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Iraq PM faces backlash over attempt to block Shia militias from elections

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks at the United States Institute of Peace on ties with the US in Washington, USA on March 20, 2017 [Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency]
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks at the United States Institute of Peace on ties with the US in Washington, US on March 20, 2017 [Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi is facing an enormous backlash from his own parliamentary bloc for making statements against the participation of paramilitary Shia militias in local elections this coming September.

A source within the ruling bloc, known as the National Alliance, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that an important segment of the Shia political alliance opposed Al-Abadi’s remarks made in Washington in a recent diplomatic visit, stating that representatives of Shia militias should not be involved in the upcoming elections.

Speaking yesterday at the first meeting between 68 countries in the US-led anti-Daesh coalition since President Donald Trump was elected, Al-Abadi said:

[The PMF] will not participate in the upcoming local elections, nor will they participate in the political process, as they have now become a part of the Iraqi state apparatus.

According to the unnamed source, however, members of the National Alliance accused Al-Abadi of “insulting” and not acknowledging “the sacrifices” of the Baghdad-sanctioned Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a coalition of largely sectarian Iran-backed Shia militias.

Maliki power grab?

Former premier Nouri Al-Maliki is reportedly behind the moves against Al-Abadi. Al-Maliki is the leader of Al-Abadi’s Shia Islamist Dawa Party and controls the State of Law Coalition, part of the National Alliance. Al-Maliki has been angling for a re-entry into Iraqi politics at Al-Abadi’s expense after he was forced out as a divisive and sectarian figure in 2014 following his government’s failure to prevent Mosul from falling to Daesh militants.

According to Al-Araby, Al-Maliki believes that the PMF and other Shia militias should participate in elections due to their “popularity” amongst the Shia electorate.

However, the anonymous source criticised Al-Maliki’s moves, pointing to the PMF’s official status within the Iraqi state:

The pressures from Al-Maliki’s camp were faced by another view from Al-Abadi’s supporters in the National Alliance that calls for the PMF to not participate in the elections after the organisation became a part of the formal security apparatus.

 The source within the National Alliance said that calls were made from within Al-Abadi’s camp for the PMF to remain politically inert and to distance themselves from political divisions and brinksmanship.

PMF participation ‘illegal’

At the anti-Daesh summit held in Washington yesterday, Al-Abadi said that he would “not allow for anyone outside of the military establishment to bear arms,” adding that the ultimate objective for Iraqi political parties should be “the eradication of the terrorist Daesh organisation, irrespective of political differences.”

Mirroring his prime minister’s stance, National Alliance MP Jasim Mohammed Ja’afar said yesterday the PMF was a military formation that was not under the control of any one political party, and it “did not have a right to contest the elections.”

According to the Shia MP, the “PMF law”, as the legislation that formalised the Shia jihadist organisation is known, confirms that the PMF is subservient to the state and is part of the security forces. Ja’afar further argued:

No military institution has a right to nominate candidates for elections, or even to participate in the political process…No military personnel can nominate themselves as candidates for provincial councils or parliament.

 Earlier, another Al-Maliki rival, militant cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, said that the PMF “should not be used for political advantage” otherwise it would lead to “the transformation of Iraq into a country governed by the military and the militias.”

Despite Al-Maliki’s moves, the Iraqi Electoral Commission confirmed that it was illegal for the PMF to involve itself in politics, saying that the PMF was not eligible to participate in the political process and was not entitled to field candidates as it was part of the security and military establishment.

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