The murder of Iraqi writer, scholar and commentator Husham al-Hashimi was greeted with disbelief on Monday evening.
An active user of social media he had been tweeting up until the time of his death, warning about sectarianism in Iraq. He was much respected and admired by different communities in the country and globally. His death marks a major uptick in the use of assassinations in Iraq to silence critics or intellectuals.
Numerous voices have gathered online to mourn the often-smiling and erudite Hashimi. A member of the Iraqi Advisor Council and fellow at the Center for Global Policy, he was an insightful commentator on Iraqi politics and the region.
Iraq is currently at a crossroads as Iranian-backed militias try to get US forces to leave, and as the country seeks to rebuild after the ISIS war. Protests last year were brutally suppressed by Iranian-backed groups. The country has overlapping security forces and many of them seem to act on their own to the extent that sectarian militias appear to run parts of the country and intimidate those who speak out.
Iraq is also divided by an autonomous Kurdistan region in the norther, the mostly Shi'ite center and south and the Sunni areas that were previously occupied by ISIS. This has left scars and anger.
A younger generation wants to be freed from the ghosts of decades of war, but Iran, Turkey and other governments prefer to use Iraq for their own interests. This leaves media and commentators vulnerable to the language of the bullet rather than the language of debate.
According to video posted online, Hashimi was gunned down by assassins as he arrived home. The killers were waiting on motorcycles and images of his dead body at the hospital and the murder circulated online.
People from all over the world and the Middle East responded with shock, anger, calls for justice and disbelief. Kurds tweeted memorials in Kurdish, "sehid Namarin," and others replied to his last tweet with Islamic greetings and sadness. His last tweet had more than 4,000 responses by Monday at midnight, just hours after his death was announced.
Vager Saadhullah, a former journalist tweeted "RIP" and recalled that Hashimi was one of the very special Iraqi experts who could be depended on for their good analysis. Middle East expert Hussein Ibish called the murder "atrocious." Yazidi activist Murad Ismael said we must not remain silent and called for bringing the assassins to justice.
BBC journalist Nafiseh Kohnavard wrote that the murder conjured up memories of the murder of Ahmed Abdel Samad in Basra six months ago. Now, people are shocked again at the loss. Martin Huth, the EU envoy in Iraq, mourned the death of Hashimi and called for bringing the perpetrators to justice. Alberto Fernandez said that Hashimi was a guest on Al-Hurra, one of the stations Fernandez managed previously. Fernandez, an expert on the Middle East and former US diplomat, wrote that he was horrified by the news.
Hassan Hassan, director of non-state actors program at the Center for Global Policy, noted that an hour before his murder Hashimi had spoken on TV about Shi'ite militias operating outside the law. Hassan called it a "sad day for Iraq." Almost everyone who knew Hashim, knew of him, or had seen his commentary, agrees.
He was much adored by locals and international journalists alike. Local activists who have braved the bullets of rogue pro-Iranian groups over the last year, admired him and memorialized him. He was a "wonderful human being," Hassan wrote. Omar Mohammed, the well known commentator from Mosul, also was heartbroken replying to one of the deceased Hashimi's old tweets: "I'm so sorry I didn't reply to you, I thought you were safe, I waited days to respond." He blessed Hashimi's eternal soul, as so many did in Iraq when they heard news of the man's death.
"I'm speechless," wrote Lawk Ghafuri, a local journalist. "I was waiting to serve you tea in Erbil," Ghafuri wrote, referencing the capital of the Kurdistan region.
Some pointed to pro-Iranian groups who were critical of him as possible perpetrators. The pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units distanced themselves from his killing, saying it should be investigated and that "terrorists" had done it.
There were some tweets appearing to celebrate his death. Indeed, Hashimi had critiqued these groups and discussed the state's inability to contain violence. He had been threatened before and had hinted at the threats on social media. But he remained in Iraq, undeterred. His commentary, insightful and with a depth of knowledge is now gone. All that remains are his old tweets and commentary.
Hashimi was born in 1973 in Baghdad and was a security expert. His life spanned the disaster that befell Iraq. When he was younger, Iraq was one of the leading countries in the region. Saddam Hussein, the dictator, led it into war with Iran in the 1980s. A grueling conflict it took its toll, but Iraq remained a country with good education and health care in some sectors, while Saddam brutally slaughtered Kurds and Shi'ites.
After the invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was under harsh sanctions and the country rapidly became poor. The US invasion in 2003 enabled Hashimi to increase his standing as a writer and commentator. But Iraq suffered from sectarianism, insurgency, terror, the ISIS genocide and war. Now it is riven between pro-Iranian groups and attempts to eject US forces.
The use of assassinations to deter critics is especially common among pro-Iranian terror groups, but also among terrorist elements and other regimes in the region. Hezbollah, for instance, is believed to have killed Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and author Samir Kassir in 2005.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.