement in killing peaceful pro-democracy activists.

The announcement marked the first reported arrest made over a killing that shocked the country, yet the details of the arrest show the prime minister's lack of power to confront opponents head-on and impose drastic, rather than incremental change.

The following report will examine the Iraqi government announcement on the capture of Al-Hashimi's killer and its implications:

Al-Kahdimi: "We Promised To Capture Al-Hashimi's Killers, And We Delivered"

On July 17, 2021, Al-Kadhimi announced the arrest of the killers, tweeting: "We promised to capture Husham Al-Hashimi's killers. We fulfilled that promise. We have arrested hundreds of criminals – murderers of innocent Iraqis like Ahmed Abdulsamad.[2] We don't care about media spin: we carry out our duties in the service of our people & in pursuit of justice."[3]

On July 18, 2021, the prime minister conducted an interview with the Saudi-owned Al-Hadath television news channel in which he shed some light on the arrest of the killers, stressing that he is closely following the investigations in all cases of Iraqi activists who were assassinated since the beginning of the protest movement in October 2019.[4]

Elaborating on the Al-Hashimi case, he noted that the captured killers had partners who fled Iraq: "From the beginning we knew all those involved in Husham Al-Hashemi's assassination by name, but they fled Iraq and we waited for them to return so we could complete the process of arresting the killers."

He further emphasized that his government is not weak when it comes to confronting outlaw groups, explaining that he chose a policy of silence rather than confrontation to spare Iraq more bloodshed.

"I chose the policy of silence, like Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who works silently [...] but some parties want to push for confrontation, which would not serve the sons of Iraq. I will not waste the blood of Iraqis. Dialogue is the solution."

Iraqi State Television Airs One Killer's Confession

On July 17, 2021, Iraqi state TV broadcast the confession of Ahmed Al-Kinani, a first lieutenant in the Iraqi police, who said he received instructions from an unnamed person to shoot Al-Hashimi.[5]

 

He further explained that there were other men involved in the assassination.

"At 6 pm we gathered in Al-Buaitha [neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad] where each of one of us was assigned a role."

Al-Kinani added that he was handed a weapon to use in the operation but during the assassination the weapon did not work, so he used his police-issued pistol instead.

A narrator who highlighted the efforts made by Iraqi security officers to capture Al-Kinani refrained from naming the group that instructed him to shoot Al-Hashimi, opting instead to describe it as an "outlawed group."

Ministry Of Interior Acknowledges The Killer Is A Police Officer

The Iraqi Interior Ministry issued a statement on July 17, 2021, acknowledging that the killer was an officer working under the ministry's formations.[6]

It noted that the suspect who confessed to the crime is a member of an "outlawed group" – a term used by Iraqi authorities to refer to armed Shi'ite groups.

The statement further highlighted the route which the suspect and his partners used to escape, saying that they drove through Sadr City, Palestine Street, and Al Bu'aitha, all of which are heavily controlled by Iran-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH), including Al Bu'aitha, an agricultural area on the outskirts of Baghdad which became famous in June last year when authorities discovered KH headquarters there.

Local Media: Al-Hashimi's Killers Fled To Beirut, Tehran Before Returning To Baghdad

Local media outlets, including Asharq Al-Awsat, quoted unnamed sources saying that members of the cell which carried out Al-Hashimi's assassination traveled after the incident to Beirut and Tehran before returning to Baghdad after receiving guarantees that the local authorities will not act against them.[7]

Conclusion

The announcement of the capture of Al-Hashimi's killer was meant to address several challenges with which the Iraqi government had been struggling lately.  

On one hand, it was meant to provide a breathing space for Al-Kadhimi's government, which has been facing a bad news cycle that included a fire at a hospital treating Covid patients in Nasiriya in southern Iraq, a widespread power outage as temperatures reached scorching levels, and the mysterious 24-hour abduction of a young Iraqi journalist, Ali Al Mikdam, who was later found injured on the outskirts of Baghdad. Also, the announcement took place a day ahead of a massive protest in Baghdad by young activists demanding that Al-Kadhimi's government hold accountable the killers of at least 70 of their colleagues.

However, the announcement, instead of improving the government's image, triggered further anger among those activists, who were highly disappointed that after a whole year of investigations and empty promises to bring the killers to justice, Al-Kadhimi was still determined to pursue "a policy of silence," as he indicated in the interview with Al-Hadath.

Additionally, neither Al-Kadhimi nor his security agencies provided any information on the killer's partners. Were they also arrested? And if so, why were they not featured in the clip that was aired on state-run television? Although the Interior Ministry knows the route that the killers drove through as they fled the scene, a route which passed through Kata'ib Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods, the government still refrained from explicitly blaming the group.

What was absurd about the televised confession is that it revealed that Al-Hashemi was killed by a police-issued gun. The killer's admission that he was working as an officer of the Iraqi Interior Ministry highlights another thorny challenge that Al-Kadhimi's government has failed to address. Though the prime minister often boasts about the reform measures he has brought to the Iraqi security sector, the militias are still capable of expanding their influence inside Iraqi security agencies.

In the past months, the defiance of Iran-backed militias against the Iraqi state has manifested itself repeatedly yet each time the prime minister surrender to their pressure. On May 26, 2021, the Iraqi security force arrested, Qassem Musleh, head of operations in Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) in Anbar province, on charges of killing activists and striking Iraqi army camps with missiles, thousands of PMF members surrounded the Iraqi government headquarters in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, demanding his release. Few days later, the authorities released him, explaining that no sufficient evidence was found against him.[8]

Al-Kadhimi came to power on May 6, 2020, to bring justice to the protesters who toppled the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi, and their slain comrades, but he has been wasting the past 14 months by staying silent or at most, speaking half the truth. He has hardly ever fulfilled his promises about restoring state sovereignty and reining in Iran-backed militias, and he seems to have endorsed publicly their position regarding a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq during his current visit to Washington.

* S.A. Ali is the Director of the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) Project.

 

[2] Iraqi journalist who was assassinated in Basra in January 2020.

[3] Twitter.com, MAKadhimi, July 17, 2021.

[4] Alarabiya.net, July 18, 2021.

[5] Youtube.com/watch?v=es6-IRdOksU, accessed on July 20, 2021.

[6] Nasnews.com, July 18, 2021.

[7] Aawsat.com, July 17, 2021.

[8] Alhurra.com, May 28, 2021.

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