Iraq’s enemies fire a warning shot with Hisham Al-Hashimi’s murder

Iraq’s enemies fire a warning shot with Hisham Al-Hashimi’s murder
Mourners carry the coffin of slain Iraqi jihadism expert Hisham al-Hashemi, who was shot dead yesterday outside his house in the Iraqi capital, during his funeral in Baghdad’s Zayouna district on July 7, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 12 August 2020

Iraq’s enemies fire a warning shot with Hisham Al-Hashimi’s murder

Iraq’s enemies fire a warning shot with Hisham Al-Hashimi’s murder
  • Gunshots that killed security analyst on Monday reverberate across the Arab world
  • Use of murder to scare critics viewed as a familiar tactic of Middle East terror groups

ERBIL, IRAQI KURDISTAN: In an act that shocked the Arab world late on Monday, unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Hisham Al-Hashimi, a leading Iraqi expert on Daesh and other armed groups. As with so many unsolved murders of prominent public personalities in Iraq since 2003, there is no dearth of suspects. The big question is what action Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi can afford to take under the circumstances.

The 47-year-old Al-Hashimi was a well-respected Iraqi academic and political analyst. His expertise on Daesh earned him the position of adviser to the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. After the destruction of Daesh’s self-styled caliphate in 2018, he shifted his focus to the workings of the Hashd Al-Shaabi (or Popular Mobilization Forces) units that participated in the anti-Daesh campaign.

Al-Hashimi had expressed fears in recent weeks that Iranian-backed constituents of Hashd had him in their crosshairs. A medical source at the hospital where he was taken after Monday’s shooting said he had suffered “bullet wounds in several body parts.”

Iraq witnessed a spate of deadly attacks on intellectuals, academics and moderate politicians at the height of the insurgency. More than 500 people have been killed since protests erupted in Oct. 2019, demanding an end to corruption and Iran’s overarching influence. But analysts believe that with Al-Hashimi’s killing, a loud warning shot has been fired across Al-Kadhimi’s bow.

“The assassination is intended to signal militia displeasure with Al-Kadhimi and his inner circle,” said Michael Knights, a noted Iraq analyst and Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“They are saying that there is a cost to the Al-Kadhimi team for arresting militia members and disrupting militia money-making enterprises,” he added.

The use of murder to scare critics is of course not something new to terror groups in the Middle East.

The assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri and the subsequent attacks that killed or maimed critics of Syria and Hezbollah in the 2000s are prominent examples of this.

Late last month, Al-Kadhimi had 14 members of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah arrested in Baghdad when the group was preparing to carry out a rocket attack on bases hosting US troops.

(Video: Protesters aiming their anger at Kataib Hezbollah, who they blame for orchestrating the Al-Hashimi killing. Twitter)

Although the militants were quickly released, the action suggested that the new government was prepared to take a firm stance against rogue Hashd elements.

Knights’ view is echoed by Joel Wing, author of the Musings on Iraq blog, who says Kataib Hezbollah is a prime suspect in Al-Hashimi’s murder.

“The message was a simple one,” he told Arab News. “Those who criticize their activities will be threatened like Al-Hashimi was, and can be killed with impunity.”

Wing says groups such as the Kataib feel they are part of the state now and “therefore have free rein to kill protesters, critics and anyone else they feel fit to execute, because no one has stopped them before.”

The US-led invasion of 2003 brought the turbulent Saddam Hussein era to an abrupt end, but new troubles cropped up in the form of insurgency, terrorism, sectarian politics and finally Daesh. Today Iraq is torn between a pro-Iran camp, which wants to get rid of the last vestiges of US military presence, and nationalists, who resent the pervasive influence of Tehran in their country’s affairs.

Lawk Ghafuri, an Iraq analyst and journalist for the Erbil-based Kurdish media outlet Rudaw, views Al-Hashimi’s assassination as a “clear message to all writers and researchers in Iraq that there are red lines, and if you cross them, you’ll be murdered.”

He said: “This is a huge step backward for freedom of expression and a free press in Iraq.”

According to Ghafuri, if the assassins are revealed as Iran-backed members of Hashd, Al-Kadhimi’s promise of action might prove difficult to fulfill, since he already faces pressure from the same elements over the arrest of the Kataib militants.

In his final commentaries, Al-Hashimi had rebuked the Hashd, among other groups, for operating outside of the control of the state, a criticism they are extremely sensitive to, Ghafuri said.

He added: “Al-Hashimi had outlined in detail the new structure, difficulties, challenges, and internal issues within the Hashd Al-Shaabi. He described the way they are operating, and he also illustrated the divisions in Hashd, where some are loyal to Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani and others loyal to Iran.”

Regardless of Al-Kadhimi’s next course of action, Ghafuri warns that Iraqis must be prepared for more chaos going forward.

The least we can do is to expose these criminals and bring justice to ensure that security and peace prevails for our country.

