It seems that the measures taken by the Iraqi government, headed by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, to limit the power of armed militias are facing several difficulties. Recently, security forces arrested one of the leaders of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Qassim Musleh, based on accusations that he was involved in the attacks on US bases in Iraq, as well as the assassination of activist Ihab Al-Wazzani, who was known for his sharp criticism of the PMF and was assassinated by gunmen in the city of Karbala. However, Musleh was released on June 9, under the pretext of “insufficient evidence,” while sources say that there was pressure on the Iraqi judiciary to release Musleh, especially since active figures in the pro-Iranian movement, such as Qais Hadi Al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, considered the arrest a “malicious attempt to confuse the security situation to postpone the elections and form an emergency government,” a position that reflects the viewpoint of a wide range of leaders of the armed factions loyal to Iran.
The lack of sufficient evidence is normal in a country like Iraq where the central government is weak and has suffered for many years from the terrorism of Al-Qaeda and Daesh, and many ministers and officials in successive governments were accused of financial and administrative corruption. The government has been further weakened by the presence of a large number of armed militias, which have become the “shadow government,” and they have their own economic cycle, social system, satellite channels and active websites on social networks, as well as the necessary funding to implement their projects, such as the support that comes through the Iranian Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, the financial shares that the armed militias take from the budgets of government agencies that they run, and their control of many border crossings, which enables them to control the smuggling of oil, fuel and illegal imports, and associate with cross-border transport networks.
If we add to this the armed militias use of religion as a means to promote their cause and mobilize the masses, the observer will discover how difficult is the task that Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi seeks to achieve.
The leaders of the militias loyal to Iran are exploiting the Iraqis’ fear and anxiety about Daesh to gain more space and permanence in controlling parts of the Iraqi state.
Slogans such as “holy defense,” “protecting religious sites” or “defending Shiite Muslims against extremist takfiris” are all tools used by armed militias, taking advantage of the bad memory of Iraqis, who seem to have forgotten how Daesh seized large areas of Iraq, amid the collapse of the national army and the complicity of many corrupt security leaders, which helped Daesh advance dangerously and quickly.
The leaders of the militias loyal to Iran are exploiting the Iraqis’ fear and anxiety about Daesh to gain more space and permanence in controlling parts of the Iraqi state. Even though the threat of Daesh has receded, the Iraqi army has become stronger, and the National Guard, the Counter-Terrorism Forces and the Iraqi Intelligence can now confront the threats of Salafist terrorist organizations, dismantle their cells and thwart many of their operations before they are carried out.
However, despite the release of Qassim Musleh, which is being promoted as a victory for pro-Iranian groups, the Iraqi government sent a clear message by arresting Musleh that it is serious about enforcing the law and that it is working on that, although it is practicing a patient policy with clear goals. The Iraqi government will seek to gather more evidence, be more strict and protect the judiciary from the influence of foreign and partisan interference as much as possible.
In this environment, the seventh anniversary of Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s fatwa of “sufficient jihad,” in which he called on able Iraqis to take up arms to defend Iraq, its people and its sanctities, approached.
Al-Sistani’s fatwa was precise. He called for volunteering in the official security forces, and not outside them.
Many believe that the partisan groups loyal to the regime in Iran took advantage of the fatwa in a way that was not acceptable to Al-Sistani. These groups formed military organizations, some of which committed violations against Iraqis. This is what prompted Al-Sistani more than once to stress that arms should be confined to the Iraqi state only.
• Hassan Al-Mustafa is a Saudi writer and researcher interested in Islamic movements, the development of religious discourse, and the relationship between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Iran. Twitter: @Halmustafa
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