Monday, September 24, 2012

Is Iraq’s Dawa Party Returning To Their Islamist Roots Or Just Trying To Shore Up Their Base? Attempts To Ban Alcohol, Set Public Dress Codes, And Attack Emos And Gays Raise The Question

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party was the first modern Islamist organization formed in Iraq. Dawa was created by laypersons and clerics in the 1950s, advocating the formation of an Islamic state run by technocrats, which would rely upon the opinions of the country’s religious establishment. Since Maliki assumed power in 2006, he has emphasized other issues such as Iraqi nationalism and security with the creation of the State of Law list. That doesn’t mean that he and his party have given up their Islamist roots. In recent years, Dawa members have taken certain actions in Baghdad that reveal their continued adherence to their history.

One example was attempts to ban alcohol in the capital. In 2010, the Baghdad provincial council issued an order against the sale of alcoholic beverages. This followed a similar action in Basra in August 2009 after Dawa took power there in provincial elections. Iraqi law only allows Christians and Yazidis to sell alcohol. In November 2010, security forces began shutting down bars, nightclubs, and shops selling liquor, claiming that they were unlicensed businesses. In January 2011, the head of the provincial council introduced a new ordinance on alcohol citing Islamic Law. That led to a new wave of raids on bars and clubs, including the Iraqi Writers Union, showing that the security forces were not just going after regular alcohol sellers, but intellectual organizations as well. Those moves eventually ended. Then in September 2012, they began all over again. Just like before, local authorities claimed they were targeting those selling alcohol without a license. This included the Cinema Club, the Ashurbanipal Cultural Association,the Iraqi Writers Union, and the pharmacist club. The Baghdad Brigade carried out the strikes in the Karrada and Arasat neighborhoods of the capital. The Office of the Commander and Chief, which Premier Maliki is the head of, claimed the action was taken because of a court ruling. A spokesman for the judiciary however, denied any such order had been issued. A security official claimed the real person behind the raids was General Farouk al-Araji, who is the director of the Office of the Commander in Chief. Right afterward, a parliamentarian from State of Law said he was going to introduce legislation to ban alcohol sales in all of Iraq. It’s hard to believe that the Baghdad Brigade, General Araji or the Office of the Commander in Chief were not working for Maliki in this situation. Some critics saw these actions as a sign that the prime minister was trying to impose the Islamic norms of his Dawa Party on society. While there are many Muslims that have no problem with liquor, the more religious believe it to be forbidden. The fact that many of the establishments that were hit from 2010-2012 had licenses to sell alcohol also showed that Maliki was not shy about using the security forces for his own personal agenda, and that he was willing to ignore the rule of law.
A club after a raid by security forces, Sep. 2012 (Al-Arabiya)
In 2011, the Women’s Affairs Ministry attempted to institute a dress code for female public workers. The order came from the Higher National Committee for the Advancement of Iraqi Women who demanded that women working for the government wear “moderate dress” in September 2011. The committee was under the Women’s Affairs Minister Ibtihal al-Zaidi of the Dawa Party. One committee member said that the ruling came as a result of public workers not dressing according to Islamic traditions. The Planning and the Higher Education Ministries, which were run by the Sadrists and State of Law respectively read the rules to all their female employees. Other ministries run by other parties did not comply. Again, this was an instance where Dawa members were acting against what they saw as violations of their interpretation of religion. Iraqi public workers wear all types of dress from traditional to Western. Some members of the Women’s Affairs Ministry were getting offended by the latter, and attempted to put an end to it. The fact that Iraq has a divided government with different parties controlling different ministries also showed the limited power the Dawa actually had over the matter. Those ministers with Islamist leanings attempted to enforce the ruling, but others who were either non-religious or opposed to Maliki, ignored it. That highlighted the unwillingness of Maliki and Dawa to go beyond those jurisdictions that they had direct control over.

The latest example of Islamist inspired action was far more violent. In 2012, there were reports that anywhere from six to forty emos and gays were murdered in Baghdad. This came after the Interior Ministry posted a statement on its website calling emos Devil worshippers in February. The Ministry then called for a police crackdown, while at the same time claiming that any deaths were being made up by the media. Stories emerged that Shiite militants were handing out lists of people they were going to kill. In March, Human Rights Watch blamed the government for the attacks, which was later substantiated by a BBC investigation. The BBC found that the Interior Ministry statement about emos being Satanists led to a concerted and covert campaign to murder gays and emos in the capital by members of the security forces. While Adnan Asadi is the deputy Interior Minister, he was appointed by Prime Minister Maliki in 2011, who is still the acting Interior Minister. Like the alcohol banning, this appears to be an instance where the premier has used the security forces to go after those he feels are in violation of his image of what an Islamic society should be like. Unlike those earlier events however, this one has led to several deaths, which will go unpunished since they are at the behest of the central government. At the same time, this again shows that Maliki and Dawa have only felt comfortable imposing their views on a limited scale, only going after emos and homosexuals in certain districts of Baghdad, rather than the whole city, other provinces or the entire country.

