As the burial of a well-known Iraqi jihadism expert turned into a protest in Baghdad against Iran-linked groups on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded justice over his killing by masked gunmen on Wednesday.
"In the days leading up to his death he was repeatedly threatened by Iran backed armed groups," Pompeo told a news conference in Washington, without explicitly blaming Tehran for the assassination of Hisham al-Hashimi.
"The United States joins partner nations in strongly condemning his assassination and call(ing) for the government of Iraq to bring to justice the perpetrators of this terrible crime... swiftly," he said.
Al-Hashimi angered the pro-Iran Hashed al-Shaabi militia by voicing support on national media for Iraqi protesters who have been demanding an end to Iranian influence since last October. He was shot dead on July 6.
As Pompeo indirectly blamed Tehran for the murder, Iran signed a military agreement with Syria, vowing to strengthen its ally’s air defenses.
"We will strengthen Syria's air defense systems in order to improve military cooperation between the two countries," Iran’s state television quoted armed forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri as saying.
The deal will "further enhance our will... to confront pressures by America," he added.
U.S. ally Israel, Iran's arch-enemy, has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of a civil war there in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Iran itself is challenged by multiple crisis, from back-breaking U.S. economic sanctions to a persistent coronavirus epidemic. Tehran’s government is in desperate need of hard currency, as it tries to feed its 82-million population and finance its proxies throughout the region and even help the Maduro regime in Venezuela.