CONTENT PREVIEW
Terrorism & Insurgency

Competition for Iraqi government posts likely to drive increased threat of fighting between rival militias in Baghdad

24 January 2019
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Key Points

  • The quarrel between Asai'b Ahl al-Haq and al-Hikma reflects wider divergences between a number of militias that are all competing for lucrative Cabinet and local government posts, and hold differing political views.
  • Low-level violence is likely in Baghdad in the form of targeted killings and attacks on rival properties and businesses, but protracted fighting or civil war is mitigated by a shared interest in preserving privileges in the face of rising protests and pressure from Iran.
  • Intensifying protests in the summer of 2019 are likely to have the unintended consequence of muting differences between the militias, thereby reducing risks of armed conflict between quarrelling parties. This would be due to the threat that protests by civilian activists would pose to the influence of Shia Islamist political movements and militias.

Event

On 10 January 2019, an unknown gunman assassinated Imad Jabar, the owner of the Laymounah restaurant in Sadr City, east Baghdad. Al-Forat TV claimed the gunman belonged to Shia militia Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, but the Interior Ministry has said it has not apprehended any suspects.Qais al-Khazali leader of the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, one of the units of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) speaks during a campaign gathering in Baghdad on 7 May 2018, ahead of Iraq's parliamentary elections held on 12 May 2018. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)Qais al-Khazali leader of the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, one of the units of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) speaks during a campaign gathering in Baghdad on 7 May 2018, ahead of Iraq's parliamentary elections held on 12 May 2018. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

A dispute between the al-Hikma party, led by Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim, and the Shia militia As'aib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), was sparked by the 10 January killing of a prominent restaurant owner in the Shia neighbourhood of Baghdad's Sadr City. Al-Hikma's TV station al-Furat, claimed the assailant belonged to AAH, prompting a strong denunciation of Ammar al-Hakim by AAH's leader, Qais al-Khazali. AAH is a leading component of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) and is represented in Parliament by its political wing, Sadeqoun.

The ensuing war of words was played out on rival TV stations and social media, with each side accusing the other of theft and corruption, including looting from the Beiji refinery and the expropriation of prime Baghdad real estate. Iraqi President Barham Salih intervened to dissuade both parties from holding demonstrations in Jadriyah, where al-Hikma's headquarters are based, which would have almost certainly led to violence, if not fatalities, among rival supporters.

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