While Dawa no longer seems to publicly campaign on their Islamist agenda, it appears to still be committed to it. From 2010 to the present there have been several examples of Dawa members ranging from Prime Minister Maliki to ministers to members of the security forces using extrajudicial and official means to impose their Islamist ideas on certain sectors of society. At the same time, these efforts have been largely limited to the capital, and only affected specific and limited groups such as certain clubs, stores, female workers in certain ministries, emos, and gays. These actions have led to increasing yet ineffective criticism, which might be the reason why they were taken. Maliki and his fellow party members may be unwilling at this time to take more far reaching acts that could lead to a wider public outcry. Dawa doesn’t have the ability to act on a larger scale at this time either since the different ministries and provinces are run by other parties. At the same time, it can point to these events to their followers, and other like-minded citizens to shore up their base. That might be their goal at this time to show their brethren that they have not abandoned their Islamist past, and that they still want an Islamic society, while not going that far to actually push for one.


Arango, Tim, “In Iraq, Bottoms Up for Democracy,” New York Times, 4/16/11

BBC, “BBC investigation reveals police persecution of gays in Iraq,” 9/12/12

Decamme, Guillaume, “Iraq forces raid Baghdad nightclubs: officials,” Agence France Presse, 9/5/12

Habib, Musafa, “baghdad bans beer: why new Iraqi prohibition is an ominous sign,” Niqash, 9/13/12

Al-Haidari, Moyad, Rechnagel, Charles, “Raid On Nightclubs Raises Fears Of Islamic State,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 9/11/12

Ibrahim, Haidar, “Baghdad council demands harsher sentences for alcohol salesmen,” AK News, 7/23/11

Khallat, Khudr, “Baghdad liquor stores shut down by provincial council,” AK News, 3/9/11

Leland, John, “Baghdad Raids on Alcohol Sellers Stir Fears,” New York Times, 1/15/11

Mohammed, Abeer, al-Sharaa, Hazim, “Minority Businesses Fear Alcohol Bans,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 3/17/11

Musings On Iraq, “A History of Iraq’s Islamic Dawa Party, Interview With Dr. Rodger Shanahan,” 8/13/12

Muwafaq, Loay, “religious instruction: iraqi students drop out due to sectarian lessons,” Niqash, 3/8/12

Ramzi, Kholoud, “not short, tight or shiny: new dress code could see women forced into veils,” Niqash, 1/26/12

Rasheed, Ahmed and Ameer, Mohammed, “Iraq militia stone youths to death for “emo” style,” Reuters, 3/10/12

Al-Rasheed, Muntathar and al-Shibeeb, Dina, “Crackdown on Iraq nightclubs upsets rights activists, sparks mystery,” Al Arabiya, 9/22/12

Al-Saray, Ali, “Iraqi Nightclub Crackdown Fuels ‘Islamization’ Fears,” Al-Hayat, 9/11/12

Al-Shummari, Yazn, “Education ministry requires students to wear uniform in schools because of “emo” culture,” 3/18/12

Stork, Joe, “Iraq: Investigate ‘Emo’ Attacks,” Human Rights Watch, 3/16/12

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom,” March 2012


Anonymous said...

What I can tell you is about my experience. In Sadder City (yes I drunk beer there) and in Amara if you want to buy beer you can get it from some people belong al-MAhdi militia. The key question here is how long we should wait until Obama Admon. will take action -in Iraq- to stop the spreading of Iranian influence and the slow raising of the Maliki dictatorship. Any take in the article about Iraq published in New York times (yesterday?) and how Obama Admon. have been leaving any responsabilty in Iraq step by step (SOFA failure, Erbil agreement failure...)?

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said...

Good piece Joel, but I would also have discussed the recent police raid on Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. As far as I know, the incident has largely been confined to Arabic media, but the news was confirmed to me by Iraq's former national security advisor.

This is the only English item I could find:

Joel Wing said...

My take on the Obama Admin. is that they push for talks whenever there's a blow-up, but otherwise have put Iraq on the back burner and are trying to forget about it.

Joel Wing said...

Yes, know about the raid. The article was largely finished already, and didn't have time to add anything. I'm getting swamped by work right now, so don't have a lot of free time to write, etc.