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Iraq: Militia leader accused of involvement in killing of activists released from detention

Qassim Musleh was originally arrested in May following killing of Iraqi activist Ihab al-Wazni
Qassem Muslih, wearing a face mask, is seen after being released in Karbala, Iraq, 9 June 2021 (Reuters)

A senior Iraqi militia leader originally arrested in May on charges of killing an activist was released from custody on Wednesday.

Qassim Musleh, Anbar province chief of the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary organisation, was taken into custody in May under anti-terror legislation.

A security source at the time told AFP that his arrest was in connection to the killing of two activists, Ihab al-Wazni and Fahim al-Taie, on 9 May 2021 and in December 2019 respectively.

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“We initially had clues about the perpetrators of the murders and verification allowed us to identify with certainty the person who was behind these criminal operations,” the source added.

According to security sources speaking to the BBC, Musleh was released a few days after his initial detention but was then relocated to the house of another Hashd al-Shaabi leader before being officially released on Thursday.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has placed himself publicly in opposition to Iran-backed militias and parties, and Musleh's arrest was a major attempt to rein in their power.

His release without prosecution is a blow to those efforts and one of a number of unsuccessful attempts to crack down on armed groups.

The two most high-profile moves against Iran-backed factions - the arrest of Musleh in May and the detention in June 2020 of fighters allegedly involved in rocket fire against US targets - have each resulted in no prosecutions and all those arrested being released.

On both occasions, heavily armed militiamen have stormed Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, where foreign embassies and government buildings are located, threatening the prime minister.