The Iraq Report: Iraq becoming a theocratic rump state

The Iraq Report: Iraq becoming a theocratic rump state
Analysis: Welcome to The New Arab's weekly digest of events in Iraq
7 min read
27 July, 2017
The Iraq Report is a new weekly feature at The New Arab.

Click here to receive The Iraq Report each week in your inbox

In the aftermath of the Mosul battle, glimmers of the true scale of the mass destruction in Iraq’s second city are slowly emerging, there are increasing signs that the country is veering towards sectarian theocratic rule as an Iranian rump state. Not only does Iran wield controlling influence over Iraq’s most powerful entities, it has also been the recipient of some lucrative defence contracts.


In the wake of victory having been declared over the Islamic State group in Mosul by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Shia Islamist politicians and militant groups have demonstrated that they are returning to their old, pre-IS ways - and with gusto. With sectarian murders, corruption, smuggling and assassinations once more on the rise, there are serious concerns that Iranian proxies are tearing up Iraq for personal gain.


Ascendant Shia Islamist militancy


Shia Islamist militias with pro-Iran leanings have been increasing their activities across Iraq, conducting numerous abductions, assassinations and even “arresting” hundreds of people seemingly without judicial oversight. Their activities are frequently linked to crimes more traditionally associated with organised crime gangs, such as human trafficking and drug smuggling.


In an exclusive exposé, The New Arab revealed shocking details showing how hundreds of Iraqis had been abducted and killed in a drawn-out spate of attacks in Babil governorate in central Iraq over the past two years. The New Arab’s report showed the sheer scale of Shia militant abuses, and revealed the identities of hundreds of victims who were either killed or forcibly disappeared, with approximately 2,000 others whose fate remains unknown.

[Click to enlarge]


The report exposed how the majority of attacks occurred in towns and cities just south of the capital, Baghdad, and is further evidence of the continuing sectarian “cleansing” across the country. Sunni Arabs, dissenters and activists have been the target of these abuses, with the report exposing the local authorities’ involvement, as well as security forces other than Shia militants.


The report of sectarian cleansing in Babil is the latest in a string of reports that show how Sunni Arab areas, particularly those close to sensitive sites, major cities or the Iranian border have been subjected to wide-scale abuses. In 2016, Al Jazeera revealed that Samarra – another Sunni-majority city but with religious significance to the Shia – was being cleansed of its Sunnis by pro-Iranian groups to ensure no “undesirables” could pose a threat to Iran’s expansionism.


Such actions, and the lack of any political will to stop them, has led to officials in former IS hotspots to pessimistically predict the return of IS, or worse.

Iraqi rescue workers search for the bodies of victims in the rubble of West Mosul's Zanjili district [AFP]


Tehran commands, Baghdad obeys


Meanwhile, the Iraqi authorities have been preparing to move on IS-held Tal Afar, west of Mosul, and have reportedly finalised plans to move on the Turkmen-majority city soon. However, Iran has insisted that the operation involve the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group of primarily pro-Tehran Shia militant groups now an official arm of the Iraqi armed forces.


The PMF, also known as the Hashd al-Sha’abi in Arabic, or simply the Hashd, have been accused of widespread human rights abuses and atrocities by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations since they were established following a fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, an Iranian cleric residing in Iraq, and Shia Islam’s highest authority.


The PMF were supposed to have been excluded from operations to retake Mosul in order to minimise the sectarianisation of the recapture of the largely Sunni Arab city, but PMF banners were spotted throughout the almost nine-month campaign, and are an ubiquitous sight around the city today, with the Federal Police – who were used extensively throughout the campaign – being largely staffed by members of the Shia Islamist Badr Organisation, also a component faction of the PMF.


Such large-scale institutionalisation of the PMF within Iraqi military and political structures has been pushed extensively by Iran, which views the PMF as a force that it can rely on separately to the traditional army. Its influence has become such that politicians, including Prime Minister Abadi, have been forced to acknowledge the PMF’s pre-eminence and its status, with Abadi recently declaring: “The Hashd is from us, and we are from them.”


Iranian influence on security affairs was further highlighted when Iraqi officials and Shia religious leaders were spotted alongside senior commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps at funeral processions in Najaf honouring Iraqi Shia militants who had died fighting in Syria. The funerals, which took place over the weekend, were for Iraqi Hizballah militants killed in fighting near the Lebanese border, and were attended by Abdulwahhab al-Ta’i, a senior adviser to the Iraqi interior ministry, controlled by Badr.


These relations are also formalised by such deals as the defence pact signed by Iraq and Iran on Sunday to boost military cooperation “in the fight against terrorism”. However, these agreements are seen by some analysts as being similar to deals cut between the Syrian regime and Russia or Iran, with Moscow and Tehran benefiting more than Damascus or Baghdad.

Lyon's Archbishop Cardinal Philippe Barbarin places a statue of the Virgin Mary on the wall of the church of the Holy Spirit in east Mosul,
having previously hailing the 'rebirth' of Iraq's devastated main Christian town, Qaraqosh.
Read more about how Iraq's women are leading the rebuilding of Qaraqosh [AFP]


Drugs, child abuse and corruption


An expenses scandal has rocked Iraqi social media, with activists and commentators furious at what they deem to be widespread corruption across the Iraqi political class. Some of the expenses claimed by Humam Hamoudi, a cleric and an MP with the pro-Tehran Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, were leaked, showing how the lawmaker had used 100,000,000 dinars (more than $85,000) to refurbish his home.


Iraqi lawmakers already enjoy hefty pay packets, as well as access to funds for their expenses, including the hiring of an entire retinue of armed guards. Many MPs hire family members as “bodyguards” in a trend that has led to accusations - since the US-led invasion in 2003 - that Iraq’s political class uses state funds to enrich themselves and their families while normal Iraqis struggle.


About a third of Iraq’s population lives below the poverty line, with most areas affected by power and water cuts, with minimal access to sanitation facilities. This is aside from those areas of Iraq most heavily affected by years of intense fighting, where the UN says about 3.4 million people, or about 10 percent of the country’s population, have been internally displaced, with 11 million needing humanitarian assistance.


Iraqis have responded with fury, accusing politicians of letting the country go to waste as they pocket vast sums from the public purse. A major recurring concern is the state of the major port city of Basra, one of Iraq’s most important cities that plays a vital role in the energy sector and as Iraq’s only access to the sea at the mouth of the strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway.


Once an affluent and well-developed city, Basra is now a hub for the Iraqi drug trade, with narcotics passing through from Afghanistan and Iran, before ending up in the hands of pushers on the streets. Due to its nature as a distribution hub and its proximity to the Iranian border – as well as it being a base for many pro-Tehran militias – Basra now has Iraq’s highest proportion of addicts and dealers, causing a devastating social and economic impact.


With drug profiteering comes sex trafficking and gangs forcing women into prostitution rings, controlling them by forcing them to become addicts themselves. Shia militias who run the cross-border operation with Iran act with near total impunity, and enjoy billions of dollars of illicit profits, while leaving Basra a debilitated husk of its former self.


Such catastrophic conditions and abuses against the most vulnerable in Iraqi society – including a massive rise in child marriages – have led to anger against Iraq’s politicians who are accused of caring only for themselves, as Iraq slips further into the grasp of foreign powers.

The Iraq Report is a new weekly feature at The New Arab.

Click here to receive The Iraq Report each week in your inbox
Follow us on Twitter: @the_newarab