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Iraqi Officer Convicted of Killing Critic of Iran-Backed Militia

FILE - A protester prays by a poster showing Hisham al-Hashimi, who was shot dead in Baghdad, July 20, 2020. An Iraqi court on May 7, 2023 issued a death sentence against the alleged killer of al-Hashimi, nearly three years after his assassination.

An Iraqi court Sunday issued a death sentence against the alleged killer of prominent Iraqi security analyst Hisham al-Hashimi, nearly three years after his assassination.

A criminal court sentenced police officer Ahmed Hamdawi al-Kinani to death for the analyst’s killing after convicting him of a terrorism charge, according to a statement from Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council. A video of al-Kinani appearing to confess to his purported involvement in the crime was released shortly after his arrest two years ago, but many say he had the backing of armed groups.

A relative of al-Hashimi’s said the family was pleased with the verdict but said those who ordered the assassination should be brought to justice in addition to those who carried it out.

“Until now, we have not learned who is backing the killer of Hisham al-Hashimi and who gave the orders to execute,” they said, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to fear of armed groups.

The family expressed concern over Sunday’s sentence being pardoned or commuted at the Court of Cassation, which the case has been referred to.

Al-Hashimi, 47, was gunned down in July 2020 in front of his home in Baghdad by two attackers on a motorcycle after receiving threats from Iran-backed militias. His killing was captured on surveillance footage and sent a chilling effect through the nation already experiencing a climate of fear amongst activists who accused the government of failing to reign in the powerful armed groups.

A regular commentator on television, al-Hashimi become well-known in Iraq and abroad as an expert on the inner workings of the Islamic State group and advised the U.S.-led coalition during its years of long battle with the extremists.

Following the territorial defeat of the Islamic State in December 2017, he became an outspoken voice criticizing the growing influence of some of the Iran-backed militias that helped to defeat IS.

Al-Kinani identified himself as a police officer with the rank of first lieutenant in the Interior Ministry in the video aired on state media in 2021. Shortly after his arrest, two security officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that he was connected to a militia group but did not specify which one.

His purported confession did not acknowledge any links to armed groups.

After Sunday’s ruling, the case will be referred to the Court of Cassation, which is a judicial body that considers the ruling.

Many government and security personnel have links to the rival powerful militias that have varying degrees of incorporation into the Iraqi state. For this reason, successive governments have been criticized for allowing them to operate with impunity.

The killings of activists and other critical voices became pervasive in Iraq during a crackdown on a mass protest movement that erupted in 2019, with many blaming Iran-backed militias. Al-Hashimi had reportedly received multiple threats from such groups in the period before his death.