A hard line pro-Iran Iraqi militia has announced the dissolution of one of its armed units in response to a call from populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for armed groups to disband and turn their weapons over to the state. This could amount to a coup for Mr Sadr if others follow suit.
Abu Ali al-Askeri, a senior official with the Kitaeb Hizbullah militia, said it had decided to dissolve its Popular Defence Brigades and had ordered them to stop all activities and close their headquarters.
The brigades' members will be merged with the Popular Mobilisation Forces, which are under the control of the Iraqi military.
Mr Sadr announced last Thursday that political parties affiliated with militias must disband their armed wings if they seek to join the next government, which his party, the largest in parliament, is expected to form with allies. On Saturday he declared the demobilisation of one of his three brigades as “a goodwill gesture”.
“I hope this step will be the beginning of the dissolution of armed groups as well as the handover of their weapons and closure of their bases,” he said.
His stand is certain to be popular with most Iraqis, who seek an end to militia domination and interference in the country’s domestic and foreign affairs. They demonstrated their disapproval of the militias and Iran’s role in the country in the October parliamentary election.
Demand for recounts
Mr Sadr’s party won 73 seats in the 329-seat parliament, 19 more than in the 2018 election. By contrast the Fatah alliance, comprising Iran-backed militia affiliates and formerly the second largest bloc, secured only 17 seats as compared to 48 previously. The third placed party led by former prime minister Haidar al-Abadi fell from 42 seats to four.
The losing parties responded by demanding recounts, launching legal challenges in the courts and mounting protests outside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone where government offices and embassies are located. On November 7th, as tensions peaked, two bomb laden drones struck prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s residence in the Green Zone, causing damage but no injuries.
Alarmed over the deteriorating situation, Tehran dispatched to Baghdad Quds force commander Esmail Ghaani to insist Iran and its allies had nothing to do with this attack and say that Iran would accept any politician named by Shia blocs as the next prime minister.
His visit has not, however, discouraged the losing parties from continuing their campaign to challenge the result, prompting Mr Sadr to defend the country’s electoral commission from attacks.
He tweeted, “We denounce and condemn all the political and security pressures that the [commission] has faced since it began work [on the 2021 poll]. The work of the judiciary and [the federal] court in approving the results of the elections should not be interfered with.”