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Popular Mobilization Forces | Formation Backgrounds, Role and Future

12 Dec 2016
Introduction

The introduction of this paper sets the tone for reading the landscape in Iraq since occupying it in 2003, and clarifying Iran's vision and outlook on Iraq; as it is the most important actor after the fall of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's r

Introduction

The Iraqis who identify as being Sunnah in Iraq have been undergoing very serious ordeals since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The marginalization of the Iraqi Sunnah was not only political, but has also been taking place on the social and economic levels. The Shiite parties and groups, with the absolute Iranian support, and the indifference of Arabs and the world, have launched a systematic campaign that aims to weaken the Sunni community in Iraq, through assassinations, collective detentions, and forced displacement. They have also been trying to force changes on the culture of the people through forcing new curricula in schools and universities, to spread the religious doctrines of the Imamiyyah and Twelver doctrine of Shia Islam.

On the other hand, the efforts of the Sunni people and groups of Iraq have been disorganized and divided, especially when the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took over the Sunni areas in the north and the west. Al-Sistani issued a fatwa mobilizing the Iraqi people to fight against ISIL, and that formed the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are paramilitary forces controlled by the Shia-Iranian authority.

This paper shall discuss the current situation of the Sunni people in Iraq since the US invasion and their future in the country.

 

The US Invasion of Iraq

From the very first day of the invasion it was clear that some Iraqi powers and foreign players were trying to reshape the whole country and draw new divisions in the country based on sectarian identities. The situation of Iraq was handed to Iran which executed its intended plan aided by the Shia parties and armed groups it previously formed and supported, such as the Higher Council of the Islamic Revolution, which was formed in Iraq in 1982, and Badr forces affiliated with the council which fought beside the Iranian forces during the Iraq-Iran war. The Iranian ambitions were further facilitated when Paul Bremer, the leader of the occupational authority in Iraq, dismantled the official institutions of Iraq, especially the Iraqi military, in order to rebuild a new Iraq that best serve the aims of the occupation.

Dr. Nabil Khalifah mentions in his book “Targeting the Sunnah” that Iraq enjoys huge geostrategic significance, not only because of its status as the Eastern front of the Arab world and the barrier against the Iranian influence, but also because of the project of the new East starts with eradicating the Sunni power in Baghdad, which ultimately means destroying Iraq as an Arab Sunni power and handing it to a Shia authority. According to experts, this might be the most significant geostrategic change in the whole region, since it harbingers three important issues:

1) Changing the front of the “Near East” from being Sunni-majority countries into confederations of minorities within new borders. These groups are the Shia (including Alwaite Shia), Jews, Kurds, and Christians.

2) Changing the identity of the Arab East to becoming an Iranian East.

3) Changing the affiliation for the Arab East from belonging to the Sunni to world and become part of the Shia world.

In order to introduce these changes the interested parties have been using highly sophisticated strategic plans in terms of organizing the minorities and arming them, in addition to the regional and international support or apathy towards such ambitions, as this is the only means to put an end to the historical, demographic, and power dominance of the Sunni people in Iraq. These Sunni populations have two major problems:

First: they lack an effective and relevant strategy to deal with the crisis the whole Islamic world is going through.

Second: they have not developed modern and contemporary political thought.

This Iraqi Shia smartly seized the opportunity presented to them by the Americans when Saddam Hussein was toppled. George W. Bush, one decade before the invasion of Iraq, supported the Shia insurrection in the South of Iraq in 1991. At that time the American strategists believed that it would be easy to ally with the Shia of Iraq, and it seems that this alliance since then until the invasion took place in 2003.

Due to these circumstances the term “Sunni Triangle” came into being, which is one of the direct and tragic consequences of the US invasion of the country.

The Sunni population was divided into two groups, the first chose to take part in the political process, and joined the authority council that consists of 25 members;  12 Shia, 5 Sunni, 5 Kurds, and 1 Christian and another one Turkmen.

This clearly shows that the Shia of Iraq were meant to be granted huge powers in Iraq. The quotas were given based on inaccurate population figures which claimed that Shias are the majority in Iraq, although the Sunnis are the majority according to the last official census in Iraq in 1997, where the Sunni population accounted for 56,5% while the Shia population was 39,5% of the population.[1]

The other one chose to organize themselves militarily against the US forces and the Iraqi forces that were formed after the occupation.

