Iraq militia leader detained for activist killing 'released'
Iraqi authorities have reportedly released a senior commander of the powerful Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) militia group, less than two weeks after arresting him on suspicion of involvement in the murder of pro-democracy activist Ihab Al-Wazni.
Iraqi media sources said on Monday that Qasem Muslih had been released because of the "insufficiency of the evidence against him".
Al-Wazni was shot outside his home in the Shia holy city of Karbala south of Baghdad on 9 May. Muslih was also accused of involvement in the killing of Fahim Al-Taie, an activist who was killed in December 2019.
From October 2019, Iraq saw a wave of protests against poverty and government corruption which were initially met with brutal force by police and the military.
Pro-Iranian Iraqi militias, which operate with official sanction, have been involved in suppressing protests and are suspected of being behind a series of assassinations of pro-democracy activists.
Muslih was the first high-ranking official of the PMF to be arrested in connection with the assassination of an activist.
Current Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has vowed to protect the right to peaceful protest and punish those responsible for violence against activists and protesters.
Muslih had also been detained for involvement in rocket attacks against US forces in Iraq, Reuters reported.
Following Muslih’s arrest, there were reports that Iraqi government officials feared reprisal attacks by the PMF.
PMF forces surrounded Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the government and foreign embassies are based, after Muslih was held and on Monday a senior Iraqi intelligence officer was assassinated in the heavily fortified Baladiyat area of eastern Baghdad.
The New Arab’s Arabic-language service contacted the office of Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi about Muslih’s arrest and release but officials there refused to comment.
However, a member of the Iraqi parliament, who preferred to remain anonymous told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service, "Muslih’s arrest resulted in great pressure on the government from the leaders of the PMF and political factions aligned with them."
"His release has not been confirmed but if it is, that would be an insult to the Iraqi judiciary and an interference with their work," the parliamentarian added.
The PMF militia coalition, which is known in Arabic as Hashd Al-Shaabi, was formed in June 2014 to fight against the Islamic State group, with the support of Iran.
It is made up mostly of Shia Muslim fighters and has been accused of sectarian killings and atrocities, as well as attacks on pro-democracy activists.
The PMF was preparing to stage a major military parade on Thursday for the seventh anniversary of its founding, in what appeared to be a message to Kadhimi’s government, according to The New Arab's Arabic-language service.