An entire year has passed since the last parliamentary elections and Iraq still hasn’t formed a government while the parliament remains more divided than ever. Meanwhile, the Tishreen movement, which shook the very foundations of the Iraqi State in 2019, has almost completely stalled, moving from a stage of protest actions to becoming an genuine political organization from withing the walls of the parliament, riksing its own credibility in the process.
Since the start of the protests, young Iraqis have become familiarized with alternative political systems such as those encompassed in the Tishreen movement. These kind of actors reflecting or attempting to reflect civil society were previously inaccessible to the older generations during long years of tyranny and oppression. However, today’s young activists and political thinkers are trying to be more politically active despite threats and assassination attempts by various corrupt and conservative political actors. “After the start of the Tishreen movement, we saw that young people started working together, whether it was in civil society or media, or even at gatherings in cafes where political discussions systematically came at the table,” described Haidar al Shakri, a researcher writing for the Chatham House workshop.
Meanwhile, as the Sadrists obtained a historially high score during the elections by securing 73 seats, they considered it a victory, a constitutional mandate to form the government. But they still needed a majority block (165 seats). Divisions began within the Shiite forces due to the divergence of opinions in the choice of the Prime minister, which resulted in two camps represented in the coordination framework (whose followers mostly owe allegiance to Iran) and the National Salvation Alliance (that also included Sunni and Kurdish forces) led by Muqtada al-Sadr. Through it, the Shia leader wanted to choose a Prime minister in order to ensure his movement’s leadership in the Iraqi government to come.
But it soon became apparent that Sadr was not going to reach his goal through sheer political debate. Force thus became a mean to fulfill his political agenda. But despite al-Sadr’s leadership over an armed faction called Saraya al Salam, the latter’s numbers and capabilities do not match the military power and strike force of Sadr’s rivals such as the militia parties linked to Iran. Confrontation between the two ensued, nevertheless, bringing chaos in the streets of Iraq. More than ever, the banality of militia parties among Shiite factions in Iraq fuels insecurity while regularly threatening civil peace.
Amid this chaos, it remaines extremely difficult for Tishreeni actors to weigh in the balance of power, therefore putting their credibility at stake. Civil activist Ibrahim Turki explained that the Tishreen leaders who participated in the elections benefited from the growing popular resentment against the mainstream political forces: “[t]hey did not have clear political and economic programs so their main tool for success was the usage of populist discourse, not their ability to persuade with programs and visions. It is very unfortunate that we did not see real statesmen and politicians accessing parliament from the Tishreen leaders’’, he added.
Turki expanded, describing how the behavior and statements of several Tishreen leaders do not match with the spirit of the Tishreen movement and have for many engaged in unethical actions as soon as power was in sight: “As an example, it is very well known that Alaa al-Rikabi, secretary-general of the Imtidad (Extension) movement, threatened with harsh words those who tried to discredit him, declaring that he will resort to his clanic connexions to obtain what he wants. On one occasion he referred to tribal law during his speech to justify political actions ”, Mr. Al Turki said.
According to Munqith Dagher, the MENA director and board member of Gallup International, the Tishreen movement is determined to protest again, but will only face more pressure from militias in doing so: “We may witness a counterattack by the Iranian followers, which will push the protesters of Tishreen to be closer to the Sadrists”, he analyzed.
On a different note, reflecting on the leadership of the Tishreen movement after nearly two years of politicization of its elite, Wathiq Lefta, the head of the political bureau of the Tishreen Front, considers the movement to be a genuine voice for those who seek freedom. Mr. Lefta also believes that the Sadrist public ultimately has a national agenda in accordance with the people’s objectives, which is to get rid of the corrupt political class. “There is no harm in uniting with the Sadrists”, he claimed. Also, the government today is weaker and cannot even defend itself, and an armed clash between Shiite forces was expected”, the Tishreen politician added.