The Sunni role in Iraq was further weakened by the state of hostility and the lack of coordination among the Sunni factions and parties, that amounted to targeting some leading Sunni figures in the country.

On the other hand, the Shia used the trust they enjoy by the Americans, which was a result of previous agreements and alliances. This trust granted the Americans a fatwa from al-Sistani in which he called not to resist the US occupation. This further strengthened the relations between the Shia and the Americans, and this was reflected in the manner in which the new Iraq was formed, where the military leadership was Shia in addition to major institutions and positions in the country, and that eventually ended up in the intentional marginalization of the Sunni population in Iraq.

 

Sunni Institutions and notable religious and political figures

 The Muslim Brotherhood

The MB started appeared publicly in Iraq in 1944 when they established "The Islamic Brotherhood Organization" and the two leaders of the organization then were Mohammad Mahmoud al-Sawwaf and Amjad al-Zahrawi. Then they established a political party and named it the "Islamic Party" in 1960. When the Baath party came to power the MB members were persecuted, huge numbers of them were arrested, and some were executed, like Abdulaziz al-Badri, Mohammad Faraj, and Abdulaziz Shindalah.

The activities of the movement remained underground for a long period. The 1990's witnessed a religious awakening in Iraq; increased religiosity among the people, with more mosques built around the country, the widespread presence of Muslim books and media in mosques and universities, charity and social work. The weakened Iraqi regime after the Gulf war was not able to curb the activity of the Islamic movement in the country, so persecution abated, and Islamists were once again allowed to work publicly in Iraq.

From his exile, Ayad al-Samarrai revived the Iraqi Islamic Party, and following the occupation and the return of the political process in Iraq, the Islamic Party, led by Dr. Muhsin Abdulhamid, the professor of Baghdad University, declared that it will participate in the Iraqi Governing Council.

The MB had only a short experience in public political life, and its activities were clandestine for extended periods. The group faced a shock when it moved to work publicly in political life in such sensitive times of tensions, sectarian and racial conflicts, and economic hardships[2].

The Islamic Party evolved from the MB movement in Iraq and later completely destined itself from the original group due to internal disagreements in the Shura Council of the movement and the political office of the Party.

The strengths of the MB movement in Iraq:

  • It enjoys significant popularity in Iraq due to its legacy in social and charity work. The movement provided priority for the mosques and the religious courses, and was therefore able to win the support and trust of many people, and made use of that trust, for only a short period, in post-occupation Iraq.
  • The Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (Salahaddin Brigades) is closely tied with the movement. The JAMI activity slackened after the withdrawal of the US forces due to financing problems.
  • The MB movement has a number of specialist members in several areas of expertise.

 

The weaknesses of the MB Movement in Iraq:

  • The movement gradually lost the public support it enjoyed due to the political stance of the Islamic Party, especially when the party recognized the new constitution.
  • The slackness in the armed activity of the movement after the withdrawal of the US troops.
  • The assassination of several leaders in the movement by Shia militias and the Al-Qaeda in Iraq, in addition to the arrests of numbers of other leaders and young members, while the rest are being persecuted in false charges and accusations.
  • The split between the movement and the Islamic Party, which lost the movement its political front, and by result its political influence.

 

The Iraqi Islamic Party

It is the political front of the MB in Iraq since the 1960's, on April 26, 1960 after the 1958 revolution that ended the royal rule in Iraq and turned it into a republic. Dr. Numan al-Samarrai was chosen the leader of the party. Six months after its establishment the party published a document that states its criticism for the president at that time, Abdulkarim Qasim, especially for endorsing the civil status law and the inheritance law in which he made no discrimination between men and women, which contradicts the Islamic laws. The statement also condemned the massacres that were committed in his term in Mosul and Kirkuk. Consequently, all the members of the political bureau of the party were arrested and detained for 5 months in a lengthy investigation.

The activities of the parties remained clandestine inside Iraq until 2003, when the party declared in Iraq that Muhsen Abdulhamid is the secretary general of the party, succeeded by Tariq al-Hashimi (the former vice president of Iraq, who was sentenced in absentia on charges related to supporting terrorism, so he fled Iraq and before that he stepped down as secretary general of the party).

