Elections

Politically defeated Kataib Hizbullah urged to reconsider alliances

By Faris al-Omran

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Iraqis pass by a poster of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City in Baghdad on October 17, after the Sadrist movement won 73 of parliament's 329 seats, in the October 10 parliamentary election. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

The outcome of the recent Iraqi elections, in which political parties representing armed groups backed by Iran suffered a resounding defeat, offers these groups a unique opportunity to disarm and reassess their alliances, analysts said.

Following the October 10 election, in which the Sadrist bloc won the majority of parliamentary seats (73 seats out of 329), Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced he had suspended the activities of the militia he controls.

The move is part of a broader effort to restrict arms to the state, with Iraq's top Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani previously calling for armed groups to disarm, and taking steps to integrate the militias associated with him into the Iraqi forces.

In light of this trend, and of the poor showing of its political bloc at the polls, Iran-aligned militia Kataib Hizbullah would be well advised to take the opportunity to disarm and align itself more closely with al-Sadr, analysts said.

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Kataib Hizbullah spokesman Abu Ali al-Askari speaks during a campaign rally in Baghdad on September 3, ahead of the parliamentary elections, in which the militia's political bloc later suffered a resounding defeat. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi attends a religious event in Baghdad on October 17, during which he made a speech rejecting the threats made by Kataib Hizbullah and stressing the integrity of the elections. [Prime Minister's media office]

They noted that by contesting the results of a free and fair election and issuing threats -- like how Kataib Hizbullah did on October 17 by objecting to the election results and vowing to escalate matters -- Iran's proxies are threatening to drag Iraq into a deeper civil strife.

Threats and warnings

Kataib Hizbullah's political wing and the political arms of other armed groups, including the Badr Organisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Jund al-Imam, suffered a resounding defeat in the elections.

They won only 17 seats combined, according to the final results the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced on October 17.

Immediately after the election, al-Sadr called on the militias to disarm. To make good on his words, he announced he was suspending the activities of Saraya al-Salam, the militia affiliated with him.

Previously, following the 2018 elections, al-Sadr had scaled down his militia, disbanding it in all cities except Baghdad, Karbala and Samarra, with the aim of strengthening the new Iraqi government and the security forces.

Al-Sadr has sought to distance himself from the Iranian axis, and to support the efforts of Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi's government to impose the state's authority and combat the detrimental influence of Iran-affiliated groups.

Al-Sadr's words sent a direct warning to Kataib Hizbullah and other Iranian proxies that their weapons are unacceptable, political analyst Ghanem al-Abed told Al-Mashareq.

Iraq cannot achieve stability and lift itself up while there are lawless weapons in the hands of militias that consider themselves above the law, he said.

"This has stoked fear in Kataib Hizbullah and other militias, who now see the political ascension of the Sadrists, and al-Sadr's words, as posing the most serious threat to their influence and existence," al-Abed said.

"So they began to issue threats, escalate their inflammatory rhetoric against the government and the IHEC, wave their weapons and threaten chaos if the electoral process is not redone," he said.

"They also mobilised their followers and sent them into the street to block roads, cripple traffic, and hold demonstrations and sit-ins near the Green Zone in Baghdad in an effort to disrupt life and exert additional pressure," al-Abed said.

Rejected at the polls

In an October 17 speech, Kadhemi rejected the pressure campaigns of "extortion, lies and deceit" orchestrated by the militias and losing parties.

He stressed the integrity of the elections, and said the Iraqi people have chosen the candidates they wish to represent them in government.

Through the ballot box, Iraqis chose to eject Kataib Hizbullah and affiliated militias from the political scene, al-Abed said.

They expressed, through peaceful means, their rejection of armed groups which are responsible for a string of missile attacks, the assassination of activists and destruction of the national economy in service of Iran's interests, he said.

Al-Abed said the militias must accept the results of the elections and comply with the demands made by al-Sistani and al-Sadr that they give up their weapons and cease and desist all provocative and hostile activities.

Their insistence on continuing terrorist behaviour and attempts to plunge the country into conflict may trigger a "violent reaction" by the government, he said.

Illegal weapons

The militias' political defeat in the Iraqi elections is a "painful blow" to Iran, strategy expert Rabie al-Jawary said.

Kataib Hizbullah "will not stop escalating and may resort to using its weapons to inflame the security situation and disrupt the formation of the new government", he said, pointing to its previous acts of terrorism that have harmed Iraqis.

Its threats demonstrate it is "an undesirable, lawless armed force that does not believe in the political process or democratic action in the first place, and is only looking out for its interests and serving the Iranian agenda", he said.

"This militia's illegal weapons pose a serious threat to the future of the country and the stability, peace and prosperity that Iraqis seek after these elections," which he described as "fair and credible".

"Al-Sadr, however, is capable of imposing his will on Kataib Hizbullah and the militias and curbing their ambitions and uncontrolled weapons," al-Jawary said.

He said he would like to see Kadhemi continue as prime minister, giving him "the opportunity to complete the efforts he started to impose the rule of law and stand up to Iran's proxies".

Is Iranian influence good for the Middle East?

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