The risk of populism
The Tishreen forces suffer from weakness in terms of political experience. Just as these forces failed to invest in the Tishreen public, they failed successfully to manage the Tishreen’s strong diversity: “[i]t is a fact that the Tishreen is not a party, but rather a societal trend, with wide social dimensions and cannot be limited to one homogeneous movement. The followers of Tishreen need a clear vision and real programs in order to achieve their demands. They cannot identify with the same chaotic discourses of the traditional parties among Tishreen representatives’’, Ibrahim Turki explained.
Last August, another figure of the political movement Imtidad, Dheaa Al-Hindi, who is the representative of the Karbala governorate, made a speech promoting regionalism. In it, he called on stifling immigration to Karbala from other Iraqi governorates to the city of Karbala. The deputy also called for preventing newcomer’s students from applying in Karbala’s schools if they do not have a residence card from the province.
According to dozens of newly arrived families in the city of Karbala, the registration of their children was refused by the school directorates without any legal instructions after the recent statements of al-Hindi. On this issue, Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, said “Preventing a child from education because they do not have the proper resident card is a violation of the right of childhood and the right to education stipulated in the constitution and international conventions’’.
“Is it a crime for the Iraqi citizen to travel inside his country, or does our representative fail to understand Iraqi law and constitution? It’s a crime”, stated an iraqi citizen speaking under the condition of anonymity. “How can someone unfamiliar with the Iraqi constitution be a political representative of any Iraqi governorate? ”, the citizen wondered. “It would be better for him to work on solving the problem of mass emigration related to the loss of livelihood opportunities such as the drying of the marshes in relation to government corruption”, He concluded.
Article 14 of the Iraqi constitution states, Iraqis are equal before the law without discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or opinion, or economic or social status.
Article 44 first: Iraqis have freedom of movement, travel, and residence inside and outside Iraq.
The Shiite Power Struggle
With the arrival of many Tishreen representatives to the Iraqi parliament, and following their failure to form a cohesive opposition movement, pro-Tishreen protesters are starting to disregard the upcoming elections especially as militiamen remain untouched, further discrediting Iraqi institutions. The political stall in parliament which led to the withdrawal of the Sadrist movement from Parliament only strengthen this impression: the barely constitutional withdrawal of a political faction from parliament was an attempt to bully other political factions in order to subdue them to their leader’s ambitions.
Iraqi Kurdish political researcher Shaho Al-Qaradaghi believes that with the absence of real projects for the political parties to run the State, citizens will certainly think again before going out to demonstrate asking for a change. Despair is high among many previous demonstrators, who did not see any positive outcome from the previous elections. Still, the Tishreen constitutes a unique and rare case within Iraqi society. It broke the rules that had been formulated by political actors in order to control society. These mainstream actors failed to see feelings emerging within society, which posed a real danger to their hegemony over the political process. Based on that, these parties subsequently worked at suppressing, weakening, and dismantling the Tishreen movement by targeting its most prominent leaders through intimidation or murder with the aim of blocking their transformation into effective political actors within the political system.
Mr. Al-Qaradaghi confirms that the absence of any clear leadership with the Tishreen movement is its weakest point. “This is especially true with the increase of parties claiming to represent Tishreen in order to win the sympathy of the Iraqis that identify with the movement. This means that the next political stage will bring divisions and dispersal within this movement which failed to present or achieve any real project encompassing the spirit of the October movement. Instead, the Tishreen has turned into a tool to settle scores between the major conflicting parties’’.
The conflict within the Tishreen can be reduced to two sides: one that wants to integrate the political arena and the other who wishes to oppose it from outside. This conflict reflects the division of the Tishreen public itself. In this regard, Zain al-Abdin Yousif, a political affairs analyst explained that institutional tools are crucial to resolve any social and political struggles. “The problem with the new forces is that they do not have a real vision on how to deal with the issue of weapons or its limitations. For example, factions of the Tishreen movement joined forces with one of the armed parties. This is the reality of the political process dominated by the parties, and this is also due to the absence of political vision and preoccupation with narrow minded and short lived issues’’.
According to the Economist Index for the General Survey of Democracy around the World, Iraq is ranked 8th in the Arab world and 116th globally, which is the worst result recorded by Iraq since the Economist Unit for Survey began issuing it in 2006.