As the tension does not seem to wane in Iraq as the Sadrist militant fall back once again from the Green zone. As Iraq’s top militia-backed political rivals count their gains and losses, the streets of Iraqi cities are once again filled with blood, destruction and chaos, while governmental institutions threaten to collapse after yet another round of disputes where the rule of law is flouted with no consequences for those who ignited the fire. Still, a close look at the rivalry will help us understand where the ongoing tension emanates from.
In Iraq, the dispute between Muqtada al-Sadr and Nouri al-Maliki has manifested in minute detail and images, revealing the depth of the 15-year conflict between the two Shia leaders. This dispute, which now threatens to escalate into “armed conflict,” has never been a purely internal affair. Rather, Iranian security institutions have played a major role in it, institutions which themselves are competing between themselves.
This crisis, concerning early results of the October 2021 elections, constituted a major turning point in this conflict, as both al-Sadr and al-Maliki fully exploited it to settle old scores, in what seemed as something akin to a blood feud. This coincided with major transformations in Iran represented by the ascendency to power of Ebrahim Raisi, considered a close affiliate and great supporter of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. This is also a first in Iran, that a candidate so close to the IRGC reaches the helm of the presidency, after it was long confined to the hands of the reformist and conservative currents, and the position often goes to personalities It is linked to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (VAJA).
After decades of its role being purely military, and controlled through its leaders in regional countries, the arrival of the IRGC to power in Iran soon had repercussions in Iraq which had an opportunity to manifest in the recent Iraqi elections. The Iraqi bloc most loyal to the IRGC suffered a loss, represented by the so-called Coordination Framework consisting of The State of Law Coalition and the Fatah Alliance which includes the political structures of armed factions (or Hashed al Shaabi). Yet, despite an electoral loss, this political bloc held onto power at the expense of the election winners, namely the Sadrist bloc affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr and parties allied with him, which have links to VAJA.
Osama al-Saidi, Professor of Political Science at Nahrain University, explains to The Red Line the current shifts in the Shia political landscape, and the relationship between Al-Sadr and Al-Maliki, saying that “political differences between them are not new, and each party has a different discourse and vision at the level of their popular base and in their approach to public affairs.”
He added that, “Particularly, the Shia political landscape has witnessed great partisan turmoil and the emergence of new parties, after traditional ones began to lose influence. The new generation that has emerged recently, and did not live through the former regime of Saddam Hussein, is looking for a new vision and new discourse, and this is what led to the deepening of differences among Shia parties.”
Professor al-Saidi asserted that, “The differences between al-Sadr and al-Maliki date back to the beginning of al-Maliki’s assumption of his first government leadership, and to the military and security operations that took place, and the law enforcement procedures of the time, all of which which generated these differences.” He added that, “The main reason behind the persistence of this dispute between al-Sadr and al-Maliki and its escalation is the lack of a real opportunity for reconciliation on the personal level between the two men.” The two parties are still engaged in mutual political competition, and as such the state of disagreement remains at a continuous peak, and is renewed with each election.”
Al-Saidi ended by saying, “With regard to putting an end to differences between the two parties, a natural development would be the fading of one of the two parties from the scene, as the persistence of the crisis is primarily due to the two parties remaining in the political scene at once.”
The dispute between al-Sadr and al-Maliki dates back to 2007 when the Sadrist movement’s ministers withdrew from government in protest of al-Maliki’s refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from the country, something whose significance was understated by al-Maliki.
Only a year later, the dispute intensified when al-Maliki, during his first term as prime minister, launched a large-scale military operation in Basra and other southern provinces. During the course of the campaign, known as Operation Knight’s Charge, hundreds of members of Sadr’s movement were killed or arrested in a large-scale military confrontation that lasted several weeks. At the time, the operation was conducted under the pretext of “maintaining security and rule of law” in those areas, but observers confirmed that the struggle for influence was the primary driver for the military escalation.
After parliamentary elections held in March 2010, al-Sadr strongly opposed al-Maliki’s renewal for a second term, but Iranian pressure exerted on al-Sadr (who was present in Iran) and other political forces, led to agreement to a second al-Maliki government, during which the tension between the two persisted.
In 2011, al-Sadr returned to his home in Al-Hannanah district of Najaf, southern Iraq, after four years spent in Iran.
Disagreements between the two parties resurfaced after deputies from the Sadrist Al-Ahrar Bloc participated in a move to interrogate and dismiss al-Maliki in 2012, against a backdrop of accusations of corruption and misuse of power.
After the fall of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to ISIS in 2014, the Sadrists accused al-Maliki of enabling the terrorist organization to take control of a third of Iraq’s territory.
Al-Sadr was a supporter of Haider al-Abadi assuming the prime ministership of the government formed in 2014, which angered al-Maliki who was seeking a third term of office.
Al-Sadr, whose bloc Marching Towards Reform (Saairun) topped the 2018 elections, set conditions described as “impossible” for al-Maliki’s participation in a government formed without the State of Law Coalition.
