Will Haider Al-Abadi Be The Last Artificial Shi’a Prime Minister?

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.
AbadiFrom the Governing Council Ambassador L Paul Bremer appointed in July 2003 to the sitting Iraqi Prime Minister, Dr. Haider Al-Abadi, no Iraqi chief executive was appointed according to the real will of the electorate, nor did anyone govern meaningfully according to the Iraqi Constitution or uphold the rule of law.  Prime ministers were appointed in a dual process of consociation: at one level, there had to be an intra-Shia consociation followed by an inter-ethnic, inter-sectarian consociation to appease the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds, and the accepted nominee has to earn the trust of the Americans.  The intra-Shia process itself involved a foreign element, the approval of Iran, and the inter-sectarian process involved the input and demands of the Sunni states of the region. The American interference has been the most arbitrary for two reasons: first, the Americans had no particular preference of their own, but they were more interested in the candidate that pleased the greatest possible number of the disputants, and the second reason is that the American decision has been so chaotic that even a small-time note taker in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad claimed to have a role in picking the Iraqi prime minister at one time.

This lawless process has caused the Iraqi Shia a lot of pain, loss of rights, and lately, great loss of lives.  The silver lining for them, however, is that this trend is not going to last.  The loss of Mosul was a game changer not only for Iraq’s ethno-sectarian conditions, but for the once undisputed position of post-2003 Shia leadership.  In this article, I will note a few of these changes and their impact on future political arrangements in Iraq.

The fall of Mosul in the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) created a great change in the basis of legitimacy within the Shia community.  Before we go further into this argument, let us remember that the current parliament and government in Iraq is the result of an election that pre-dated the sacking of Mosul by ISIL. As such, they do not represent the current map of Iraqi political loyalties.  In the era following the ISIL crisis, legitimacy in the Shia community shifted from the classical parties and their tired classical sectarian claims to the groups that took up arms and went to the frontlines to deny ISIL the opportunity to finish their genocidal campaign in Iraq.  There is no comparison, in Shia minds, between the political leaders who are fighting and those who are still practicing their political, administrative, and financial corruption like nothing happened in Iraq in the last eighteen months.  More than one of the once used to be respected Shia leaders were given an earful statement in the streets of Baghdad from ordinary Iraqis who used to cheer their presence.  By contrast, leaders of the Popular Mobilization Units (Al-Hashd AL-Sha’bi) can hardly make their way inside Shia cities because of the supporting crowds.  Will this be a game changer in the next elections?  Of course it will.

The second change is the position of the highest Shia religious authority (Marjaiyya), represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.  After supporting Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s appointment, G. A. Sistani watched in deep disappointment as the Prime Minister continued for a full year the same corrupt practices of previous governments, and with the help of the same corrupt politicians.  This led to another game changer in Shia politics: the Shia population that tolerated massive corruption committed in their name by their elected leaders finally took the streets of Baghdad and other Shia provinces to call for change and true reform.  The last fig leaf fell and Shia political parties lost their long-held claim of legitimacy as the representatives of Iraq’s majority.  This blow was coupled with a call from G. A. Sistani, through his representative in Karbala, instructing the Prime Minister to “strike corruption with an iron fist.”  Months have passed without any sign that Prime Minister Al-Abadi is interested in, or capable of implementing any meaningful political and financial reform.  Every measure reform he announced turned into a charade and a scandal, either because it is unconstitutional, or cosmetic.  This failure cost him the loss of support of the Shia and the religious authority.  His last visit to Najaf, the holiest Shia city, he was denied a meeting with G. A. Sistani, which is a clear sign that he is no longer trusted by the Marjaiyya.  To put this in perspective, it must be noted that a Prime Minister must slip to the lowest levels of corruption and incompetence to be treated in this fashion by G. A. Sistani, who is well-known for his wisdom, patience, and tolerance.

The continued onslaught against the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) from the Sunni Arab countries – most of them responsible for ideological and/or financial support of terrorism – and from many voices in the international media and research organizations, not to mention the pro-terrorist Iraqi voices, will make the Shia population raise their level of support for the PMUs and appreciate their role as the credible Iraqi force that helped save the country from collapse when no one else could.  If the PMUs form a party, then it will have at least one member, a national hero, from every Shia family.  This is a level of credibility no other Iraqi party can claim now or ever.

Some PMUs already have their political parties in place.  Their rise will undoubtedly bring about another kind of political upheaval in Iraq and a major intra-Shia struggle will take place, between them and the classical Shia leadership.  They will also bring a package of political loyalties and alliances, both internal and external, but this is all irrelevant to the debate outside Iraq.  The Iraqi Shia voter will not pay much attention to the international preferences for Iraqi leadership, but will remember who took up arms and defended him against the most existential threat in modern times, and who failed to do so.  Unless there will be no vocal or tacit interference from the Marjaiyya, the upcoming of the election is already decided.  As things stand now, there is no logical reason for the Marjaiyya to oppose it’s own creation,  the PMUs.

