I will try to give a brief background to today’s dramatic events in Iraq and explain to you who’s against who and why all this happened.
Last October, elections were held in Iraq after a long period of political vacuum characterized by a string of transitional governments. These elections saw a rise in the power of Iraqi political elements opposing Iranian influence in Iraq, led by the party of the prominent Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
Initially, there was a feeling that a new coalition would form, giving hope to the Iraqi people for political stability, a government that would push out foreign influences from Iraq, primarily Iran (but also the US). To this day, almost a year after the elections, no new coalition has been formed.
Al-Sadr, the Iraqi-Shiite leader who vocally opposes Iranian and American influence in Iraq, recently led his supporters to several demonstrations against the corrupt government, its institutions, and the Iraqi constitution to bring about the long-awaited change. During these demonstrations, his supporters took over the Iraqi parliament building and held it for several days.
Today, al-Sadar, who has broad popular support, announced his retirement from political life. Shortly after, his supporters broke into Iraq’s Presidential palace in Baghdad, as well as several Governorate Council buildings in various districts throughout Iraq, as his supporters went out to demonstrate in the streets.
Opposing al-Sadr and his supporters are pro-Iranian Iraqis, who have established political frameworks but also a significant and formidable military force: the al-Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella organization, which includes dozens of Shiite militias funded by the Iraqi treasury but loyal to Tehran. The role of these militias, which they fulfill with great success, is to use force to make sure that Iran’s interests in Iraq are kept.
Today’s riots in Iraq saw clashes between al-Sadr’s supporters and pro-Iranian supporters and militias with the Iraqi security forces in the middle, many of whom support al-Sadr.
This fight is over the face of Iraq in the coming years and the forces that will influence its future. Each side is pulling strongly in its direction, tearing apart the Iraqi state which fails to function as a sovereign entity.
Lebanese journalist Nadim Koteich gives his perspective on the situation in Iraq. “What’s happening in Iraq is not a struggle for power or battles over quotas… What’s happening now is an intifada of a moderate Shiite bloc against the imperialism of Ali Khamenei.”