The IIP took part in the 2006 elections in Iraq as the "Iraqi Accord Front" which includes the General Council of the People of Iraq led by Dr. Adnan al-Dulaimi and a number of Sunni Arab tribes. The IAF won 45 seats in the parliament, half of which went to the IIP, in addition to the vice presidency and a number of ministerial portfolios.

The party also participated in all the parliamentary elections, municipal elections, and the governorates councils.

There were several incidents were members of the political bureau decided to split, most notably when its former secretary general Tariq al-Hashimi and three other member (Abdulkarim al-Samarrai, Alaa Makki, Omar Abdulsattar) left the party, only preceded by the former minister of planning Ali Baban.

The party lost its popularity after it has been for some time the most powerful representative of the Sunni population. This was due to the lack of funding and support, and the assassinations that targeted its leadership ranks and its young members, in addition to its multiple political failures.

The party used to own a channel "Baghdad TV Channel" that was targeted by al-Qaeda and have to move its headquarters to Jordan, and it was eventually closed due to lack of funding.

The strengths of the IIP:

  • Its popularity among the Sunni people as the only representative of their aspirations and rights
  • The party owned a satellite channel that was close to the Sunni population, but it was eventually closed due to lack of funding as we mentioned earlier.
  • The party's young members who helped in the activities of the party, but they also left the party due to many unpopular stances of the party, especially its favorable stance on the constitution, and its insistence on participating in the political process despite the huge injustice and marginalization against the Sunni population in Iraq.
  • The nonpolitical leadership of the party enjoyed wide popularity and acceptance in Iraq and that was due to their efforts in charity works.

 

The weaknesses of the IIP:

  • The party did not have the power that would back its political positions and protect its leaders and younger members, compared to other parties, especially the Shia parties in Iraq. The Sunni people wanted military power that would protect them and restore the peace they lost due to the activities of the Shia armed groups and militias and the radical Sunni groups like al-Qaeda.
  • The party did not receive support from the Arab countries, and therefore was politically and financially weak. The IIP lacked any real power and support to take any major and bald decisions.
  • The splits within the party that led to decreased public support
  • Lack of financial resources.
  • The absence of a clear strategic vision, in addition to the differing views among the leaders of the party.

 

The Association of Muslim Scholars

A group of Muslim clerks and scholars that was formed after the US invasion in 2003. The group defines itself as an association of Sharia scholars and Muslims from other branches of knowledge and science. The association was established by Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, Dr. Ahmad Hasan al-Taha, Dr. Muhsin Abdulhamid, Dr. Abdulsattar Abduljabbar, and other Shria scholars.

Mohammad Ahmad al-Rashid was elected at first as the chairman of the association, then he ceded his position to Harith al-Dhari (passed away on March 2015) and was succeeded by his son, Muthanna Harith al-Dhari.

The Association opposed the political process in Iraq and supported the military resistance, backed by the Sunni population in Iraq, and that gave the association significant credit in the Islamic world in general.

The Association issued several fatwas prohibiting the participation in the elections and joining the security or the military institutions. This resulted in a Shia control over these institutions, and eventually undermined the Sunni influence in the country. The Association owns a satellite channel that airs from Egypt.

The strengths of the Association

  • It is popular among the Sunni people in Iraq due to its bald positions and statements
  • It is popular in the Arab world for the same reasons that made popular in Iraq
  • It get financial support from those who sympathize with its aims and projects
  • It owns a satellite channel that carries on its propaganda
  • It is formed by influential Shria scholars which granted it legitimacy among the Sunni people in Iraq

 

The weakness of the Association

  • The split of some of its founding members who established the Iraqi Fiqh Council. Notably among them was Sheikh Ahmad Hasan al-Taha and Sheikh Abdulsattar Abduljabbar.
  • The Association did not demonstrate any degree of political flexibility, which eventually impacted its popularity
  • Some people criticize the decision-making procedure in the Association, which forced some figures to leave it.
  • Most of the leaders of the Association live in exile because they are targeted by the government and the militias.

 

The Iraqi Fiqh Council

The Iraqi Fiqh Council is an independent authority for the Sunni people (people of the tradition of Muhammad and the consensus of the Ummah) that is not regulated by the government. The IFC cooperated with the other Islamic institutions within and outside Iraq in order to achieve its goals in the manners consistent with the principles of Islam. It is also concerned with cooperating with the different associations and organizations. It basically aims to establish itself as the religious authority for the Sunni people in Iraq.

