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The struggle for power between the ruling families in Iraq

November 9, 2021 at 9:20 pm

A man stands on a poster laid on the ground depicting Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, labelled in Arabic “head of strife”on November 9, 2021 [HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images]

How can we understand what is currently happening in Iraq in terms of the violence, in the form of sabotage and fighting with live bullets or booby-trapped drones that occurred in the wake of elections that were marketed as one of the fairest and transparent elections that Iraq has known, since its invasion in 2003?

And which were welcomed, globally, as the highest stages of the “democratic political process” established by the US and the UK with the participation of Iraqi parties and figures, and were blessed by dozens of countries and human rights organisations around the world?

What about the parties that mobilised for the elections as if they were the magic solution to all problems, but then turned around and rejected them in their entirety through protests and attacks on the security forces as soon as the results indicated that they did not win the elections?

Is it arrogance resulting from backing from abroad or is it the natural progress of the growth of a hybrid seed, which was planted outside of its soil, with the help of artificial hormones?

This is the harvest: an unrecognised crop due to its excessive deformation, even by its cultivator, and the field in which the invaders’ seeds were scattered has nothing to do with the organic growth recognised by nature.

To distance themselves from corruption and those who represent it, most Iraqis chose to boycott the elections, with the exception of a percentage of the protesters in the October uprising, leaving the arena for those fighting over sectarian and ethnic quotas, and financial and administrative corruption, which can be divided into two types. The first type includes parties that have had a long history, nearly twenty years, in representing either American or Iranian politics on their behalf, in addition to rooting their own interests and ambitions. Among these parties is the Dawa Party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, the National Wisdom Movement (Al-Hikma), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The second type includes the armed militias that have been legalised as parties, after they multiplied at the speed of a virus, with the increase in loyalty to this party or that, and with the diversification of their weapons sources, becoming more powerful and controlling the street more than the government. It won the support of the (mother) parties that it needed to eliminate any resistance to the occupation, as well as eliminated the new generation of the sons of the October uprising demanding a homeland.

Among the most prominent militia parties is Alliance Towards Reforms or Sairoon (the face of Saraya Al-Salam, known as the Sadrist movement) and the Popular Mobilisation forces, which consists of 45 factions, most notably Hezbollah / Iraq, and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq. All of them, without exception, are responsible for crimes, sectarian violations and cleansing campaigns, documented by numbers and dates, in many local and international human rights reports, including the UN Human Rights Council.

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While the protesters are demonstrating against losing the elections and threatening to storm the “Green Zone” and, with the escalation of violence between them and the security forces, Muqtada Al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement, who won fewer seats than he expected (73 instead of 120 out of a total of 329), and although it was more than the other blocs, took a step that aligns with his usual funny and sad record in crisis-resolution. “His Eminence” interrupted his visit to the capital, Baghdad, to denounce the unjustified violence and the deliberate weakening of the state, as stated in a statement by his office.

Perhaps the best approach to understanding the current conflict, with its tragic-comedic character, including resorting to physical liquidations, extortion and hiring protection, between families belonging to the same sect, and following, or claiming to follow, the same reference, is found in the movie The Godfather.

The film shows the struggle of mafia families and their fierce fighting and intimidation of others, to seize money, whatever its source and power whatever the means, and to explore the nature of power, and the difference between what can be called legitimate and illegitimate authority, between the authority of the state, legitimate institutions and the authority of the Mafia. The struggle of mafia families, as in the parties of Iraq today, which are, in fact, families that act as parties with tribal values, is not without the concept of honour inherited within members of one family, in parallel with secret alliances and blocs with the rest of the families, and the commercial and political deals they may bring one family or another.

An example of the manoeuvres and meetings taking place now in Baghdad between the regime’s parties and militias to share political centres and the money they generate is the famous meeting that took place in 1948, between the heads of mafia families, in New York, after the murder of the son of the mafia godfather, Vito Corleone. The meeting was held to mediate and bring peace between the warring families of Corleone and Tattaglia. The meeting was presided over by a mediator, and Vito soon realised that the other families had secretly allied with each other to force the Corleone family to share with them the political protection the family had obtained by agreement with members of Congress, the security men and the police.

The main disagreement between the families was over the growing drug trade, which Vito opposed. Vito reluctantly agreed to share his political influence to protect the drug trade, to end the Five Families War. While Corleone had failed to legitimise the Mafia, his youngest son, after his inheritance, succeeded in doing so by brutally eliminating his opponents. This brings us to a point of similarity with the rivalries and strife of the family parties that are now led by the sons of the generation of the first founders, such as the Sadr, Hakim, and Al-Khoei families and, to a lesser extent, Barzani and Talabani, with political and military protection from America and Iran.

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As if the election fighting was not enough, the fuss of the assassination attempt on Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was added to the plight of the Iraqi people, making him the centre of the world’s attention, which was the goal for the elections. It led to condemnatory reactions led by the countries that commit acts of terrorism on Iraqi soil. Iran was quick to blame “foreign parties” at the same time, while the US condemned it as a terrorist act targeting the Iraqi state, which raises the question of what state are they talking about? Why was there an assassination attempt when Al-Kadhimi had finished his mission and was supposed to have packed his bag to join his family residing outside Iraq, as did Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the Prime Minister who preceded him?

What is the solution? I quote here a sentence by the Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta, the author of “Atlas of Palestine”, which documents the Palestinian cities and villages demolished by the Israeli occupation as an answer to a question about the future. What he said almost exactly applies to Iraq, as he said, “The process has begun to eliminate us by using Palestinian people who claim that they represent us, and this is the major disaster. Now, all we have are the youth, who are being martyred every day and killed in cold blood; the time has come to clean the Palestinian house with a democratic broom; to remove all corruption, our people deserve much better than the situation now.”

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 8 November 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.