On Monday, an Iraqi national security expert, Husham al-Hashimi, was shot to death in Baghdad. A renowned expert in his field and a fellow at a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Center for Global Policy, he was gunned down as he parked his car outside his home, reportedly by men who rode off on motorcycles. He had appeared on TV less than an hour before he was killed.
His murder must be understood in the context of who did it and why.
Al-Hashimi’s assassination was clearly an attempt to silence the critics of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq—critics who are crucial to the success of the young and fragile Iraqi democracy in which Americans have invested so much. He had for months been receiving threats from the militias. His killing was most likely carried out upon the order of the Iranian regime, or at least with a nod from it.
Why has the murder of al-Hashimi received so much less press attention than that of Jamal Khashoggi two years ago? Like Khashoggi, al-Hashimi was known in D.C. circles and had friends there. Like Khashoggi, al-Hashimi had an important critical voice for democracy and the rule of law. Like Khashoggi, al-Hashimi was killed because of his criticism.
Yet while Khashoggi’s killing justifiably received weeks of prominent coverage, including on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, al-Hashimi’s story has received far less. The New York Times and Washington Post have so far each reported one story on al-Hashimi’s assassination (and each has run a handful of Associated Press stories). CNN ran an article on its website but as best as I have been able to tell has not yet devoted an on-air segment to al-Hashimi’s assassination. Other outlets across the country that ran news and opinion pieces about Khashoggi’s gruesome death have taken no notice of al-Hashimi’s execution.
Inside the pro-democracy Iranian-American community—of which I am a member—there has long been a grievance about the relatively soft treatment of Iran in mainstream American media. Yes, the conservative press is critical of Iran. But for decades, mainstream outlets have been too kind to the Iranian regime—perhaps out of a worry that tensions might escalate to war, perhaps out of appreciation for the richness of Persian heritage and culture, maybe for other reasons.
This tendency, whatever its cause, is likely not the entire explanation for why al-Hashimi’s death has received little coverage. But the fact remains that U.S. news outlets have not had much to say about Iran’s role in the killing, aside from passing references to “Iran-backed militias,” which is a gross understatement of Iran’s activities inside Iraq.
In addition Iran’s violations of human rights within its own borders and its rogue behavior on the international stage—both of which seem to be understood if undercovered by mainstream U.S. media—Iran has literally gotten away with murder for many years in Iraq. The recent story of Russian bounties on U.S. troops has rightly gotten a great deal of attention, but Iranian support has resulted in the killing of many more American troops in Iraq. Even after President Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, American pundits rarely mentioned that Iran had been orchestrating attacks against U.S. installations in Iraq, including our embassy there, under Soleimani’s orders, just days before the U.S. retaliation.
Similarly, while Democrats and progressive commentators advocate for punitive actions against Saudi Arabia for its conduct of the war in Yemen, its violation of human rights, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, when it comes to Iran they bizarrely advocate an opposite approach—calling for better relations with the Iranian regime. But Iran is as guilty as the Saudis for the war in Yemen. Iran is responsible for the human catastrophe in Syria. Iranian human rights practices are even worse than the Saudis’ (for instance, Iran has the world’s highest rate of executions per capita).
None of this is intended in any way to excuse Saudi Arabia. God knows that the United States needs to take a tougher line on Saudi practices at home. The Saudis are bad actors, no question, and the matter of Saudi citizens’ connections to the 9/11 attack deserves continued scrutiny and transparency. And the Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi was horrific and gruesome.
But the Saudis are not revisionist and revanchist; Iran is. The Saudi regime itself has never, so far as we know, planned to conduct assassination on U.S. soil; Iran has. The Saudis have horrifically killed critics of their regime, like Jamal Khashoggi; the Iranians have killed many more. The Saudis have not bombed a Jewish center; the Iranians have. The Saudi regime’s legitimacy does not rely on undermining U.S. interests; Iran’s does. Most importantly, the Saudis never tried to cost the United States a war in Iraq or anywhere else; Iran has been attempting to undermine the U.S. effort in Iraq for most of the last two decades.
Husham al-Hashimi was a critical figure for a better and safer Iraq, which is in the interests of the United States. Iran ordered or at least approved of his cold-blooded killing because a better and safer Iraq is against Iran’s interests. American news and opinion outlets—and the American people—should accept the reality that the regime in Iran is not one to work with peacefully.