The IFC does not define itself as a political entity, and it only concerns itself with regulating the fatwas in the Sunni community in addition to other related activities.

The strengths of the IFC:

  • It was established by a group of notable scholars such as Abdulsattar Abduljabbar, and Ahmad Hasan al-Taha, and therefore it enjoys significant legitimacy in the Sunni community in Iraq. Its popularity is also due to the clear positions the council takes against the practices of the government and the militias against the Sunni people in Iraq.
  • The scholars in the council enjoy good relations with some Sunni politicians such as Salim al-Jbouri, and the vice president Osama al-Nujaifi.

The weaknesses of the IFC:

  • The council is weakened by the Sunni political parties and coalitions. This was clear when Haidar al-Abadi appointed Abdullatif al-Hamim as head of the Sunni Endowment despite the opposition of the IFC and IIP in addition to the opposition of Osama al-Nujaifi himself.

The Sunni Endowment

This Sunni Endowment authority (The Diwan) is concerned with the endowments (waqf) of the Sunni people and their religious affiars. The Diwan is governed by the cabinet and is represented by its appointed head.

The head of the Diwan is appointed by the prime minister. Recently, Dr. Abdullatif al-Hamim was chosen as head of the Diwan, and his appointment was very controversial, because this man was close to Saddam Hussein. The appointment of al-Hamim was opposed by all the major Sunni representatives and groups, including the IFC, the IIP, and Osama al-Nujaifi himself.)

The Strengths of the Diwan

  • The Diwan has a huge financial budget compared to other institutions and ministries
  • It is considered the ultimate religious authority for the Sunni people in Iraq.

The weaknesses of the Diwan:

  • The functions of the Diwan are limited to issuing fatwas and managing the Sunni religious institutions
  • The head of the Diwan directly answers to the prime minister, who has the right in appointing the head of the Diwan or discharging him.
  • The Diwan was politically neutralized, especially when Dr. Adnan al-Dulaimi was discharged from his position as head of the Diwan when Nuri al-Maliki was serving as prime minister.
  • The widespread financial and administrative corruption within the Diwan.

 

 The Uniters for Reform Coalition (Muttahidoon)

It is a Sunni political coalition in Iraq formed by Osama al-Nujaifi, the former speaker of the Council of Representatives in Iraq on January 2012, that includes a number of Sunni parties and groups such as the IIP and some nationalists Arab and Turkmen parties, such as the Iraqi Turkmen Front. Muttahidoon coalition take most seats in the governorates councils elections in 2014. In the latest parliamentary elections in 2014 it swept the seats in both al-Anbar governorate and Nineveh governorate.

This coalition is currently the largest and most powerful representative of the Sunni population in Iraq, despite its weak performance and internal disagreements, especially when ISIL attacked some Sunni governorates and the coalition proved helpless in countering its threat and preventing it from gaining more control.

The strengths of the coalition:

  • It includes a big number of Sunni parties, groups, and independent figures, and it best represents the Sunni population in Iraq.

The weaknesses of the coalition:

  • The coalition is undergoing a number of serious disagreements within its leadership ranks due to the ideological differences among them, which resulted in a state of incongruity within the coalition.
  • The coalition was targeted in the media and was accused of infirmity in facing ISIL in the Sunni areas. The coalition was also politically targeted, and that when the parliament voted on expelling Atheel al-Nujaifi from his post as governor of Nineveh, although he is one of the leaders of the coalition and a brother of its chairperson, namely Osama al-Nujaifi.
  • The coalition lost its glamour and popularity due to its weak position in regards to the spread of ISIL and the activities of the Shia militias, especially the PMF, against the Sunni people.

The common point among all the Sunni parties and groups is the fact that they have lost the public support after each crisis any of these groups or parties face. This complicated the mission of the Sunni politician in comparison with the Shia politicians who act freely with the immunity of the "Shia authority" and therefore has a better ability to maneuver due to the support that he has on the religious and political fronts.

