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Leading Iraqi expert on ISIS shot dead in Baghdad

NBC News logo NBC News 7/7/2020 Saphora Smith
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A leading expert on the Islamic State group who had recently turned his attention to Iran-backed militias in Iraq was gunned down outside his home in Baghdad on Monday night, triggering outpouring of grief among Iraq-watchers and analysts.

Husham Al-Hashimi, 47, was ambushed by four men on two motorcycles who shot him several times with silenced weapons, Saad Maan, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry said. He was later declared dead at a hospital in the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Al-Hashimi's death. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi condemned the killing and ordered an investigative committee to find out who was behind the attack.

Al-Hashimi made his name and was sought out by journalists and lawmakers for his insights into the workings of ISIS, among other Islamic extremist groups. He even advised the U.S.-led coalition during its years-long battle with the extremists, according to The Associated Press.

More recently, after Iraq declared victory over ISIS at the end of 2017, Al-Hashimi turned his attention to the country's powerful Iran-backed militias who have been blamed for regular rocket attacks on U.S. interests in the country.

A member of the Iraqi Advisory Council, a non-governmental group that promotes good governance and the rule of law, and a fellow at Washington-D.C.-based think tank Center for Global Policy, Al-Hashimi was also a vocal critic of corruption in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

In his last tweet, posted shortly before his death, Al-Hashimi reflected upon the deep ethnic and sectarian divide in Iraqi politics today, which he explained partly by the power-sharing quota system introduced by the Americans following the 2003 invasion.

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Al-Hashimi's death comes at a time of rising tension between al-Kadhimi’s new government and Iran-aligned militias and political parties who oppose him and accuse him of siding with the United States. The prime minister presides over a government that seeks to balance the competing interests of Washington and Tehran, the country’s two principle allies.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad described Al-Hashimi as a “national treasure” and said it was deeply shocked and saddened by the “cowardly murder” of the respected academic. In a post on Facebook, it called on the Iraqi government to bring those responsible to justice.

The U.K. and E.U. ambassadors to Iraq were also among those to express their condolences and to call for the perpetrators to be held to account.

Iraq watchers around the world used Twitter to express their anguish and anger at the killing.

“The cowards killed my friend and one of the brightest researchers in Iraq,” tweeted Harith Hasan, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center think tank in Lebanon. “I am shocked.”

Farhad Alaaldin, Chairman of the Iraq Advisory Council, of which Al-Hashimi was a member, said his talent was “much needed in this ravaged land.”

“They couldn't stand your criticisms, your bright analysis, your courage to show their shortcomings,” he posted, without making clear whom he blamed for Al-Hashimi's death.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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