A new era of paramilitary supremacy in Iraq
Iraq has a new prime minister, and his name is Nouri Al-Maliki.
The actual occupant of the post, Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani, is a nobody with zero parliamentary support who is entirely beholden to those who placed him in power. There are excellent reasons why hundreds of thousands of Iraqis brought Baghdad to a halt in August over Al-Sudani’s candidacy.
In 2010, when Al-Maliki was prime minister, he appointed Al-Sudani minister of human rights — at a time when there were no human rights to administer. During this black phase of Iraq’s history, Al-Maliki co-opted militia forces such as Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, the Mukhtar Army and the Imam Ali Brigades to embark on bloody sectarian purges and to assassinate journalists, activists and political opponents. Al-Maliki weaponized the judiciary against his enemies and purged Sunni fighters who had risked their lives combating terrorist groups.
As chairman of the commission for de-Baathification, Al-Sudani assisted Al-Maliki in purging hundreds of Sunnis and political rivals from administrative roles. The Iraqi Commission of Integrity estimated that $500 billion was corruptly siphoned off from the Iraqi budget during Al-Maliki’s tenure, much of which went toward funding paramilitary violence.
Such were the industrial-scale crimes against human rights and interfaith coexistence on Al-Maliki and Al-Sudani’s watch that, in 2014, Iraq disintegrated altogether and much of the country became a playground for the twin plagues of Daesh and Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi militias, which took crimes against humanity to entirely new levels of horror and cruelty.
As prime minister, Al-Sudani (a long-standing member of Al-Maliki’s Dawa party) will be solely accountable to Al-Maliki and his paramilitary Hashd allies who brought Iraq back to the brink of civil war in their dogged efforts to secure his candidacy.
A large part of the blame for this disaster for Iraqi democracy lies at the door of Muqtada Al-Sadr, who until recently had the single largest bloc in parliament. Had Al-Sadr possessed a degree of patience and political acumen, he could have overcome the Hashd’s blocking efforts and reached an understanding with the Kurds, Sunnis and independents to form a government. Instead, he threw the mother of all political tantrums, pulled his supporters out of parliament and allowed the Hashd to acquire most of the seats he vacated.
It initially seemed as if Al-Sadr possessed a winning strategy, as he flooded the Green Zone with his supporters in a bid to block Al-Sudani’s candidature and force early elections. However, he then staged one of the most humiliating climbdowns in modern political history after Tehran coerced Al-Sadr’s theological superior, Ayatollah Kadhim Al-Haeri, into withdrawing his support.
With both Al-Sudani and Rashid such weak and malleable figures, it is clear who is intended to govern Iraq next
We should not discount the extreme levels of bad blood between Al-Maliki and the Sadrists, which at times has escalated into assassinations and bloodletting among each other’s foot soldiers. In July, a recording was leaked in which Al-Maliki, among other insults, denounced Al-Sadr as “a hateful Zionist.” Temporarily reduced to enraged impotence, Al-Sadr is probably biding his time so that his next move inflicts maximum damage on an Al-Maliki-brokered administration.
Blame for this debacle also lies with the Kurdish and Sunni political factions. They know very well that Al-Maliki and the Hashd have hostile anti-democratic ambitions for Iraq, but they have allowed themselves to be divided and bought off cheaply at the cost of Iraq’s sovereignty. While the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan jostle over trivial appointments, they risk losing Iraq altogether.
Former President Barham Salih was widely seen as a trusted pair of hands. His successor, Abdul Latif Rashid — an independent Kurd whose main claim to fame is having once been water resources minister — will struggle to emerge from Salih’s shadow. With both Al-Sudani and Rashid such weak and malleable figures, it is clear who is intended to govern Iraq next. However, Al-Sudani is already struggling to put together a Cabinet, amid reports of fierce rivalry between Hashd faction leaders over who gets to benefit from key posts.
With the Hashd hemorrhaging popular support over the past year, Tehran worries about the future electability of its Iraqi puppets. Hence, plotting is certainly already afoot for how the next elections can be undermined — either by preventing them occurring at all or by seeking to dominate the aftermath.
The worst fears for Iraq are being realized and matters are set to deteriorate as militias seek to reinforce their already unwieldy presence at every level of this administration in order to exact control and extract every last corrupt dinar of public money. Outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi had acted as a vital bulwark against Hashd preeminence. Over the coming weeks, watch these militias make a bonfire of his legacy.
Yet, at this moment of apparent victory, these Hashd militias are looking nervously over their shoulders. To the east of Iraq, for the past five weeks a nationwide uprising has been gaining momentum. Tens of thousands of brave Iranian girls and women are burning their hijabs and calling for the downfall of the hated ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard commanders who control the Hashd.
The Iraqi Hashd and all Iran’s other client militias are living on borrowed time. Maybe not this year, but sometime soon, enough courageous Iranians will take to the streets to erase their hated tyrant regime once and for all.
At that moment, the Hashd, Hezbollah and the Houthis should ensure that their bags are packed and plane tickets purchased; because once their Iranian masters have been vanquished, nobody will be there to protect them from public wrath for the damage they have wreaked upon their respective homelands’ sovereignty, stability and identity.
Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.