Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Iraq’s Shiite Militias Trying To Impose Religious Beliefs On Baghdad Again

Besides the daily regimen of bombings and shootings Iraq has also witnessed a number of attacks upon clubs, bars, cafes, liquor stores, and women since 2003. This year is no different with reports emerging of a number of closures, beatings, and drive by shootings of various businesses in Baghdad. While no one has been named, it is widely believed that Shiite militias are responsible. Several politicians have come out in support of these operations, claiming that they are enforcing the public’s morals and restrictions during Ramadan. The government on the other hand has issued a number of conflicting justifications for these incidents, while no one has ever been prosecuted for them. A rather ironic set of events given that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s list is called State of Law. That has led some to accuse the premier of either being behind some of these assaults or standing by and doing nothing about them since they likely involve some of his erstwhile allies. These acts represent how Islamists have attempted to impose their will upon Iraqi society using force.

Stores that sell alcohol have been a target of militias and the security forces since 2003 (Niqash)

The latest incidents occurred in Baghdad’s Karrada district at the beginning of July 2013. On July 5, it was reported that gunmen in SUV’s stormed several clubs, bars, and cafes telling everyone to leave or they would be beaten. The government reacted by issuing a number of contradictory justifications. Baghdad authorities claimed that certain cafes had been banned. The police elaborated that they were using underage females as waitresses. A spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command followed up by saying that it had received orders to close certain cafes, and the Interior Ministry said that the establishments could re-open as soon as they stopped using young help. On the other hand, the new Sadrist governor set up a special committee to prosecute the owners. Several Shiite politicians came out in support of the attacks. One told the press that the businesses were a disgrace and an insult to the Iraqi people and Islam, and that the government needed to regulate them more. A member of the Baghdad provincial council said that the closures were necessary to protect the families of Karrada. A Fadhila lawmaker called for an investigation, not into the attackers, but rather one owner that killed and wounded two of his assailants. He held a press conference to call for all businesses that served alcohol in the country to be closed, especially since it was Ramadan. A State of Law legislator seconded his opinion, while another claimed the bars and clubs were angering the public, and were unIslamic. A member of the Sadr bloc in parliament believed that closing the establishments was allowed under the constitution, and that it was the duty of the government to enforce these limitations. Another follower of Moqtada stated that the new Sadrist government of Baghdad was behind the closures, but that was quickly denied by another Sadrist who said that the movement was not trying to create a religious government in the capital. Other parties were not so happy with the turn of events. An Iraqi National Dialogue Front member blamed militias for the attacks, and implied they had the support of the government. A Kurdish Coalition legislator said that the attacks were a failure of the state to preserve law and order. A tribal group in Baghdad also condemned the attacks saying that the security forces should deal with any violations, and the Human Rights Ministry said that these assaults were a violation of the rule of law, and was the work of political parties. Three weeks later Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was forced to respond stating that the authorities were responsible for enforcing the law, and that militias and gangs were not accepted. He went on to claim that people had been arrested for the assaults, and the incidents were being investigated. Vigilante justice like these assaults is nothing new to Iraq. Since 2003, various groups have taken the law into their own hands over a number of issues. Businesses that are considered sinful and breaking religious law have been targeted for years. The fact that so many Shiite politicians came out in support of the actions showed that they have widespread support amongst the elite, and will continue with impunity despite Maliki’s comments about the rule of law.

A Baghdad club destroyed by security forces in Sep. 2012 (Al Arabiya)

