Secret documents that allegedly belong to the late Iraqi activist Hisham al-Hashemi may have been the reason he was assassinated, according to Al Hadath reporter Roula al-Khateeb who revealed the documents on Wednesday.
An unnamed source – reportedly a senior government official – told Al Hadath that he had acquired the documents from another individual, who said had received them from al-Hashemi.
The 41-year-old Iraqi researcher had told the official that he had a feeling that something was going to happen to him and that he wanted the information to be publicized if it did, al-Khateeb said.
Al-Hashemi, who publicly supported the popular protests that broke out in Baghdad in October, was killed on July 6 when three gunmen fired dozens of bullets at him outside his home in east Baghdad.
Iran-backed militias control over Baghdad’s checkpoints
The documents, given to Al Hadath by an unnamed source, revealed that members of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) militias have been manning checkpoints alongside Iraqi security forces across Baghdad and using their position to extort money from Sunni citizens.
Before his assassination, the researcher had told his friends that he was working on exposing details of a money laundering cell in Iraq run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran.
Al-Hashemi found out about the network, which Hezbollah has been using to fund its activities, through declassified documents from Iraq’s military intelligence, records of calls, and interviews with officers, according to his friends.
The documents acquired by Al Hadath also reveal that key Iran-backed militias within the PMU, notably Kata’ib Hezbollah and Saraya al-Khorasani, have been using eight checkpoints surrounding the Iraqi capital.
The militias have been able to earn between $5,000 to $10,000 by prohibiting Sunni citizens from entering the city unless they pay a heavy amount at each checkpoint, al-Khateeb said citing information in the documents.
Iran-backed militias’ presence across Nineveh governorate, other regions
Al-Hashemi’s documents also revealed that the Iran-backed PMU has been increasing its presence in regions around Iraq for years under the pretense that it was helping the country’s security forces seize control from ISIS.
The activist listed the number of Iran-aligned forces in Iraq, where they were located, and who they were led by, according to documents presented by al-Khateeb to Al Hadath on Thursday.
There are over 18,600 militants backed by Iran in the governorate of Nineveh – located in the outskirts of Mosul, al-Khateeb added.
The documents also revealed discrepancies in the protection provided for local Sunni fighters in Nineveh and the Iran-backed militias in their fight against ISIS, she said.
The Sunni fighters are under-funded and provided with fewer weapons, equipment, and vehicles than the PMU forces, according to al-Khateeb.
The documents also revealed that some of the leaders of the militias stationed across Iraq, and in particular in the Nineveh governorate, had held meetings with slain Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, al-Khateeb said.
Controlling oil fields
While conducting his research, al-Hashemi also discovered that PMU forces had control of dozens of oil fields and were illegally smuggling oil to its Iranian backers, according to the Al Hadath reporter.
ISIS had been in control of 72 Iraqi oil fields in the town of al-Qayyarah, located south of Mosul, and would smuggle hundreds of barrels of oil out of the area, al-Khateeb added.
When the terrorist group was defeated in the region in 2017, the PMU took control of those fields and has smuggled around 100 tanks of crude oil to ISIS-held territories, according to the document.
Al-Khateeb said that officials were aware that the oil was being smuggled.