State and non-state conflict in Iraq

Firas Elias

Translated by Shaimaa Behery

Phase Operation conducted by Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services last June by raiding a stronghold of Hezbollah-backed militia, while planning and preparing for swooping on a US troops’ site located in Baghdad International Airport, could shed the light on the complicated relation between Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Hezbollah- backed militia. Actually, rivalry between both sides began early days after murder of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Forces and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. This is because Hezbollah militia blamed murder of both figures on Kadhimi as he was the head of Iraqi Intelligence that time. They claimed that he leaked information to the US intelligence about their whereabouts.

That’s why the pro-Iran factions, topped by Hezbollah-backed militia, expressed resentment towards Kadhimi’s nomination to preside the new cabinet.  They deemed such candidacy as betrayal to Suleimani’s and al-Muhandi’s blood. They even escalated their anger by number ofmissile attacks on US bases in Iraq. However, they accepted him after a dramatic transition in the Iranian policy in Iraqwas marked when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Kahmenei called for appeasement with US troops in Iraq until fate of President Donald Trump be clarified in next US presidential elections. From his side, Kadhimi visited premises of Iranian Militias (IMIS)last July and tried to send assurance messages to them, but factions’ leaders still doubt him especially after the Phase operation.

Seriously escalating their stance towards Kadhimi, Hezbollah-backed militia assassinated the Iraqi researcher Hesham al-Hashemi, which highlighted the challenge Kadhimi’s cabinet is currently facing embodied in this party. Although results of investigations in this issue haven’t been uncovered yet, there are several evidences prove involvement of Hezbollah-backed party in this assassination. The most notably evidence is the threat from party’s spokesman Abul Ali al-Askari to al-Hashemi earlier. More deeply, assassination of Hashemi was committed under complicated security, economic and health circumstances Kadhimi’s government was confronting and amid clear intentions of Hezbollah-backed militiasto suppress Kadhimi’s power in order not to repeat the Phase operation. Besides, there are attempts to bring life back to the Iranian influence in Iraq by raising the ceiling of confrontation with Kadhimi, rather, there is a probabilistic coup d’état against him at no time, replicating the Huthi scenario in Yemen in 2014.

Indeed, the Phase Operation has revealed the power and authority of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he played a vital role in pushing Hezbollah militia out the green zone after they had forcibly entered it as an angry response to the detention of some party’s members, which pointed to Maliki’s influence on the presidential delegations existed in the green zone whom he appointed during his reign.No previous prime minister could drive them out of the zone or even affect their loyalty.

Moreover, It is reported that there are some factors of Hezbollah-backed militia in a military building behind the Prime Ministry premises. This building was owned by the Arab United Emirates and currently embraces 2000 factors equivalent to the SWAT who can swoop the headquarter of Kadhimi any time. This prompted the US to activate the air defense systems C-RAM in the green zone, above the embassy of the US who believes that Iraqi government won’t be able to protect the embassy’s venue in case the pro-Iran militia wages destructive rocket attacks on it.

In fact, the stage followed the assassination of al-Mohandis revealed the dispersion level factions of Iranian militias have reached. For example, there are some factions take Ali al-Sistani as a religious reference while other follow Ali al-Khamenei. What’s more, there are divisions among these factions themselves due to the supremacy of Khamenei- affiliated groups inside the militia. Despite the efforts exerted by Kadhimi to end such disputes among theseIranian factions, there is an Iranian intention to not lose the privileges gained through al-Mohandis especially those benefitson religious, intelligence and financial levels, which led the Sistani-affiliated factions to move its properties from the IMIS premises to the Iraqi Defense Ministry last April, which strongly uncovered the volume of controversy inside the IMIS.

It seems that Kadhimi should achieve some administrative and legal reforms away from the direct confrontation policy with Hezbollah militias. The reforms shall be topped with leaving the post of the Commander –In-Chief of the Armed Forces and to appoint an uncontroversial military leader supported by Najaf reference. This step can be the first on the way of controlling these factions and its arms. Kadhimiis also required to leave that approach of weapons restriction being under the authority of the state and to rather control it by freezing the current situation of the IMIS till after having a strategic dialogue with the US .

Kadhimi’s government also has to support the voices calling to internationalizing Hashemi assassination issue as it will be a shining beacon in the file of human rights violations in Iraq. It can be also an important step in the way of opening the file of assassination of several activists and politicians by the hand of these factions. In this regard, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underlined on 9th of July the necessity of knowing those who stand behind the assassination and to bring them to justice, which referred to a new and important trend in the file of human rights that can prevent such crimes to reoccur in the future

Definitely, Kadhmi realizes well that reforming the security sector can’t be without reconsidering the armed militias’ situation in the structure of the Iraqi political system; rather, it can be the beginning of the process of demolishing the non-state status in Iraq. This is what the armed militias has been aware of, especially those close to Iran, after latest visit of Kadhimi to Tehran. They understand the negative repercussions of this step on their presence in Iraq under the current hard conditions Iran living on security, political and economic levels.

On this ground, the conflict between the state and non-state approaches in Iraq is likely to inflame in the near future especially with Kadhimi’s last call for early elections next June. The call that most armed militias refused due to their awareness of the challenge they are about to meet. This made most militias mobilize their forces inside Baghdad during last few days, which uncovers their intention to stand against any governmental trend thatmight curb them. Indeed, this poses a bunch of scenarios about the way Kadhimiwillpursue to deal with the non-state tools in Iraq.






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