Iraq may be on the verge of a Civil Strife
by Viktor Mikhin on 11 Aug 2022 0 Comment

Regrettably, Iraq is going through one of the most serious political crises since the unjustified aggression of the United States, which deliberately destroyed the state mechanism of the Arab country. Nine months after the last parliamentary elections, Iraqi politicians still have not agreed on candidates for the posts of president and prime minister. Inevitably, disagreements between politicians eventually have led to bloody street clashes. Most recently, supporters of the influential Shiite politician Muqtada al-Sadr, who claims the leadership in the country, stormed the parliament twice in a protest against the candidate put forward by a coalition of al-Sadr’s opponents. As a result, troops were called in to Baghdad, and many politicians are now speaking about the start of a fierce civil war.


Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has rightly warned that the current political impasse between political parties has caused a “great political tension” that could lead to “terrible consequences.” This statement was made amidst protests held in Baghdad by supporters of two opposing political forces. Tensions between the Sadrist movement from the Sayirun bloc and the pro-Iranian Coordination Structure (CS) have recently intensified after the Sadrist bloc left parliament last month. Thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have declared a sit-in outside parliament after days of protests that are growing and spreading to the rest of Iraq.


Supporters of the CS also held retaliatory protests in Baghdad on August 1. They tried to enter the Green Zone, where government offices and foreign embassies are located, but remained in close proximity to the concrete walls of the zone after appeals from their leaders, who asked them not to press forward. “I invite all parties to sit down at the national dialogue table to find a political solution to the current crisis,” al-Kadhimi added in his statement. He also called for the formation of a committee, which should include representatives of all relevant parties, “to draw up a roadmap for solving political problems.”


The sad legacy of the US aggression against independent Iraq, when all state institutions were destroyed, continues to take a heavy toll on Iraqi society to this day. Iraqis are in fear that the resumption of a fratricidal Shiite struggle could plunge the country into a full-scale civil war. There are hundreds of thousands of fighters and supporters on both sides with none seemingly willing to give in.


On the one side, as the Iraqi news agency Shafaq news notes, there is “corruption incarnate, i.e. the former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Iranian-backed paramilitary allies from al-Hashd al-Shaabi.” They suffered a crushing defeat in last year’s elections, but, nevertheless, sought to take over the political process and impose their choice through the use of paramilitary forces and Iranian levers to permanently dominate and exploit Iraq.


The other side is represented by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has once again demonstrated his ability to mobilize millions of supporters. Muqtada al-Sadr is a problematic figure who ushered in an era of sectarian paramilitary anarchy after 2003 with the help of his Mahdi army, which at the time had few reservations about accepting Iranian support, and which spawned many of the worst al-Hashd al-Shaabi factions.

In fact, it was al-Maliki who brutally crushed the Mahdi army in 2008. As al-Sadr re-established himself as a bulwark of Iraqi nationalists against Iranian interference, the Tehran-backed paramilitary groups and Sadrists became irreconcilable rivals, which led to numerous murders and frequent bloody clashes. The Sadrist protesters now intend to stay in the parliament building indefinitely, which only means that the confrontation will escalate. Sources within the pro-Iranian CS initially called on supporters of paramilitary groups to take to the streets in counter-demonstrations, a scenario that would cause bloodshed and, possibly, an all-out conflict.


Although later statements have rejected this call, hardliners associated with al-Maliki seem inclined to resort to force, while remaining unwilling to compromise in their determination to appoint a prime minister from their ideological camp. Al-Hashd al-Shaabi understands only the language of force, having killed about 600 demonstrators during the 2019 riots, so many fear it is only a matter of time before they try to brutally end the Sadrist uprising. The strange appearance of al-Maliki with a machine gun in his hands published in newspapers and on posters clearly signals his desire to use only force.


There is no doubt that the CS can suffer significantly if it allows the Sadrists to regain the initiative in the country. Al-Maliki initially only benefited from the departure of al-Sadr and his supporters from parliament. If they now allow the cleric and his supporters to initiate new elections, their current unpopularity among Shiite voters risks rendering them politically useless and jeopardizing their ability to protect their hefty share of the state budget, from which salaries are paid to their numerous paramilitary groups.


It is undoubtedly most convenient for al-Sadr to act from the opposition side, while flooding Baghdad with supporters or condemning his “corrupt” rivals. Previously, he openly resorted to the use of force by storming the Green Zone in 2016 and demanding reforms, which were then blocked by groups loyal to al-Maliki. In 2019, al-Sadr initially joined the protest movement, but then changed his position and sent his paramilitary detachments precisely to suppress the protests. Hence the reluctance of activists from other ideological camps to join the Sadrists this time. But beyond his desire to outsmart al-Maliki, does al-Sadr have a clear idea of what his ultimate goal is? And is he able to unite Sunnis, Kurds and progressives in his efforts to reform the current political system of Iraq, which was brutally imposed by the United States?


Internal Shiite tensions intensified after the leak of audio recordings in which al-Maliki called al-Sadr an “ignorant, hateful Zionist” and his pro-Iranian paramilitary allies “cowards.” Al-Maliki’s comments, which are considered to constitute “death threats” and “incitement to civil war,” are currently being investigated by Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council.  Pro-Iranian groups enjoy little support from the population. Nevertheless, they number some 150,000 people, generously finance the paramilitary coalition al-Hashd al-Shaabi, and will not give up their positions without a fight. With the help of his militia, al-Sadr can easily mobilize more than 50,000 fighters, so bloodshed between Shiites is quite possible, since no one wants to give in.


It should be emphasized that for now, the armed and security forces are guarding the constitution of the country and try not to interfere in the political struggle, no matter how fierce it may be. After the troops entered Baghdad, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense stressed that the army forces are at the service of the people, and the duty of the security forces is to protect the demonstrators, as well as public and private property. The representative of the Ministry stressed that “the duty of the security forces is to protect demonstrators, protect public and private property, prevent any security violations and tighten the noose on malefactors who are trying to use the situation to undermine security.”


Iraqi media close to the Ministry of Defense published a number of articles and comments stating that the security and military departments have proved their loyalty to Iraq under any circumstances and do not interfere in political affairs. They emphasized that the duty of the security forces is to prevent security violations and restore basic order in the interests of the entire people, not just individual politicians.


Can al-Sadr be trusted, and will he remain committed to his stated principles? This question is asked by the Kurdish web portal Rudaw. This is all that matters at this stage. What cannot be allowed is attempts by selfish politicians to preserve the failed status quo, the web portal concludes.


Secularists, Sunnis, Christians and Kurds should seize the moment to make demands for reforms and the governance system that represents them. Impoverished Iraqis have the right to demand, the Shafaq news agency quite rightly believes, why, despite Iraq’s vast oil wealth, their corrupt and incompetent leaders cannot provide basic social services for the population, primarily reliable electricity or good drinking and irrigation water. The Coordination Structure is a tiny faction within another huge association, and it can and should be left behind, concludes Shafaq news. But this will happen only if the Iraqis, despite their religious differences, make a united stand and claim back their rights to a democratic, prosperous and sovereign future of the country.


Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”. Courtesy 

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