Barham Salih, President of Iraq

“If you stay silent, the rule of law will be in a bad situation. But if you implement the rule of law, the Iranian-backed militias will cause trouble for you,” he said.

However, as Knights says, Al-Hashimi enjoyed a lot of respect among Iraqis and was a supporter of last year’s anti-government protests. As a result of this, his murder could prove a step too far for Iranian-backed Hashd fighters.

“The militias killed a popular supporter of the protest movement and a recognizable face of Iraqi academia when they targeted Al-Hashimi,” he said, adding that “the action may prove counterproductive for the militias."

Wing said that, while Al-Hashimi’s death has led to an international outcry, “it is still a dangerous game for the prime minister to respond.”

At the most, Al-Kadhimi “might be able to pull off an arrest of a few members, if the authorities can find direct evidence in the assassination,” he said.

“Anything else could bring a wave of protests in the Green Zone, as happened after the raid on Kataib Hezbollah. It could bring even more rocket attacks on facilities that host Americans in defiance of his demands that they stop, and even the fall of his government if the ‘Fatah List’ decides he has gone too far,” he added.

Wing was referring to a powerful bloc in parliament that vigorously defends Iran’s interests and policies in Iraq.

Wing does not believe Al-Hashimi’s murder was a direct response to the arrest of Kataib members, but sees it as “another poke in Al-Kadhimi’s eye, saying they don’t believe he has the power to stop their activities.”

He said: “When the Hashd were made part of the security forces, praised for their war against Daesh, and their crimes were actively covered up, it gave them the sense that they could do what they wanted. And this is just the latest example.”

He added: “If they could get away with destroying part of Tikrit and the surrounding towns after the city was retaken, kidnapping and murdering hundreds of men during operations in Anbar, and displacing thousands of people during the war, who is going to stop them for killing one analyst?”

Still, Knights believes Al-Kadhimi’s people will not back down because of the July 6 assassination, although they may move more cautiously now.

“When intelligence suggests future militia attacks or justifies arrest operations, they will probably detain more militia fighters,” he said, adding: “The tit-for-tat pattern has begun, but Al-Kadhimi is not easy to intimidate.”

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@pauliddon


Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit
Updated 33 min 12 sec ago

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit
  • During Mostafa Madbouly’s visit, several agreements were signed between the two governments, most notably on the establishment of power stations in Libya
  • Libya is considered a natural extension of the Egyptian market, due to the geographical proximity and long history of trade exchange and cooperation between the two countries

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, accompanied by a team of ministers, visited Tripoli on Tuesday to discuss economic and political cooperation with the Libyan Government of National Unity.

It followed instructions from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is planning a visit to Libya.

During Madbouly’s visit, several agreements were signed between the two governments, most notably on the establishment of power stations in Libya to strengthen its energy networks.

Libya is considered a natural extension of the Egyptian market, due to the geographical proximity and long history of trade exchange and cooperation between the two countries.

Egyptian companies are awaiting government decisions regarding participation in the reconstruction of Libya, which they hope will produce new opportunities in a renewed market.

According to local sources, Madbouly’s visit is focussed on investments in the country, Egyptian labor issues and the reopening of diplomatic missions.

Last month, El-Sisi discussed with the head of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed Al-Menfi, prospects for enhanced cooperation between the two countries.

El-Sisi stressed Egypt’s full and absolute support for the new executive authority in Libya in all fields and for its success in holding general elections at the end of the year.

He said Egypt was fully prepared to provide its expertise to the Libyan government to help restore its national institutions, especially security and police forces, to achieve greater stability.

Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, Egypt has promoted political settlement by hosting the warring factions in key meetings.


Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria
Updated 20 April 2021

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria
  • OPCW members are proposing to strip Syria of its rights at the agency in response to findings government forces used poison gas
  • U.N. director at Human Rights Watch hopes the move will encourage countries to prosecute individuals for criminal responsibility

AMSTERDAM: Members of the global chemical weapons watchdog considered a proposal on Tuesday to strip Syria of its rights at the Hague-based agency in response to findings that government forces repeatedly used poison gas.
A draft document, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, was circulated among the 193 members at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
It was proposed by 46 nations, including the United States, Britain and France.
Syria and its military ally Russia have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the decade-old conflict, which has turned the once-technical agency into a flashpoint between rival political forces and deadlocked the UN Security Council.
The Russian and Syrian delegations at the OPCW did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The draft decision, which must win a two-thirds majority of members attending and voting during a meeting of the OPCW’s governing Conference of States Parties this week, proposes revoking voting rights and banning Damascus from holding any offices within the OPCW.
The draft, which could be put to a vote on Wednesday, said the ongoing use “establishes that the Syrian Arab Republic failed to declare and destroy all of its chemical weapons” after joining the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, hopes the move will encourage countries to prosecute individuals for criminal responsibility.
“While this may be largely symbolic, it’s an important step toward holding the Syrian leadership accountable for their war crimes while confronting the biggest compliance crisis that parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention have ever faced,” he said.
Several investigations at the United Nations and by the OPCW’s special Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded that Syrian government forces used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine barrel bombs, in attacks between 2015 and 2018 that investigators said killed or injured thousands.
Last week, the OPCW’s IIT concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that Syria’s air force dropped a chlorine bomb on a residential neighborhood in the rebel-controlled Idlib region in February 2018. Syria dismissed the findings.


Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'
Updated 37 min 21 sec ago

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'
  • The results of the investigation for those involved ‘constituted a clear threat to the security and stability of the kingdom’

LONDON: An investigation into recent events that threatened to undermine Jordan’s security and stability has ended, the kingdom’s public prosecution said on Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Hazem Al-Majali said: “The Public Prosecution of the State Security Court has completed its investigations relating to the events that the kingdom was exposed to recently.”
On April 5, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi announced that more than a dozen individuals had been arrested on charges of undermining the security of the state.
“It became clear from the investigation that it contained different and varied roles and facts for those involved, which would have constituted a clear threat to the security and stability of the kingdom,” Brig. Gen. Al-Majali added.
He also said the State Security Prosecution is working on completing the final stages of the investigation and the legal procedures required to refer them to the State Security Court,” Jordanian news agency Petra reported.


Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 35 min 55 sec ago

Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm
  • Country has seen three accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead, some 320 injured

CAIRO: Egypt’s transportation minister on Tuesday said he sacked the country’s top railway official, following three train accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead and some 320 injured.
The firing of Asharf Raslan, head of the railway authority, was part of a wide ranging overhaul of the rundown railway system's leadership amid public outcry over repeated train crashes.
Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm, the office of Transportation Minister Kamal el-Wazir said in a statement.
The changes included the main departments of the railway authority that manages train traffic in the Arab world’s most populous country.

READ MORE

At least 11 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in a train accident in Egypt on Sunday. Click here for more.

The overhaul was designed to “inject a number of competent professionals” amid efforts to upgrade the poorly-maintained network.
The changes came after a passenger train derailed Sunday north of Cairo, killing at least 11 people and injuring at least 98 others. That followed another train crash in the Nile Delta province of Sharqia last week that left 15 people wounded.
After Sunday’s crash, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced the establishment of an official commission to investigate its causes. Prosecutors also launched their own probe.
On March 25, two passenger trains collided in the southern province of Sohag, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200 others, including children. Prosecutors blamed gross negligence by railway employees for that crash.
The country’s railway system, one of the world's oldest, has a history of badly maintained equipment and poor management.

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it expresses its deep sorrow for the train accident north of the Egyptian capital Cairo. Click here for more.

The government says it has launched a broad renovation and modernization initiative, buying train cars and other equipment from European and U.S. manufacturers to automate the system and develop a domestic railcar industry.
El-Sissi said in March 2018 that the government needs about 250 billion Egyptian pounds, or $14.1 billion, to overhaul the run-down rail system.
Hundreds of train accidents are reported every year. In February 2019 an unmanned locomotive slammed into a barrier inside Cairo’s main Ramses railway station, causing a huge explosion and a fire that killed at least 25 people. That crash prompted the then-transportation minister to resign.
In August 2017, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.
Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when over 300 people were killed after a fire broke out in an overnight train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.


Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests
Updated 20 April 2021

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests

Turkey seeks jail terms for 97 over student protests
  • Indictment says suspects defied ban on rallies imposed to combat coronavirus pandemic
  • Prosecutors seeking 6 months to 3 years in jail for suspects' participation in unlawful rallies

ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors on Tuesday demanded jail terms for 97 people who joined student protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a party loyalist as a top university’s rector.
According to Anadolu state news agency, the indictment said the suspects defied a ban on rallies imposed as part of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutors are seeking jail terms from six months to three years because of the suspects’ non-compliance with a law on “unarmed participation in unlawful rallies and refusal to disperse despite the warnings,” Anadolu said.
No date was given for the first hearing.
The protest movement — the biggest to rattle Erdogan’s rule in years — kicked off when the Turkish leader appointed longstanding ruling party member Melih Bulu as rector of Bogazici University at the start of the year.
The rallies began inside the campus grounds before spreading to the streets of Istanbul and other big cities with the backing of government opponents and supporters of broader LGBT rights.
The indictment specifically refers to a February 1 protest in Istanbul in which several groups defied police warnings and rallied outside the university’s locked gate.
Police roughly rounded up 108 people that day.
Ninety-seven of them were later released and a probe was launched against them by the prosecutor’s office, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors are conducting separate inquiries against the 11 remaining people, one of whom is underage.
The student demonstrations had echoes of 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and posing the first big political dilemma for Erdogan.
He has compared student protesters to “terrorists” and the rector at the root of the demonstrations has refused to give in to demands to step down.