Iraq is a militant theocracy, not a secular democracy

Iraqi ministries are controlled by zealots who derive their authority through clergymen.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) speaks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, second right, Iranian Senior Vice-President Eshagh Jahangiri, second left, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari during their meeting in Tehran, last June. (The office of the Iranian supreme leader)


2017/08/20 Issue: 120 Page: 7


The Arab Weekly
Tallha Abdulrazaq



Democracy. The great promise made to Ira­qis before the 2003 US-led invasion that plunged them into a vision of hell. Iraqis did not get the de­mocracy they were prom­ised but instead received tyranny, civil war, sectarian violence, Iran-backed Shia jihadists and mur­derous savages such as the Islamic State (ISIS).

Even the trappings of democracy are slowly being eroded by those whom the world thinks were elected to high office but were in fact installed through backroom deals between interventionist powers.

Of course, I am referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has never won an election but was installed in office after a deal between the United States and Iran to find a more palatable candidate than then-Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

A known sectarian Shia Islamist politician who comes from the same Dawa Party as his successor, Maliki was blamed for the slaugh­ter of Sunni Arabs that triggered a military confrontation between Arab tribes and the central govern­ment in Baghdad that ISIS exploited in 2014.

The reality is more complicated than that. While there can be no doubt that Maliki is a violent, sectarian politician who has much to answer for, the problems with Iraq’s political and religious sectarianism are institutionalised and pervasive at every level of the state.

How else can one explain how Abadi — an apparent moderate to Maliki’s extremist — can use religious justifications to keep a highly politicised, highly sectarian militia from disbandment?

On August 5, in response to a call by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for militias to be disarmed, Abadi said the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) would not be disbanded but would remain “under the authority of the state and the marja’iyyah” — Shia clerical authorities.

This is not only extremely incendiary but dangerous. Abadi’s remarks show that a military unit such as the PMF, a force legally recognised by the Iraqi parliament as part of the country’s armed forces, was not a national force fighting out of patriotic duty but one that had a religious role.

Similar to some medieval military orders, the PMF would fight for the country, which was guided by the religious authorities who — similar to Abadi — were unelected. Unlike Abadi, however, they cannot be held accountable by laymen.

Entire Iraqi ministries are controlled by such zealots, who derive their authority not from the will and consent of the people but through clergymen who lend them their legitimacy through their political ties to regional power­house Iran. Take the Interior Ministry, for example, which has been controlled by the Tehran-linked Badr Organisation for the better part of two decades.

Abadi’s announcement placing the PMF under the direct authority of ayatollahs and radical clerics means that the institution is slowly being formalised into the Iraqi version of Iran’s Islamic Revolu­tionary Guards Corps. The latter is a parallel force to the regular army, committed to ensuring the Iranian theocracy stays in power and destroying internal and external subversive elements that could derail the power of the mullahs.

Now that the PMF has received political and religious assent to act as the guardian of Iraq’s ever-encroaching theocracy, the democratic promise made to Iraqis seems ever more distant and beyond reach. Once the transfor­mation of Iraq into a theocracy is complete and the grip of the ayatollahs on executive, judicial and legislative powers of the state becomes uncompromising, it will take nothing short of a miracle to save Iraq from decades of repres­sion, intolerance, sectarianism and violence.


Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute in England.


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