This year has been no different from previous ones where militants have attacked shops. Earlier in the year in May, gunmen went after a brothel, killing 12 with silenced pistols and knives, and a liquor store suffered a drive by shooting. The week before several alcohol shops run by Yazidis were attacked leaving 8 to 11 people dead, and several wounded. All three incidents occurred in Baghdad’s Zayuna neighborhood. Back on September 4, 2012 security forces raided and destroyed several clubs in Karrada and Arasat for selling alcohol.  All had licenses however to sell liquor, despite statements to the contrary by the authorities. One patron claimed that the National Police conducted the closures, while Agence Presse France reported that it was the work of the Baghdad Brigade under the orders of General Farouk Araji, the director of the Office of Commander in Chief. Echoing the comments in 2013, the head of the Baghdad provincial council told the media that the actions were taken after public complaints about the clubs. The Office of Commander in Chief issued a statement saying that the raids were under court order, but a judiciary spokesman denied that. A security source told Al-Mada that Maliki had ordered the shut down of the clubs. Again like in this year, these actions were supported by other Shiite religious parties such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. At the same time there were stories that security forces were stopping women in Kadhimiya who were without headscarves, claiming that it was in respect for the religious shrines in the area. Earlier in April 2012, police attacked a series of nightclubs and alcohol shops in Baghdad, and shut them down. Previously in June and July liquor stores in New Baghdad and Karrada were bombed. (1) This was part of a spate of bombings that started in March and struck 25 businesses selling alcohol in the capital. In 2010, Sadrists attacked alcohol sellers as well. The Trend had been carrying out similar acts since April 2003. These previous events show a mix of militias and security forces illegally shutting down and assaulting enterprises that they felt were unIslamic. All received official or unofficial support from the authorities and political parties for what they saw as legitimate acts to maintain a religious society. It is also the reason why no one has ever been punished for this lawlessness, and why it continues to this day.

A bombed liquor store in Baghdad (CNN)

All of the major Shiite parties that rule Iraq are religious ones. Whether it is Maliki’s State of Law, which is led by the Dawa, the Supreme Council, the Sadrists, Fadhila or others, all have an Islamist ideology. Following these beliefs they have carried out attacks again and again upon businesses they feel are breaking their moral codes. Many times they have publicly come out saying that this is legal and constitutional, and done at the behest of the public. In reality, it shows that they are vigilantes who flaunt the law to impose their own religious views upon society. It is highly ironic as well since they condemn the terrorist acts of the Sunni insurgency, but are completely willing to carrying out their own bombings and killings when it suits them. This is the sorry state of Iraqi politics where every party has a militia, and some have sway over the security forces, and are more than willing to use them for their own gain rather than trying to create a country based upon rule of law where no party is above it.


1. Brosk, Raman, “Baghdad liquor stores targeted in bombings,” AK News, 6/21/11


Abbas, Mushreq, “New Religious Campaign Targets Baghdad’s Cafes,” Al-Monitor, 7/19/13

Agence France Presse, “Dozen shot dead at Baghdad brothel,” 5/22/13

AIN, “Baldawi calls to close impudent coffee shops,” 7/20/13
- “Nightclubs arouse rage among people, politicians,” 7/21/13
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Alsumaria, “Human rights: political parties behind closed cafes and civil peace at risk,” 7/21/13

Aswat al-Iraq, “Alcohol shop blown up, 2 persons injured, in Baghdad,” 7/5/11

Brosk, Raman, “Baghdad liquor stores targeted in bombings,” AK News, 6/21/11

Buratha News, “Deputy: House of Representatives cafes defenders dissolute return to the countries in which they reside,” 7/20/13

Cole, Juan, “The United States and Shi’ite Religious Factions in Post-Ba’thist Iraq,” Middle East Journal, Autumn 2003

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

Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Shiite militia reviving in post-election Iraq,” Associated Press, 5/4/10

Lewis, Jessica, Ali, Ahmed, and Kagan, Kimberly, “Iraq’s sectarian crisis reignites as Shi’a militias execute civilians and remobilize,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/31/13

Al-Mada, “Clans gathered south of Baghdad: Assault on cafes unacceptable and strange to talk about converting to other Najaf Karrada,” 7/21/13
- “Deputies: “assault” on the social clubs attempt to clone “Iranian experience” and was a “failure” of the state,” 7/7/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “Maliki: The State in responsible of enforcing the Law, no trespassing leniency with the militias, gangs,” 7/20/13

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Several Killed As Iraqi Gunmen Open Fire On Liquor Stores,” 5/14/13

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

Al Rayy, “Fadhila calls for an investigative committee on the killing and wounding citizens demanded the closure of liquor shops,” 7/18/13

Sadah, Ali Abel, “Iraq’s Yazidis in Crossfire In Baghdad,” Al-Monitor, 5/19/13

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

Shafaq News, “Source: new measures promote the government to be Islamic state,” 9/8/12

Tawfeeq, Mohammed and Carter, Chelsea, “Iraq liquor store owners fear for their lives amid attacks,” CNN, 6/7/11

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