As other political leaders in Iraq, namely Kurdish leaders and the radical side of Sunni leadership, continue to overplay their hands and use blackmail and obstruction as political tools, there will not be room for feeble Shia politicians like those who dominate the political scene now.  Therefore, the future of Shia politics will not have a place for the likes of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who confuse betraying the trust of their constituents with legitimate compromise.  The same goes for the political parties.  The main Shia religious parties have exhausted their reservoir of legitimacy and respect after a decade of being associated with gross financial and political corruption and sheer incompetence.  While the Ba’th Party claimed the reputation of being the worst regime that ruled over the Shia in the past century, the current rule Shia parties in the post-2003 era has managed to become a very close second.  Other than electoral corruption, none of the conditions that helped them creep to political power in the past elections will be present in the future.

Will the rise of a strong, popular Shia leader cause more confrontation with other Iraqi groups? It probably will.  But its consequences will not be as bad as the consequences of having puppet leaders whose indecisiveness continued to deny Iraq every opportunity for stability and prosperity.  Iraq will not be able to survive another irresolute prime minister like Haider Al-Abadi and a corrupt, incompetent council of ministers like the present one.  This is not a statement of preference, it is a faithful reading of the Iraqi conditions.

The Saudi-Led Islamic Military Coalition: What It Is and What It Is Not.

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

Saudi Deputy Crown-Prince standing alone before an all-Saudi press to announce a 34-nation coalition who are represented by their flags, not their officials.

With every wave of terrorism in the United States or Europe, our media remembers what has been conveniently forgotten about the source and genesis of this terrorism that uses some deviant interpretation of Islam to justify its pernicious existence, and Saudi Arabia’s name surfaces in the news and security analyses. The Saudis, in turn, work fast to create a smokescreen to divert attention from themselves to some illusive entities and let the oil-needy West in a state of pathological denial, until the next episode.  With its more than 10 million barrels a day in oil production, the oil-dependent West considers Saudi Arabia “too big to fail.”  The Saudis know this and exploit it to the fullest extent.

The Saudi-led military coalition to combat terror is a smokescreen hastily announced very soon in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks which have Wahhabi ideology written all over them.  Soon after Paris was hit by terrorism, we started to see leading European politicians name Saudi as a state responsible for the the radicalization of the perpetrators, and if there is one thing the Saudis dislike it will be the publicity of their actions.  The 34 nations whose names were drawn from thin air are a mix of Saudi clients ready to be bribed in exchange of serving Saudi interests, troubled countries desperate to become relevant again, and a bunch of “surprised” nations that read about their membership in the coalition in the morning newspapers.  Some if the members of the “Islamic” Military Coalition are not even Islamic, and the term “Islamic” was redefined to mean Sunnis who agree to submit to Saudi Leadership.  None of the Shia-majority nations (Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan) were included or invited, and the one country with majority Shia population, Bahrain, that was included was invited as a Sunni country whose Shia population is currently targeted for oppression by the Saudis.  As such, it is not Islamic in the all-encompassing sense, but “Islamic” according to the Saudi-Wahhabi definition of who, and what, is Islamic.  And it is not a meaningful military coalition, because we already saw how great has been the failure of the Saudi-led military coalition that was assembled to fight in Yemen.  And it is not going to combat terrorism, because terrorist ideology is one of the top exports of Saudi Arabia, second only to oil.  We could actually consider this coalition a practical joke like those of April Fools’ Day if not for the fact that the Saudis consider such things blasphemy because they involve imitating the infidels and unbelievers.

auctionThe fact that needs to stay in our minds all the time as we work to combat terrorism is this: Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-inspired textbooks and Friday Prayer sermons are the ideological source of all terrorism committed in the name of Islam, and the petrodollars from both public and private sources in the Gulf are the financial fuel that keeps the flame of terrorism flame.

