'A dark day': Iraqis mark 20th anniversary of US-led invasion

'A dark day': Iraqis mark 20th anniversary of US-led invasion
Twenty years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the country is yet to see stability as rule by nearly 70 different types of militias reign supreme.
3 min read
10 April, 2023
Numerous Iraqi social media users expressed pessimism over the country's current situation,  describing 9 April as "a dark day" in Iraq's history. [Getty]

As the Iraqis prepare to commemorate their country's invasion by the US-led coalition two decades earlier, two rival Iraqi militias have been increasing tensions in the capital city of Baghdad late on Saturday by deploying their heavy-armoured forces on the streets.

Former US President George W. Bush, on 20 March 2003, announced the launch of "Operation Iraqi Freedom", kicking off a devastating invasion and occupation of Iraq. Three weeks later, on 9 April, the US-led coalition forces seized Baghdad.

 The decision to invade and occupy Iraq was taken without permission from the United Nations Security Council over weapons of mass destruction that were never found. The prolonged occupation killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced many more.

Twenty years since, Iraq has yet to see stability, true democracy and prosperity.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani described the country's ruling system as "democratic" where the right of expression has been "guaranteed by the constitution."

Yet, numerous Iraqi social media users expressed pessimism over the country's current situation,  describing 9 April as "a dark day" in Iraq's history. 

"On a day like this, the modern world had decided to destroy Iraq, dispatch its unity, and steal its resources," Bassim Alkhazraji tweeted. 

Hundreds of loyalists of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Saraya al-Salam were seen on Baghdad's streets late on Saturday, heightening a feud with the Iran-backed Iraqi Hezbollah forces. 

Iraqi social media users said both militias were in disputes over a plot of land in the Dora district, south of Baghdad.

"Despite the existence of half a million of the Iraqi security forces, there are 71 main active militias in Iraq, with a total number of 135 thousand of armed men deployed across the country," reported Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic language sister website. 

Most of those militias are officially affiliated with The Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which was founded in June 2014 after a fatwa (a religious call to action) was issued by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shia community.

Al-Sistani urged young men to step up to fight the Islamic State (IS), an extremist group that tore through Syria, before capturing a third of Iraq in the summer of 2014. 

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PMF militias were officially incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in 2016, however, several still back Iranian agendas in Iraq and proudly vocalise their loyalty to Iran.

"The main issue after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime was that those who ruled Iraq did not re-establish state institution, and they never created the basis for a democratic state," Farman Hassan, a Kurdish lawyer and writer, said TNA.

The main reason behind this, he argued, was that "Iraq's main communities- the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds - were working to boost their own interests rather than working together to rebuild and empower the new state."

"Although the PMF are part of the Iraqi Security Forces and receive funding from the government's defence budget, their operations are often outside government control and in opposition to government policies," the US state department said about Iraq in its 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

"Federal civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain Iran-aligned Popular Mobilisation Force units and the Popular Mobilisation Commission," it added.