 

The Arab Socialist Baath Party

It is not possible to overpass the Baath party based solely on its ideology. This party ruled the country for over 40 years, and formed its security and military institutions that controlled the state of Iraq. It is worthwhile to mention that the party is not completely Sunni, on the contrary, 60% of its members are Shia, and the first Baathi in Iraq was Saadoun Hmadi, who is Shiite born in Karbala. Additionally, one of the founders of the party was Michel Aflaq, who was Christian, so was Tariq Aziz, one of the hands of the former regime who was appointed a foreign minister and was also the speaker of the parliament and a close consultant for Saddam. Nevertheless, the Sunni population in Iraq has been under systematic attacks under the pretext of "De-Baathification", and being affiliated with the Baath party became a ready accusation against anyone who opposes the new form of governance in Iraq after the occupation.

The party is currently led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (Sunni) who is alleged to have been killed in Tikrit on 17 April 2015. Al-Douri was the Vice Chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council. The party has an armed wing established by al-Douri called " Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order".

Another leader of the party is Mohammad Younis al-Ahmad, the vice chairman of the council during the rule of Saddam. Al-Ahmad split from the party due to a disagreement with al-Douri regarding holding the party's general conference in Damascus.

Some experts believe that the party helped ISIL control vast areas of Iraq, but the party denied these allegation in a formal statement.

The Strengths of the party

  • The party enjoys accumulative and vast experiences in politics, security and military affairs, thanks to the decades of its rule over the country.
  • It is the most organized among the other parties
  • The party has a military wing.
  • It still enjoys considerable popularity among the Iraqis
  • The party is linked with other Arab Sunni cadres that oppose the US-Iranian projects in Iraq.

The weaknesses of the party:

  • The party has no chances to go public on the medium or long-terms.
  • Most of the party's leaders are either dead, arrested, or assassinated.
  • The party has no official status to communicate with the international community
  • The dismantling of the Iraqi army and the security institutions after the US invasion devastated the party and marked its imminent demise.
  • The party is still linked with the former oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein.

 

Independent Sunni Figures

Tariq al-Hashimi, born in Baghdad 1942, and joined the IIP in 1975. He was the vice president of Iraq after the invasion. He served in the Iraqi army, and taught in AlBakr University for Military Studies. He was appointed the chairman of the IIP until 2009 when he split from party after electing its new chairman. He then joined the Iraqi National List, led by Eyad Allawi. He was accused of assisting terrorism, and an arrest warrant was issued against him, so he fled the country, and was later sentenced in absentia to death.

He lost his three brothers in assassinations by the Shia militias, and they were all leaders in the IIP.

The strengths of Hashimi:

  • He used to have the support of the most powerful and organized party at some point, which is the IIP.
  • He has significant military experience, since he served as an officer in the army and was a lecturer in a military school.

The weaknesses of Hashimi:

  • Tariq al-Hashimi became extremely vulnerable when he split from the IIP, which seemed at that point as a calculated move, when he received the most votes after al-Maliki and Allawi, but it was evident later on that he lost huge political and public support.
  • Al-Hashimi is persecuted and convicted for unfounded allegations, but he had to flee the country to Turkey, which deprived him of actively participating in the political life inside Iraq.

 

Rafi al-Issawi

Was born in al-Anbar governorate in 1966. He is an orthopedic surgeon and served as the director of the Falluja hospital during the operations of the US army in the city, which made him particularly popular within the Sunni community. He won a seat in the 2005 elections in the Iraqi Accord Front. Then he served as state minister for foreign affairs (2006-2007), and then as a vice president (2008).

He also split from the IIP and formed the National Future Gathering, and he won a seat for that list, and was later appointed minister of finance in 2010, then was removed from his post on accusations of assisting terrorism. He was arrested with his personal guards and was legally persecuted, a move that enraged the Sunni population, and ISIL exploited the situation then to control the Sunni cities and governorates.

The Strengths Al-Issawi:

  • The tribal support that al-Issawi has is one of his major strengths, and the demonstrations of his tribe after targeting his with the above-mentioned accusations marked the beginning of the Sunni revolution in Iraq.
  • Al-Issawi enjoyed significant legitimacy in Iraq, especially in al-Anbar governorate, since he was the director of the Falluja hospital during the US army attack on the city.
  • He enjoys a remarkable negotiation skill. He served as the head of the negotiation committee that was formed by the IAF during the 2005-2006 elections that negotiated with the winning political entities to form the government. He was also the head of the negotiation team that was formed by the INL in the 2010 election for the same reason.

