Iraqi writer and novelist Alaa Mashzoub was killed by unknown gunmen on Saturday (February 2nd) as he was returning from a literary session to his home in the centre of the holy city of Karbala.
The perpetrators, who had been waiting for him near his house, hit him with 13 rounds of fire before fleeing on a motorcycle, the city's police said.
In the aftermath of the crime, the Karbala police said it has tasked a senior squad to investigate, and promised to find the perpetrators.
"Security and intelligence forces and undercover elements are working at a high speed and with great professionalism to find the criminals," it said in a statement Sunday, denying reports of the arrest of any of the suspects.
Prior to that, the police asked the citizens and the media "to be accurate when spreading news and not to fall prey to rumours in order not to affect the course of the investigation".
Iraqi intellectuals express outrage
The assassination sparked a storm of angry reactions in popular, cultural and official circles.
A group of intellectuals, writers and journalists laid 51-year-old Mashzoub's body to rest in the city of Karbala Sunday amid shouts condemning the assassination.
Mourners staged a sit-in and called on the authorities to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
"This is killing words -- free, honest and beautiful words," fellow writer Ali Lefta Said told AFP, in reaction to the murder.
Ahmed Saadawi -- whose novel "Frankenstein in Baghdad" has scored success beyond Iraq's borders -- hit out at the culprits on his Facebook page.
"You really have to be a coward to fire a gun at someone who only has words and dreams," he wrote.
"Shame on the murderers -- and shame on the authorities, if they do not find and judge them immediately," he added.
The Union of Iraqi Writers also condemned the attack.
"The assassination of Mashzoub has hit the entire cultural circle with indignation and pain," the union’s secretary general Ibrahim al-Khayat told Diyaruna.
The crime raises concern with regard to security, especially as it has taken place in a safe city and in an old area closed to strangers that has surveillance cameras, he said.
"We ask the Interior Ministry and the Karbala police to quickly untangle the crime and arrest the murderers," he said.
"We reiterate that we want a just and swift investigation, and for the results to be presented to the public in all their details," said al-Khayat.
Mashzoub opposed Iran-backed militias
The victim is one of the most prominent Iraqi writers. Since 2008, he has published several collections of stories and novels, including: Nostalgia, Widows' Alley, A Crime on Facebook, The Chaos of the Country, and Baghdad Aging.
The writings of Mashzoub, who holds a doctorate in fine arts, were bold in presenting and criticising the country's issues and the concerns of the citizens.
He has received several Iraqi and international awards for his writing.
In addition to his literary activity, the victim participated in many popular demonstrations demanding to improve services and to fight corruption.
He was also known for his Facebook posts against Iran’s policies in Iraq and the Iranian-backed armed factions.
Mashzoub's assassination is the latest in a series of assassinations of public figures, civil activists and journalists in Iraq in recent months.
Groups linked to Tehran have been accused of being behind these assassinations.