Therefore, the best thing Saudi Arabia can do for combating terrorism is to take the following steps:

  • Completely expunge from their school textbooks all the venomous hatred of non-Muslims and Muslims who do not espouse the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.  These hateful materials are spoon-fed to little teenagers and turning them into little terrorists in the making ready to be recruited by the terror agents.  The Saudi Ministry of Education cannot evade the responsibility of this policy of radicalization of the Saudi youth. Saudi Wahhabi Preachers
  •  Faithfully ban the hateful religious sermons that encourage worshipers to use violence, which are characteristic of religious services in Saudi mosques and are delivered by imams who are employees of the state.
  • Close state-funded media that spew religious hatred round-the-clock and dry the private funding for them.  These media outlets use Wahhabi religious ideology and pejorative language to dehumanize the Shia, the Sufis, the Zaydis, and all not-Muslims.
  • Stop the funding of schools and mosques in foreign countries, which have been established to spread Wahhabi extremism among the youth throughout the world and graduated thousands of extremists and hundreds of actual terrorists.
  • Monitor Saudi charities which are known for funneling money to an assortment of terrorist organizations and causes under the guise of charity work and disaster relief.  These charities have cynically abused the need of vulnerable communities in poor countries to radicalize their male and female youth.
  • Stop the sponsorship of radical groups in many countries around the world which is one of the main activities of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as thousands of the Ministry’s leaked secret documents have shown.
  • Embrace true democratic reforms and encourage public participation in the Kingdom’s political affairs, which are currently exclusively reserved for the members of the royal family and a small number of the elite.  Also, the Kingdom needs a complete review of the stifling social restrictions on men and women that drive people destructive behavior.

These measures can be a great start for combating terrorism, which has grown out of control.  The Saudi style working in multiple fruitless coalitions will increase the tension in the region and cause more fronts of conflict and it is a misguided way to combat terrorism.  Finally, counter-terrorism should not focus on killing terrorists, while the hatcheries of terrorism — schools, mosques, media, and charities — continue their work in a business-as-usual fashion.  The Wahhabis and their partners, the Saudis, have fooled many people some of the time, but they cannot fool all the people all the time.

Follow Abbas Kadhim on Twitter: @DrAbbasKadhim

The Shia Pilgrimage Between Two Eras

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

Arbaeen 1
A photo from this year’s Arbaeen pilgrimage showing the highway between Najaf & Krbala (by Mustafa Al-Najafi)

As they do every year, Shia pilgrims continue to move on foot to Karbala, 62 miles south of Baghdad to commemorate the passing of 40 days after Ashura, the martyrdom of Imam Husain, Grandson of Prophet Mohammad, in 680 AD. More than 12 million Iraqis and over a million foreigners participate in this mass ritual taking advantage of the religious freedom in Iraq and defying the threats of extremists who are inspired mainly by Saudi Arabia’s intolerant Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.  A number of the pilgrims were already killed by suicide bombers and car bombs, but this has never made a difference in the determination of the Shia to commemorate the occasion.

But this freedom to practice the rituals was not always the case.  Historically, Iraq had been under brutal anti-Shia rule for most of the past 14 centuries, and the policies of Sunni governments ranged from severely restricting the scope of this ritual to utterly banning it altogether.  A poem by Poet Abdurrasul Muhyiddin titled “O Husain, We Believed in You with All Our Being”, often recited in the occasion, details the methods adopted by previous tyrants to dissuade the Shia from visiting Husain’s shrine:

He (the tyrant) used a thousand tricks to dissuade us

He said whoever visits Husain, poor or wealthy

Has to pay a fee of hundred gold pieces

We paid, and each of us feels still hasn’t given much

What’s money and gold? A true lover submits to death

Then he said whoever visits Husain we cut his hand

We gave our hands and ran to visit you eagerly

Fear never kept us away from you, as they cut our hands off

We did not scream from pain, but screamed “We Believed in you.”

Arbaeen 5
A pledge by senior Ba’ath Party members to do everything in their power to prevent pilgrims from visiting Imam Husain. Document signed in July 2002 (less than a year before the overthrow of the Ba’ath regime).

In more recent times, during the Ba’ath Party rule, the ritual was placed under particular scrutiny.  In addition to its potential danger as a large Shia gathering, albeit away from Baghdad, the government also did not want any manifestation of loyalty to an entity other than Saddam Hussein and his Party.  The Ba’athist ideology was pushed down the throats of Iraqis as the only conviction and Saddam was imposed as the only icon.  Nevertheless, a large number of Iraqi Shia continued to defy the regime and participate in the commemoration, often at the risk of execution.
The Ba’ath Party archive details the measures taken to combat Shia rituals from the 1970s until the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.  One rich dossier is found in the archive of Ba’ath Party’s Central Bureau, currently held at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University in California.  The dossier covers an assessment conducted by a high-profile committee chaired by Saddam’s brutal cousin, Ali Hassan Al-Majeed (known as Chemical Ali).  The committee’s work was done in 1983 and 1984 and involved a sweeping effort by a wide range of Party resources from the local level in the Shia holy cities (Najaf and Karbala) to Baghdad and the national level. The committee mandate was to study the rituals and find out the reasons behind the continuation of Shia practices despite the heavy-handed measure of the state.  In addition to Al-Majeed, the committee included the Director General of Police, the Director General of Security and the regional and local branches of Ba’ath Party.