The weaknesses of al-Issawi

  • He lacks a clear political vision for reform as expected by the Iraqi people
  • He split from the IIP and lost the political support of the party.

Khamis al-Khanjar

Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi, born in Fallujah 1965. He is a relatively new name in the political scene in Iraq, and a very controversial figure. He has an MA in political science, a businessperson and a millionaire. He used to smuggle cigarettes with Odai Saddad Hussein, then they had some differences and al-Khanjar fled to Jordan. He returned to Iraq to work in finance and trade after the US invasion. He funded several parties, like the IAF, the Association of Muslim Scholars, and the INL which he is the main supporter.

He established Al-Khanjar Institute for Scientific Development in Jordan, which fund Iraqi students to study abroad. He also founded Al-Khnjar Institute for Social Care that provides support to the injured and patients from low-income families.

He also founded the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies based in Jordan. In 2010 he formed a political coalition named "Dignity Coalition Front".

He is considered a rising Sunni political figure who enjoys significant power and wide relations on a regional and international level.

The strengths of al-Khanjar:

  • He has a network of internal, regional, and international relations through which he can exercise pressure and gain more leverage.
  • He is a very wealthy person who could establish several charitable projects that would grant him popularity and support on a popular and political level.
  • He has a research center that would influence the public opinion in the country.
  • He supported several Sunni entities and groups, including the INL.

The weaknesses of al-Khanjar

He has a history of connections with Saddam's son that would cost him his political status if the issue was opened by the de-baathification committee, and he could meet the same fate of al-Hashimi and al-Issawi.

 

The Sunna of Iraq and the regional developments

The Iranian influence in Iraq[3]

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 it granted Iran a historical opportunity to change the course of its relations with this country, that was once its archenemy. Iran exploited the long borders it shares with Iraq to penetrate into the country through many Iraqi politicians and militias, in addition to its soft power in economy, culture, and media. This helped Iran enhance its influence in Iraq and influence eventually developed into a state of rule and control.

Iran has been aiming at controlling the policies of the state of Iraq through working closely with the Shia parties there. Iran wants to keep the country dilapidated and weakened so that it could acquiesce to the Iranian interference in its internal affairs. Iran encourages its allies, like the "Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq" and the militias affiliated with it such as Badr militia, and the Dawa party, in addition to the follower of Muqtada al-Sadr, to take part in the political process and engage in the Iraqi official institutions. On the other hand, the Sunni neighbors of Iraq were passively observing the Iranians spreading their sway in Iraq and did not move to save themselves and the state of Iraq from this interference.

Iran wanted to translate the demographic weight of the Shia population into political leverage, which will eventually increase its control over the government of the country. To achieve this Iran interfered in the parliamentary elections in 2005 and 2010, in addition to the regional elections in 2009, through financing its preferred candidates and advising them. It also encouraged its Shia allies to unite in the elections so that the votes of the Shia don't get divided. Iran's religious agents , like al-Sistani, issued fatwas that encourage the people to participate in the elections. Iran has preserved its traditional good relations with the major Kurdish parties in order to guarantee its influence in the north of Iraq.

Iran practices this influence through its embassy in Baghdad and its consulates in Basra, Karbala, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah. Both of Iran's ambassadors to Iraq who were appointed after 2003 served in the Quds Force, which is a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which indicates the nature of their role in developing the Iranian policy in Iraq and executing it through the aid and support of the Iranian security apparatuses. Iranians also depended on agents from Hezbollah who speak Arabic in order to facilitate the functions of the Shia militias.

Iran has enhanced its soft power strategies in the approach of its government in order to reflect its influence in Iraq. It took precautions and adopted trade policies that do not achieve the interests of Iraq. Iran has also tried to para-national Shia authority in the Najaf, and tried to control the public opinion in Iraq through influencing the media.

Iran fortified its trade and economic ties with Iran in order to achieve its best interests and gain as much profits as possible while keeping its authority on its neighbor. Iran dumped the Iraqi markets with its cheap and subsidized goods and products in order to undermine the national products of Iraq. It also built a number of dams and converted some rivers that feed the stream of Shatt al-Arab, which negatively impacted the agriculture in the south, and impeded the efforts of restoring the Iraqi Marshes.

