JEDDAH: There was anger in Iraq on Wednesday after a judge ordered the release from custody of an Iran-backed militia leader linked to the assassinations of pro-democracy activists.
Qassem Muslah, head of the Hashd Al-Shaabi in Anbar province, was arrested two weeks ago on suspicion of ordering the killing of Ihab Al-Wazni, who was shot dead last month by assassins on motorbikes.
He is also suspected of ordering the assassination of another activist, Fahim Al-Taie, in December 2019.
Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council said investigative authorities were unable to produce evidence implicating Muslah in the death of Al-Wazni.
“It was proved according to the passport information that he was outside Iraq when Al-Wazni was assassinated, he denied committing or participating in this crime, and the investigative court did not find any evidence to prove his involvement in that crime, directly or indirectly,” it said.
However, a senior Iraqi government official denounced the decision to release Muslah.
“Telephone communications on the topic of these assassinations between Muslah and the direct perpetrators, threats to relatives, witness testimony, explanations received under questioning — all were supplied,” the official said.
“The government presented all available evidence, but the judges have decided to release him because of pressure exerted on them.” Muslah’s release coincided with the arrival in Baghdad of Gen. Esmail Ghaani, head of the Quds Force, the overseas unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Ghaani met militia and political leaders to discuss tensions between the government and the Hashd Al-Shaabi. Muslah’s arrest last month sparked tensions and fears of violence.
Hashd Al-Shaabi forces surrounded Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s headquarters inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government, and Iraqi security forces and the elite Counter-Terrorism Service were deployed to protect the government and diplomatic missions.