Assassination of prominent Iraqi analyst 'a loss for all of Iraqis,' says friend
Husham al-Hashimi — an extremism expert and anti-corruption advocate — was shot outside his home on Monday
As a journalist in Iraq, Lawk Ghafuri is accustomed to reporting on assassinations.
But nothing could have prepared him for Monday night, when news broke that Husham al-Hashimi — a prominent Iraqi analyst, and a personal friend of Ghafuri's — had been gunned down outside his Baghdad home.
"The hardest part was when I wrote about his death," Ghafuri, who covers Iraq for the Middle East news site Rudaw English, told As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal.
"I was never expecting to do this. Not for him. Not for any of my friends."
Blow to press freedom
Al-Hashimi, 47, was a husband, a father of four, and a leading expert on ISIS and other militant organizations in Iraq. He was often sought out by journalists, government officials and researchers for his insights.
Ghafuri says nobody else can claim to match his extensive knowledge or depth of sources.
"When we talk about what it means for Iraq, it definitely means a lot for freedom of expression in this country ... and freedom of press," Ghafuri said.
"I think everybody, and all journalists in Iraq, agrees with me that losing him is a loss for all of Iraqis."
His expertise made him a fixture in international TV reports about Iraq, especially in regards to the country's battles with ISIS. He also had the ear of powerful politicians in the country, and often acted as government advisor.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi counted Al-Hashimi as a personal friend, and vowed that Iraqi security forces would "spare no effort" in pursuing his killers.
Ulric Shannon, Canada's ambassador to Iraq, paid tribute to Al-Hashimi on Twitter, saying he was a friend who loved his country.
'One of the guys who did not fear'
But the work that put Al-Hashimi on the map also him a target. He was outspoken about militant groups, and frequently criticized corruption among Iraq's ruling elite.
So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the analyst's death. But according to The Associated Press, Al-Hashimi confided to close friends that he had received threats from Iran-backed militia groups in the weeks leading up to his death.
Together with his family and friends, we mourn the death of Dr Husham Al-Hashimi. The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be brought to justice! <a href="https://t.co/8NSeS8Oh1h">pic.twitter.com/8NSeS8Oh1h</a>—@EUAmbIraq
Before he died, he commented publicly on a raid against the Kataib Hezbollah group, which is suspected of orchestrating several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq in recent weeks.
"Husham was one of the guys who did not fear any of the armed groups or any terrorist organization in Iraq," Ghafuri said. "It shows how brave he was."
While covering his friend's death, Ghafuri had to watch the CCTV footage of the assassination.
The video shows two gunmen on a motorcycle arriving just in time to catch Al-Hashimi returning to his home in Bagdhad's Zeyouneh neighbourhood.
"Nobody is even there. No security forces and no one is there to prevent the crime," Ghafuri said. "It's just a sad scene, to be honest, for me."
Hours after Al-Hashimi's killing, authorities fired the top police officer for Zeyouneh and launched an investigation into his activities, according to an order from the prime minister's office, which was seen by The Associated Press.
Pride for Baghdad
Ghafuri works out of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq, and has only met Al-Hashimi in person a handful of times.
He last saw him face to face in December. Ghafuri was in Baghdad covering protests against U.S. airstrikes, and met Al-Hashimi in a tea shop near Tahir Square.
He says Al-Hashimi asked him how many times he had been to Bagdhad. He replied that he was born in the city and lived there for six years.
"He was very happy with this. He started to talk about the beauty of Baghdad ... and I was telling him that my time in Baghdad, how beautiful it was, and I always miss it," Ghafur said.
"He said, 'Baghdad is not owned by anyone. It's owned by its own people.'"
Ghafur says Al-Hashimi then gestured to the protesters in Tahir Square, and said, "This is the proof that we own the city and we own the country.'
"And he was asking me to give those protesters a voice."
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Lawk Ghafuri produced by Chris Harbord.