Official Iraqi documents have revealed that the suspect in the killing of prominent Iraqi analyst Hisham al-Hashimi is no longer in custody, sparking outrage and accusations of foul play.
An expert on militant groups and a former Hashimi government adviser was shot by a gunman on a motorcycle in Baghdad in July 2020.
The killing of such a high-profile figure, who was popular with many anti-government activists, sparked outrage. A year later, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi then said the culprits – including 36-year-old police lieutenant Ahmed al-Kenani – had been arrested.
Kenani, who made a televised confession shortly after his arrest, was a supporter of the Iranian-backed Kataeb Hezbollah armed group, a source told Middle East Eye shortly after the arrest.
On Tuesday, however, The parliamentarian Nedaa Hassan Madi al-Kuraiti posted a letter she received on her Facebook page from the Ministry of Justice, in response to inquiries she sent, which suggested that Kenani was not in custody.
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The letter, dated December 2022 and apparently from Justice Minister Khaled Shawani told the MP’s office – a member of the anti-corruption movement Imitadad – that both the Iraqi Department of Corrections and the Department of Youth Reform had informed the ministry that Kenani was not in their facilities.
In a statement carried by Shafaq News on Tuesday, Hashimi’s family said they were “deeply shocked” by the news.
“If these reports are confirmed, it is a clear miscarriage of justice and adds insult to injury,” they said.
‘Many political parties have blood on their hands with this crime’
– Hisham al-Mozani, Al-Amal Association
“The assassination alone was a heinous act, targeting someone who had great influence on Iraqi society, but the escape of the suspect undermines the fabric of the Iraqi state and its ability to deliver justice to its citizens.”
The family demanded that Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudan open an investigation into the incident.
Middle East Eye has contacted the Ministry of Justice but received no response by the time of publication.
Kenani has been detained since 2021, but attempts to bring him to trial have been repeatedly delayed.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the group Kenani allegedly belonged to, has repeatedly been accused of kidnapping and assassinating anti-government activists. A number of officials in the current Iraqi government are known to be linked to Kataeb Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed armed groups.
In his Facebook post, Kuraiti said she had been in contact with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior several times about bringing Kenani to trial, when she received the letter saying he was not in the prisons of the Department of Corrections and the Department of Reforms Young.
‘Convicted man’: Sadness and rage over the assassination of an Iraqi analyst
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She also said she would continue to publish the documents she had received regarding the “protest martyrs”, referring to Hishami and other government critics who were killed after the 2019 anti-government demonstrations.
Hisham al-Mozani, an activist with Al-Amal Association – an Iraqi NGO that seeks justice for human rights defenders killed by police and militia – told MEE that the suspects in Hashimi’s killing were now more powerful than ever.
“I don’t think the Iraqi government is interested in justice on this issue, because there are many political parties that have blood on their hands with this crime,” he said.
Mozani suggested that the repeated delays in Kenani’s prosecution were a tactic intended to allow Hashimi’s killing to fade in the public mind.
“It won’t be so loud on the streets, or in the media, because a lot of things happened after that [the killing] which made the majority forget about this crime,” he said.
“This political crime is directly linked to the political system – now the militia is more powerful … with Sudan they now have more ministers, more places in the government, so they will try more and more the to cover up this crime and forget about it.”