Iraq is Iran's Forefront to spread the Islamic Revolution

One of Iran's top aims since the Revolution is to spread its official "ideology" in the Shia communities around the world, through establishing religious schools and institutes, and supporting the Shia scholars in the Islamic countries.

Iran has chosen Iraq because it had secured its means of control through the many loyal politicians, parties, and militias that it supports. Iraq is also easily penetrable for Iran due to its geographical proximity.

Iran is also very keen on influencing media outlets and social media websites to instill its official ideology and publicize its projects in order to gain leverage that would allow it to export its revolution.

 

The Role of Saudi Arabia

It is difficult to draw a clear picture of the Saudi policies in relation to Iraq, due to the secrecy that surround the Saudi policies in this country. Nevertheless, it is no surprise that SA has been trying to curb the influence of the Iraqi government, that is controlled by Shia parties loyal to Iran.

Unlike Iran, SA has not summoned influence in Iraq. This doesn't mean that SA has no influence at all in the country, since the geographical proximity from Iraq necessitates the presence of a precautious role on the very least.

The SA approach regarding the crisis in Iraq is linked to its idea that ending the conflict in Syria would guarantee solving the crisis in Iraq. But the conflict in Syria is an extension of the crisis in Iraq, therefore SA has to rethink its priorities and start working on increasing its influence in Iraq. This will counter the Iranian influence and achieve a kind of equilibrium between the two major powers in the region. The officials in the foreign ministry in SA should realize that Iraq is vital in preventing the spread of the ideas of the Iranian Revolution, and that could only be realized by directing more attention to the situation in Iraq, especially that the threats there are not limited to Iran, but there is also the threat of ISIL which is currently controlling al-Anbar governorate on the border with SA.

 

The Turkish Influence in Iraq

Turkey is a major country in the region that has been trying during the rule of the AK party to find regional roles and increased influence. Turkey enjoys a strategic, geographic, demographic, and military advantages and powers. Iraq and Turkey are linked in several issues and areas, in economy, water resources, security issues, and several other areas in human resources, religious affairs, in addition to the history of relations between the two states.

In terms of diplomacy, Turkey has several consulates in Iraq. Economically, the Turkish companies are roaming the country, making deals, starting projects, holding conferences, signing agreements. Turks engage themselves sometimes in some thorny issues, such as the situation in Kirkuk and Mosul, and they participate in discussion related to the two governorates. Turkey's interests in Iraq are clearly stated and understood. These interest are not related to ideologies not sacred dreams and visions. Nevertheless, Turkey's role and tools on which it will depend to play that role are still vague, and so is the Iraqi and regional reaction to this expected role.[4]

The potential of Saudi-Turkish alliance in Iraq

SA and Turkey share mutual interests in Iraq; both country seek to counter the Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria. There are several signs of possible harmony between the two countries for several reasons. First, SA is leading a military operation in Yemen with the support of Turkey against the so-called Iran's agents, the Houthis. Some say that Operation Decisive Storm could move to Syria in order to limit the Iranian middling in the Syrian crisis and counter the increasing threats of Jihadism there. This won't take place unless the situation in Yemen is done with. Turkey is expected to play a major role in any operation in Syria, and this might be very soon[5] since Turkey has already begun moving its forces to the borders with Syria, and several reports talk of a possible operation for the Turkish forces inside Syria. Turkey has indeed hit targets of ISIL inside Syria lately, and Ankara has finally opened its bases to be used by the coalition forces.

The other reason for the possibility of increased cooperation between the two countries in Iraq is the fact the Iran is blatantly controlling the situation there, especially after the US withdrew its forces from Iraq. Some researchers suggest that there are signs that an international coalition is being formed to support the Sunni population in Iraq and uniting them to curb the increased influence of Iran, and face ISIL at the same time. It is feared that countering ISIL could be left for Iranian and Americans alone, which might result in in establishing an Iranian "colony" on the borders with SA, since no support was given to the Sunni people of Iraq.[6]

The Times magazine mentioned that SA demanded the US to arm the Sunni tribes to enable them from fighting against ISIL[7].