The dissonance between the two sides continued until the elections that took place on October 10, 2021, and the election campaigns witnessed threats and threats from both sides.
After the overwhelming victory of the Sadrists, who obtained more than double what Maliki’s coalition obtained (34 seats), al-Sadr confirmed his intention to form a “national majority” government that does not include al-Maliki, according to leaks of meetings that brought him together with a “coordinating framework” that includes al-Maliki and other forces objecting to the election results. , which indicated that al-Sadr categorically rejects any presence of al-Maliki in the new government.
What Role for Iran?
In light of these facts and the successive crises taking place in Iraq, in which the masses were used extensively by the two sides of the conflict, the strategic expert Hatem Al-Falahi explained in his interview with the “Red Line” website, that “the Iranian influence in Iraq, especially the military wing in Iran, has received major blows. And consecutively, starting with the popular movement in 2019 (the October uprising), which was met with an armed response by armed factions linked to Iran, which led to these factions losing their mass bases, and also received the second blow with the assassination of the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Authority Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
And he continues, “The third blow to Iranian influence came in the October elections, in which the forces loyal to it lost in the elections, and their level of influence declined significantly, at the expense of other forces’ victory.”
And he continues, “The dispute between al-Sadr and al-Maliki is very old, and attempts were made previously to contain the dispute, and al-Maliki at the time received a second government mandate, but the dispute remained rooted, and what happened now, is that al-Sadr’s announcement of his intention to form a national majority government, angered al-Maliki, who found that Al-Sadr will monopolize power, and this will significantly reduce Iranian influence.”
Al-Falahi explains that “the coordinating framework has great and wide relations with Iran, whether intelligence, military or political. On the other hand, Al-Sadr has good relations with Iran, but they are not at the level of the relations of the “framework”, and most of Al-Sadr’s relations are religious, so his reference is in the city of Qom.”
On the other hand, he continues, “Al-Sadr’s current insistence on preventing the framework from forming a government comes from his fear that the coordination framework will control the entire state, and this will be used to uproot the Sadrist movement in the future, so he is trying to prevent this from happening.”
He continues his speech that “Iran, after the results of the past elections, took many steps to preserve its influence in Iraq, especially after Ibrahim Raisi came to power, and he is considered a great supporter of the Revolutionary Guard and is linked to it. Therefore, the first move was to direct the coordination framework towards questioning the elections, and from Then the targeting of American military bases and the targeting of Erbil by the armed factions, and the third move came on the Federal Court, through the interpretation that was issued regarding the presidential election session, which led to the formation of (the guarantor third).
He asserts that “there have been many controversial decisions in the recent period, prompted by Iran, which was not satisfied with changing the rules of the political game in Iraq, and is trying to maintain its influence at any cost.”
Developments and Facts
Since late last month, supporters of the Sadrist movement have been camping in the parliament building, until they left and turned their sit-in to its surroundings and near its gate. This move came after al-Sadr directed his 73 deputies to withdraw from Parliament.
After al-Sadr withdrew from Parliament, the coordination framework directed to form the government and opened channels of dialogue with other blocs, until he presented his candidate for its presidency, Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, who is one of the closest personalities to al-Maliki, although he resigned from the Dawa Party in 2019 during the height of the protests at the time.
What the Sadrist movement announces is that the popular movement of its masses is a protest against the Sudanese choice to head the government, but soon the movement’s slogans began to gradually change, and shifted from rejecting the Sudanese candidacy to preventing the framework from forming a government, then the demands reached the dissolution of Parliament and the holding of early elections.
Al-Sadr, during the past hours, called for the movement of millions of demonstrations, as he described it, to support his protest movement, in conjunction with a sit-in implemented by the coordination framework at the walls of the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
Previously, the coordinating framework had formed what he called the “guarantor third”, through which it impeded the achievement of the legal quorum for holding the session to elect the president of the republic, based on the interpretation of the Federal Court, which stipulated that holding the session must be achieved by two-thirds of the number of members of the Council, which is 220 A deputy, which no political party has achieved so far.
Destruction of the Country
Political analyst Ali Al-Baydar said to the “Red Line” website, “The idea that there are two wings in Iran, and each of them has a line, I am not very much with it. It considers Iraq as part of its plan to spread the Islamic revolution and part of the Persian Empire.”
Al-Baydar continues, “The differences in the Iranian parties’ dealing with Iraq may be with tools, as the Revolutionary Guard tends to violence, cruelty and militarism, unlike Al-Atfaat, which uses soft power and temptations, but in general, every association with Iran by Iraqi parties is not in the interest of the country and building its institutions and development. society, rather it reflects negatively on the country.”
He explains that “Al-Sadr is religiously linked to Iran, so his reference is the Iranian city of Qom, so this link may include political directives, while there is no clear link for Al-Maliki with Iran. It is linked to parties close to Iran, and it cannot be asserted that it is directly linked to Iran.”