The demonstration of a clear demarcation of interests between Iraqi popular mobilization groups and the national government was the parade of armed formations in the Green Zone of Baghdad on May 26, 2021. The reason for organizing this event was the arrest of the commander of the mobilization forces in Western Anbar, Qasem Musleh al-Khafaji. Thus, representatives of the militia and, above all, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq”, “Hezbollah Brigades” and some factions of the “Al-Fateh Coalition” unambiguously informed the Prime Minister of the country Mustafa al-Kazimi that the powers of the transitional cabinet headed by him should be are limited exclusively to political reforms and should under no circumstances interfere with the sphere of interests of the armed formations. In turn, the Iraqi government, most likely, does not intend to put itself in a rigid framework of conditions imposed by the militia, as a result of which it is ready to continue the practice of pressure on Iraqi armed groups in order to force them to submit to official Baghdad.
It is worth noting that the current contradictions between the Iraqi national government and the militia are not unique in their content. The conflict has long been smoldering in the depths of Iraqi society, given the repeated public statements by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi about the need to abolish most of the popular mobilization units. However, the arrest of Qasem Musleh al-Khafaji served as a “red line”, crossing which the Iraqi cabinet of ministers seriously angered the leaders of the militia.
For the first time, popular mobilization units took part in the Iraqi internal political crisis. The starting point for this was the numerous speeches of Iraqi Defense Minister Jumaa Inad, who questioned the involvement of the militia in the fight against ISIS. In particular, he said that the key role of the militia in the elimination of terrorist cells is, to say the least, exaggerated. In fact, according to Jumaa Inad, Iraq is obliged to free the regular army from the “Islamic State”.
Such statements were one of the main reasons why the Iraqi militia launched the initiative to hold a military parade in Baghdad on May 26, 2021, and thus sent a clear message to the national government that the Iraqi street factor should not be underestimated.
Meanwhile, because of the attitude towards the central leadership in the ranks of the Iraqi militias, there has been a clear split. The central points of disagreement were: the determination of the limits of the state’s powers in ensuring national security and the degree of participation of the armed formations in the political life of the country. As a result, representatives of official Baghdad expect to exclude the leaders of the militia from the electoral process in order to prevent them from entering the national government.
The military parade on May 26, 2021 also caused divisions within the Iraqi opposition camp. Iraqi society was ambivalent about the initiative of the militias, who, instead of learning how to solve problems with the national government on a political plane, decided to demonstrate strength. Ordinary Iraqis saw this as a signal for another escalation of the armed conflict on the internal stage. Against this background, many militia leaders came to the conclusion that they should not have distanced themselves so sharply from Baghdad and, thereby, scared away a significant part of the local population.
The government of Mustafa al-Kazimi took advantage of the divisions among its opponents, saying that the news of the arrest of the commander of the mobilization forces in Western Anbar, Qasem Musleh al-Khafaji, was untrue. This statement received a wide response among citizens, most of whom began to criticize the militia leaders, accusing them of artificially escalating the conflict. At the same time, the Iranian leadership was also criticized, thanks to the fact that the Ayatollah regime began to negotiate with the Iraqi militia on the formation of secret armed formations of the IRGC in the vicinity of Baghdad.
Such delimitation in the Iraqi opposition camp, fueled by the country’s central leadership, led to multiple clashes over disputes over the need to ensure the state’s image. The head of the organization, Badr Hadi al-Amiri, has repeatedly linked the image of the militia with the image of Iraq, believing that whoever ignores the voice of the people ignores the voice of the state. However, the national government systematically uses brute force to suppress the position of the popular mobilization units, and thus, based on the logic of Hadi al-Amiri, undermines the image of Iraq.
It is noteworthy that the head of the Supreme Islamic Council Ammar al-Hakim spoke with words of condemnation of the military parade on May 26, 2021 and, thereby, confirmed that there are fundamental differences in the ranks of the Iraqi opposition, primarily on political issues. Vivid evidence of this is also the fact that during one of the recent parliamentary sessions, representatives of the Al-Fateh coalition attacked the country’s defense minister, accusing him of treason and incitement to rebellion.