A year after the killing of the Iranian Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Authority in Baghdad, divided Shiite factions still dominate centers of power and decision-making in Iraq, a blatant challenge to the state.
In an investigation by the French newspaper Le Monde, written by her special envoy in Iraq, Helen Salone, the reporter gave an example of what is happening in Iraq in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad, where the Shiite Hezbollah Brigades changed its name to Jurf al-Nasr to celebrate their victory over the Islamic State.
Talib al-Janabi, who is currently living in a makeshift camp in the middle of the Anbar desert, says, using the satellite location app, to the transformations that took place in Jurf al-Sakhr, as “the militias destroyed homes and then farms except in the city center they occupy. “.
The Special Envoy of Le Monde commented that no one, of the 85,000 members of the Janabi tribe who fled the city during the fight against ISIS in June 2014, not even among the Sunni officials who are following the case, can know exactly what the armed Shiite factions are doing. There, 3 years after victory over ISIS was declared.
She said, “The Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades control the area, and that even Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi cannot set foot on that city,” which has declared a “prohibited area.”
In this town, many sheikhs of the Janabi tribe were killed because of their protest, and the tribe’s sheikh, Adnan al-Janabi, contacted all successive governments, and communicated with the leaders of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran, but without success. However, the spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, Muhammad Mohi, describes everything that is said about Jarf Al-Sakhr describes it as “propaganda” and says that “the region has been destroyed as a result of the military operations, and repairing the infrastructure takes time, and when we rebuild we will see.”
A Sunni sheikh, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that “the Hezbollah Brigades are establishing a haven along the lines of southern Lebanon with Hezbollah, far from state control,” especially since Jurf al-Sakhr is located in a strategic location between Baghdad and Karbala.
The envoy of Le Monde concluded that Jurf al-Sakhr is a case that could symbolize the “state within the state” that the Iraqi Shiite factions are building, and the challenge that it poses to the Iraqi authority, taking advantage of its network in all state institutions, so that no area remains outside its influence.
These brigades depend – according to the correspondence – on countless media outlets and dozens of parliamentarians and oversight ministries, which guarantee them, within the vast network, the cronyism and corruption that afflicted Iraq, its share of public contracts.
The armistice ends
Since the end of the war against ISIS, the arrival of US President Donald Trump to the White House, his unilateral withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and his re-imposition of sanctions on Tehran, a new phase of confrontation began on Iraqi soil between what is known as the “axis of resistance” led by Iran, with the United States and its allies. Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the truce imposed by the common struggle against ISIS has ended.
The Shiite factions launched dozens of attacks on US interests in Iraq, and this confrontation nearly turned into an open war in the heart of the Iraqi capital a year ago.
In response to the Shiite factions sending thousands of supporters to besiege the US embassy in the Green Zone at the end of 2019, Trump called for a painful blow to the “axis of resistance” when an American raid targeted the drone of Soleimani’s convoy and the engineer on January 3, 2020.
In light of the double assassination, Iraqi Shiite officials agreed to denounce this “attack on Iraqi sovereignty,” and Parliament passed a non-binding resolution, calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, and the Revolutionary Guard and Iraqi factions have been seeking revenge since then in proportion to the loss they suffered.
The Iraqi politician Mishaan al-Jubouri depicts, in a caricature, the killing of Soleimani and the engineer, as killing the father who “was supervising the house with his eldest son, so that his other sons began to quarrel, while uncle Ismail Qaani does not enjoy the charisma of the father.”
And in the battle of the Caliphate – as the author describes it – Kataib Hezbollah imposed itself, and the elite unit, which includes 10,000 fighters, became a bridgehead for Iranian expansion, and the only destination to which Tehran transfers its missiles and advanced technologies, and it has acquired higher departments such as intelligence, missiles and special units.
The Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades keeps itself outside the political arena dominated by other Shiite factions, where the “Sairoun” coalition led by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and the “Al-Fateh” coalition in parliament led by Hadi al-Amiri, with more than 100 deputies, play a decisive role in choosing the prime minister.
These blocs agreed to appoint the intelligence chief, Mustafa Al-Kazemi, as the head of the government, ignoring the objection of the Hezbollah Brigades, which criticized Al-Kazemi’s proximity to Washington and his support for popular anti-corruption protests, and accused him of playing a role in the double assassination that killed Soleimani and Al-Muhandis, despite his denial of this.
The choice of this candidate led to a break in the unity of the Shiite factions in the face of protests threatening their hegemony, describing it as a “conspiracy orchestrated abroad,” after their fierce campaign against it left 568 dead and 27,000 injured between October 2019 and March 2020, according to the authorities.
“They have succeeded in silencing civil society, with 85 percent of prominent activists killed or fled. Eleven of my friends were killed,” said Muhammad Naim, a protest leader who became an advisor to al-Kazemi. “Those who are fighting them are not mafia gangs, but protected factions in parliament and government, who control the media and social networks,” he added.
Le Monde’s special envoy concluded that the state is now under the control of the factions that control 50% of security, political and economic decisions. Journalist Sarmad Al-Taie says that Al-Kazemi does not have sufficient strength to reduce its influence, noting that the killing of Soleimani and the engineer was “a big blow to these factions, but it made them more dangerous.”
On the anniversary of the first anniversary of the killing of Soleimani and the engineer, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Ismail Qaani, called for calm, and political analyst Sajjad Jiyad said, “The Iranians have an interest in ending the cycle of violence now that Trump has started leaving the White House.”
For his part, spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, Muhammad Mohi, said, “We are using all means to get the Americans out, but it is up to the government first to implement the parliament’s decision, and we will see whether the Biden administration will withdraw, otherwise the truce will end and the resistance will resume.”
Sources of income
Since his appointment in May, Al-Kazemi has appointed leaders of senior security figures loyal to the state and anti-corruption, but this – according to Mishaan al-Jubouri – is a kind of “recycling”, especially since the prime minister pledged to stop the illegal economic activities of the armed Shiite factions and restore control of centers Illegal border.
As Al-Jubouri says, “The intention is good, but it will not, because the factions can re-establish as many border posts as they want, even there are oil and gas pipelines outside the control of the state.” He lists the sources of income for these factions, from oil smuggling to construction, agriculture and shopping centers, And others.
Observers doubt the extent of popular support that Al-Kazimi enjoys, which may give him the opportunity to be re-appointed as prime minister after the elections scheduled for mid-June to fulfill his promise to place all weapons under the authority of the state, and they see that Iran alone decides to do so, and perhaps it is willing to negotiate with Biden, otherwise, the possibility of war between these factions – as Al-Jubouri says – is possible, as is the case between drug cartels in Latin America.