Iranian-backed Iraqi militias form coalition ahead of parliamentary electionsBy Amir Toumaj & Romany Shaker | January 25, 2018 | firstname.lastname@example.org |
Ahead of Iraq’s May parliamentary elections, Iranian-backed militias announced the formation of a coalition called al Fatah al Mubin (Manifest Victory). It is led by Hadi al Ameri, chief of the Badr Organization and current Iraqi parliamentarian, who has close ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani called Ameri a “living martyr” last year. The IRGC-backed coalition is poised to shape the next Iraqi government, highlighting the new political order.
Analysis of Al Fatah shows it is an Islamist coalition dominated by the political wings of the Iranian-backed groups of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The majority of its members have had long-standing links to Iran. The coalition also includes smaller parties that have no known armed wings, as well as at least one minority group. The Iranian-backed groups are using the cover of the coalition and political participation to provide a cover of legitimacy for themselves.
The coalition demonstrates how the Iranian-backed network has worked around recent arbitrary restrictions by Baghdad and Najaf’s top Shiite authority to separate arms from politics [see FDD’s Long War Journal report, Top Iraqi-Shiite cleric endorses incorporation of PMF into the state]. Thus far, Al Fatah consists of 18 groups:
Al Sadiqoun, affiliated with Asaib Ahl al Haq
Jihad wal Bana Movement, affiliated with the Jihad Companies / Iraqi Hezbollah, led by Hassan al Sari
Islamic Taliyah Party, led by Aly al Yasseri, affiliated with the Khorasani Companies
Muntasirun (Victorious) Bloc, led by Mahdi al Musawi, affiliated with the Seyyed al Shuhada Brigades
Professionals for Construction Party – Al-Imam Ali Brigades
Al Ataa wal Sidq [Giving and Honesty] Movement, led by Murtada Ali Hammud al-Sadi, affiliated with Ansar Allah al Awfiya
The Islamic Movement in Iraq, led by former PMF spokesman Ahmad al Assadi, affiliated with the Junud al Imam Brigades
The 15th of Shaaban Movement, led by Razaq Yasser
Hezbollah / Iraq, led by Salem al Bahadeli
Kafa Sarkha Lil Taghir, founded in 2015 by Rahim al Daraji, no known affiliation with militias
Iraq Future Gathering, led by former Oil Minister Ibrahim Mohammad Bahr al Ulloum
Al Adalah and Al Wehda (Justice and Peace) Gathering, a party led by Sheikh Amir al Fayez
Al Wafaa Wal Taghyir (Faithful and Change) Bloc, founded by Iskandar Watut in 2012
Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Hammam Hamoudi
The Islamic Action Organization is an Islamist group founded in 1962 by Sheikh Jasim al Asai, akaMuhsin al Husayni. The party is led by deputy secretary general Hasan al Asadi.
The Independent Sha’bi Gathering, led by Falah al Jazayeri.
Shabak Democratic Gathering party, led by Hanin al Qaddo. The Shabak are a minority group from Nineveh province.
On Jan. 14, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who is heading the Nasr al Iraq (Victory of Iraq) coalition, announced a ticket with Fatah, hailing the alliance with sectarian figures as “cross-sectarian.” The move drew the scorn of many supporters, including firebrand cleric Muqtada al Sadr, who called it an “abhorrent” deal that would “pave the way for the return of corruption and sectarianism.” A day after Abadi’s announcement, Abadi’s alliance with Fatah fell apart. In a statement, Ameri said al Fatah is ready to form another alliance with Abadi following the election, citing “technical” issues for the breakup.
Soleimani brokered the initial deal between Abadi and Fatah according to journalists and Iraqi media reports. Kurdish journalist Abdullah Hawez tweeted that the Iranian general was in Baghdad on Jan. 13 and attended a meeting with Abadi, Amiri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a US-designated terrorist who is the de-facto leader of the PMF and its operations chief. London-based Al Araby al Jadid citing “Iraqi political sources in the ruling national coalition” claimed Soleimani visited Baghdad again on Jan. 17 to help “narrow the divergences in views among the political protagonists within the ruling alliance after the sharp disagreements that arose from the formation of political alliances to run the 2018 parliamentary elections.” A senior official from the National Alliance says Soleimani met with every major Shiite political leader except Abadi and Sadr.
Regional media suggested that the new alliance fell apart due to Sadr’s objection to the inclusion of the Iranian-backed groups. Other media sources suggested that the IRGC-backed Badr and Asaib Ahl al-Haq have withdrawn following the inclusion of figure Ammar al-Hakim, who has reportedly fallen out with Iran after breaking off from ISCI last year and forming his National Wisdom Party against the wishes of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Ameri has denied that al Fatah demanded the exclusion of Hakim and Sadr.
As Iraq’s elections draw near, Iran will use all means necessary to maintain and expand its influence on the Iraqi government by bolstering its network. The Iraqi state today depends on the PMF, which is dominated by Iranian-backed formations, to provide security. One of Soleimani’s deputies is leading a political coalition and will shape the next Iraqi government. The Iranian ambassador to Iraq and Qods Force commander Iraj Masjedi said this month he is overseeing Tehran’s “logistical, engineering and weapons” assistance package to an Iraqi military that “needs rebuilding,” adding that negotiations are continuing with Iraq’s defense ministry, federal police, interior ministry and the PMF. Last year, Masjedi discussed helping form “popular” intelligence and security units across Iraqi provinces. Meanwhile, Iran is looking to boost trade to Iraq to $20 billion within five years and continues to invest in religious and social projects, such as expanding Shiite shrines.
Iran’s attempts to promote sectarian and corrupt faces in Iraq further locks in the dynamics that have contributed to Iraq’s destabilization and undermines Abadi’s effort to project himself as a bulwark against sectarian forces who publically boast of their strong ties to the Islamic Republic.
Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Romany Shaker is a Research Aalyst and Arabic language specialist for Defense of Democracies.