Arbaeen 2
A report from the Iraqi Director General of Police to the headquarters of the Ba’ath Party concerning the activities of the Arbaeen pilgrimage (1983).

In this article, which is part of a larger study in the archives, I will examine a few documents generated by the government security agencies and the Ba’ath Party.  One of the document was sent on 22 December 1983 from the Ministry of Interior, Director General of Police Major General Abdulkhaliq Abdulaziz, to the Ba’ath Party Central Bureau.  The subject was “The Arbaeen Pilgrimage”.  In the document, there are eight observations and three recommendations.  They all reveal to us what the Ba’ath regime was watchful for, and afraid of.  They also give us a glimpse of what measures  were taken to dissuade (read deter and prohibit) the Shia from performing this pilgrimage, and what “stubborn” dissidents were risking.  The observations were as follows:

  1. The pilgrims began to arrive in Karbala as of 22 November 1983 (the Arbaeen was on 26 November 1983). Some arrived on foot, while others by car.  The total number was estimated between 400,000 and 500,000 among them 70% were women and the rest old and young men.  This number was higher than the previous year (in another document we see the reason for the increase being the Arbaeen was on a weekend).
  2. A number of turbaned clergymen – Indians, Afghanis and Pakistanis – were among the pilgrims who arrived on foot.
  3. An increase of makeshift guesthouses was noticed. They were established to provide food and other services to the pilgrims.  A list of all the people responsible for establishing the 118 guesthouses was attached.  This number of guest houses is less than what we find in one mile of the road between Najaf and Karbala nowadays.
  4. A number of cars stopped alongside the road and distributed fruits and food to the pilgrims. A list of all license plate numbers was attached.
  5. The pilgrims and Shia residents, apparently heeding a previous warning, were commended for reducing the number of black banners, except for some colored banners that were raised in fulfillment of religious pledges (nudhour).
  6. Grand Ayatullah Abu Al-Qasim Al-Khoei (d. 1992) visited Karbala two days prior to the occasion and distributed food and money to pilgrims in his sponsored Husainiya (guesthouse).  Another clergyman, Shaykh Ali Kashif Al-Ghita also arrived one day prior to the occasion to perform the ritual.
  7. The custodians of the Shrines donated the money given to them by Grand Ayatollah Al-Khoei to the War effort (the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988). The money was 1,000 Dinars (about $3,750).
  8. The loudspeakers of the two shrines were used to make supplications for the long life of Saddam Hussein and for Ira’s victory in the war.

Despite the peaceful nature of the rituals and lack of any disturbance, and notwithstanding the fact that the occasion was even used to show allegiance to Saddam and the Iraqi Armed Forces, still the recommendations were not favorable of the rituals.  Here is a list of what was recommended:

  1. Putting together a plan to utilize the Ba’ath Party branches and Civil Society organizations, as well as other resources, to educate the masses, in order to reduce these rituals.
  2. The use of disciplinary measure to prevent Ba’ath Party members from taking part in the rituals, as some of them were seen among the pilgrims.
  3. Forcing non-Iraqi Arabs and foreigners to abide by the rules of conduct while in the country for the purpose of performing the pilgrimage, as some of them were seen providing services to the pilgrims.
In this photograph taken on January 4, 2009, Shiite Muslims assist wounded pilgrims after an attack by a female suicide bomber at the mausoleum of Imam Musa al-Kadhim in Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighbourhood.
Shia Pilgrims killed in a suicide bombing.

Freedom of religion is supposed to be acknowledged without any dispute in the second decade of the twenty-first century, but the continued existence of religious fanatics keeps many people hostage in the grip of the inquisition of the Dark Ages.  In the world of Islam, intolerant Wahhabi interpretation of Islam claims a monopoly and guardianship of what is and is not allowed in Islam, despite the minuscule percentage of Wahhabis within the Muslim population.  What accounts for this brazen behavior? Well, there is an abundance of petrodollars at the disposal of pro-Wahhabi movement to use for dissemination of their intolerant teaching.  Then, there is the influence of Saudi Arabia, a country whose official religion is Wahhabism.  No matter the levels of Wahhabi menace throughout the world, from New York to Iraq to Beirut and, most recently, Paris, the Saudi kingdom do not seem to be held accountable.  Indeed, they were recently rewarded with the chairmanship of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a mockery human rights activist have a full term to ponder on.  The fact that Iraqi Shia are threatened in their own cities by car bombs and suicide bombers as they practice one of the most civil and peaceful rituals in the world (walking a long distance to what they consider a holy city) is a sad reminder to all of us that there are certain corners in the world that are still infested by the spiderwebs of the Medieval era.