Hisham al-Hashemi, who was assassinated in Iraq on Monday, was well-respected in Washington, DC policy circles and “he made us all smart in Washington, DC and across the region” Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at the US Hudson Institute told Al Arabiya.
Al-Hashemi was killed outside his home in Iraq’s capital Baghdad earlier this week, and prior to his death he had received death threats from Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah.
Al-Hashemi was a well-known Iraqi researcher and authoritative voice on Sunni extremist groups including ISIS and frequently consulted media and foreign governments on domestic Iraqi politics and armed Shia groups.
“It’s a big loss, and it’s a mistake to kill al-Hashemi,” Pregent said. “The Prime Minister [Mustafa al-Kadhimi] should do something about this, but it will be very revealing when he can’t because of the Council of Representatives and the pressure from Iran.”
Iraq has struggled for years to quell Iranian influence in the country and reign in Iran-backed militias.
Iranian influence in Iraq
“The Popular Mobilization Forces are legitimate part of the Iraqi government, and yet they answer to Tehran,” Pregent said. “The US should use its leverage here and deny Baghdad funding… to get Baghdad to do something about Iran and its militia problem.”
When al-Kadhimi became prime minister in May, he was chosen in part for his promise to limit access weapons to individuals within the government and hold accountable those who had killed protesters during previous months of unrest. To date, over 600 protesters have been killed in Iraq.
“Now, when I say put Baghdad in disfavor, that doesn't mean putting Iraqis in disfavor, we need to support the sheer youth movement. We need to support our Sunni allies, and Al Anbar, Salah ad Din and Nineveh province. We need to support our Kurdish allies,” he said.
“We need to look at Iraqis – 80 percent of which are opposed to Iran's interference inside of Iraq – and get serious about our leverage and get serious about human rights violations.”
Pregent also said that Lebanon, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah supported al-Kadhimi, as did Esmail Ghaani, the new head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“They're the ones responsible for the decisions Prime Minister Kadhimi is making, because at the end of the day, they picked Prime Minister Kadhimi because they weren't afraid of him,” Pregent said. “And the United States needs to wake up and start paying attention.”
The presence of these militias in Iraq violates Iraqi and international law, Pregent said.
He concluded that Iraq should hold these militias accountable for killing Iraqi protesters and they should go after “the individuals that look the other way, while these militias killed Iraqi protesters.”
“Now there's an assassination campaign against influencers, like Hisham and other journalists and other people that have pretty much put a spotlight on Iran's interference in Iraq.”