'Iraq's Assassins': Documentary investigates alleged killings by Shia militias

'Iraq's Assassins': Documentary investigates alleged killings by Shia militias in Iraq
2 min read
12 February, 2021
Award-winning filmmaker Ramita Navai speaks to The New Arab about her documentary "Iraq’s Assassins", which portrays the evolution of Iran-backed Shia militias and their encroachment onto Iraqi institutions.
Shia militias in Iraq stand accused of unleashing a wave of assassinations against activists [Getty]
A new PBS documentary released this week takes a deep dive into the world of Shia militias in Iraq, who stand accused of unleashing a wave of assassinations against activists and critics and terrorising Sunni residents and Shia alike.

Award-winning filmmaker Ramita Navai tells The New Arab that the documentary "Iraq’s Assassins" portrays the evolution of Shia militias and their encroachment onto Iraqi institutions.

"The Iranian-backed Shia militias used the war against ISIS to gain territory and power – and now they're more entrenched in the government than ever before," Navai said, using an acronym for Islamic State militant group.

The documentary points to a shift in the militia's targeting of opposers.

"One dramatic and important change is the way they are now operating as opposed to during the war, is that they are turning against their own. Before, their targets were mostly Sunnis – now it’s anyone who dares criticise them or who they deem a threat," the filmmaker says.

Many prominent activists, protesters and journalists who have been killed in the past year have been Shia.

As the new PBS Frontline documentary recounts, the assassination of Hisham Al-Hashimi, an Iraqi historian and researcher focusing on exposing the inner workings of Shia militia Kata'ib Hezbollah, sent shockwaves throughout Iraq in June 2020.

Read more: Iraq's reign of fear - Inside the violent power struggle killing Basra's activists

The Iraqi government said Al-Hashimi's murder was still under investigation, but an intelligence officer interviewed in the documentary said Kata'ib Hezbollah was responsible the assassination.

Setting up interviews with the Shia population proved unexpectedly difficult, Navai says, given the growing fear that these groups, particularly Kata'ib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, project onto the population.  

"People were really scared to talk to us, which was a real challenge. It took a long time to build up trust," Navai said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has been vocal in his opposition of Iranian-backed militias but reining them in has so far proven difficult.

"Not even the Prime Minister of Iraq has the power to control them," the filmmaker says.

The documentary premiered on PBS on February 9.

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