The Future of Sunnah in Iraq

The future of the Sunni population in Iraq is vaguer now than ever after ISIL took over most of the Sunni governorates, which led to collective displacements of the people within and outside Iraq. The rest are under huge pressure and suffering, in terms of poverty and lack of health care.

The Shia factions saw an opportunity in the presence of ISIL in these areas, and Ali al-Sistani was quick to issue a fatwa for imperative jihad, calling for the so-called "popular mobilization", a movement that has been all-powerful in Iraq today.

The Sunnah of Iraq are facing serious threats, for the following reasons:

  • The Sunni population lost their strong political representation that would otherwise seek to demand more rights for them. The Sunnah currently do not have any political or even religious authority that unite them.
  • The Sunni population of Iraq are undergoing a serious economic problem due to the control of ISIL in most of their areas, which interrupted trade and money movements in these areas.
  • The international community, especially the Arab Sunni world, is not concerned with the problems facing the Sunnah in Iraq, and their problems have been either marginal or completely absent in their agendas.
  • The absent of a collective Arab or regional power that could stand against the increased Iranian influence in Iraq to the disadvantage of its Sunni people.

It could be said that the Sunnah of Iraq are facing extremely difficult conditions that amount to genocide that aims at changing the demographic facts on the ground, which would facilitate Iran's mission to further its control in the country.

This situation could eventually evolve to the following:

  • A feeble and impoverished Arab Sunni territory will be formed, as opposed to a strong and thriving Shia territory loyal to Iran and controlled by it. This territory will be Iran's forefront to disturb the security of the neighboring countries through its military and intelligence powers.
  • If the status quo continued to be so in Iraq, this will result in an almost absolute authority for Iran over the country.

  The Sunnah of Iraq should, supported by Arab and other regional countries, form a Sunni coalition within Iraq that is run logistically by a Saudi-Turkish alliance that includes all the Sunni groups in Iraq. This will restore the equilibrium in the country, which will also push for other changes in the neighboring countries, especially Syria.

 

Conclusion

Providing aid and support to the Sunni population of Iraq is essential to protect the security of the region and solve its problems. The party that controls the situation in Iraq is also controlling the situation in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. Standing against Iran in Iraq will naturally curb its influence in other countries.

SA in particular should realize that Iraq is a borderline that is essential to stop the spread of Iran's revolutionary model. If SA decided to abandon the Sunnah of Iraq and avoided any action to counter Iran's power there, then this will be considered a political and security suicide that would cost SA a lot on the short and long terms.

The Sunnah of Iraq should form a Sunni coalition that involve all the major leaders of the Sunni community to restore the social and institutional balance in the country.

It should be noted here that the Shia of Iraq do not particularly form a homogenous block. There is fierce competition among the Shia parties over power. The support for some of the Shia parties that were exiled, such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Ira, and the Dawa party was limited at first, which led these parties to play the sectarian card and fears to gather support from the Shia communities, under the pretext of achieving the rule of the majority, preventing injustice and discrimination, and standing against the rise of a new dictatorship.

While the major Shia parties and groups were at first interested in achieving proportional representation in running the country and its institutions, Nuri al-Maliki succeeded in enhancing his powers and the base of his supported.

In 2008 al-Maliki led a military campaign against the Mhadi Army (formed by Muqtada al-Sadr) which controlled the Basra at the time. Al-Maliki was able to force al-Sadr to withdraw his militias, and that marked freezing its military activity. The Mahdi army assumed its activities to face ISIL. Iran on other hand tried to unite these factions, if only prima facie, in order to preserve is control through them. This is not the case with the Sunnah of Iraq, since they do not have a power that seeks to unite them or defend their rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


References

[1] الدليمي، طه، هذه هي الحقيقة: الأعداد والنسب السكانية لأهل السنة والشيعة في العراق، ص118، دار نهاوند للطباعة والنشر، ط1، 2009، بيروت-لبنان.

 

[2] الإخوان المسلمون في العراق وثنائية الخيارات، الجزيرة نت.

http://bit.ly/1JSNsPp

[3] The Washington Institute, http://bit.ly/1JUuKcc

[4] http://bit.ly/1K7hJt4

[5] http://www.noonpost.net/content/6170

[6] http://www.noonpost.net/content/6170

[7] http://bit.ly/1LjMj3s

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