Showing posts with label Jaafari Government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jaafari Government. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Will Abadi Be Any Different Than Maliki As Iraq’s Next Premier?

Many people are wondering whether prime minister nominee Haider Abadi will be any different from current premier Nouri al-Maliki since they are both from the Dawa Party. A comparison of Maliki to his predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari also of Dawa shows that membership in the party does not mean that any two individuals will rule the same. Maliki was accused of amassing too much power in his hands and being an autocrat, while Jaafari was known as a horrible manager who did little while the civil war broke out. Given that history Abadi will likely be his own man when he puts together a new ruling coalition.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari who was premier from 2005-2006 and Nouri al-Maliki both lived lives of exile during the Baathist period. Jaafari was a doctor by profession and joined the Dawa Party while he was at the University of Mosul in 1966. During a government campaign against the party in 1980 he fled to Iran where he lived for almost ten years. In 1989 he relocated to London where he was a spokesman for Dawa. It appeared he left on friendly terms with Iranian officials. (1) Nouri al-Maliki became a member of Dawa when he was a teenager following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Upon the suggestion of the party he went to Usual al-Din College in Baghdad, which was founded by Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr the spiritual leader of the movement. He later received a degree in Arab Literature. Like Jaafari Maliki fled Iraq and eventually ended up in Iran after a government crackdown in 1979. There he helped run Dawa’s armed wing against the Baathist government. Like Jaafari, Maliki left in 1990 over Tehran’s attemptto take over the party, and moved to Syria where he continued his clandestine activities. Although their professional background was different, they both came from well off families and joined Dawa around the same time, and were forced to flee their homeland as a result. That led them to Iran, which was considered an inspiration to many party members after its 1979 revolution. That eventually wore off for Maliki who resented Iran’s attempt to control his party, but not so much for Jaafari. He ended up going to the West, while Maliki remained in the Middle East, probably because he was a leader in the armed faction and needed to stay in the region to help run its activities. Still, they held much in common.

Jaafari and Maliki returned to Iraq in 2003 and became premier back to back, but their styles of governing were complete opposites. Following the January 2005 elections, Jaafari was made premier in May. He was known as being an intellectual who loved to talk about philosophy and political thinkers. In July 2005 for example, he met with President George W. Bush in Washington where he went on and on about how much he loved Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and other American presidents. In terms of governance Jaafari was completely ineffective. The premier’s chief of staff said that the prime minister’s office was disorganized, while a U.S. diplomat noted that the office was staffed with Dawa members who had no experience in administration. Jaafari himself attempted to micro-manage everything and did little as a result. Many in the U.S. and Iraq ended up blaming him for the civil war when it broke out his first year in office. He did nothing about the Bard Brigade for example, which took over the Interior Ministry under his government, and began using its commandos to carry out sectarian arrests and killings. Maliki turned out to be the complete opposite, although that was not apparent at first. He was chosen to replace Jaafari in 2006. The Sadrists were one of his main supporters, and Maliki returned the favor by protecting its Mahdi Army, which had become the main militia fighting in the sectarian war from the U.S. When the civil war was subsiding he turned on them seeing them as a possible rival and launched the Charge of the Knights in Basra, Amara, and Baghdad. He would then challenge the insurgency in Mosul, and the Kurds in Diyala. This made him widely popular as an Iraqi nationalist, and helped his new State of Law coalition win the 2009 provincial and 2010 parliamentary elections. Along the way he created his own command system over the security forces, took over the intelligence agencies, went after his opponents, became the acting Defense and Interior Ministers, and gained control over the judiciary all of which led to his image as an autocrat. Although Jaafari and Maliki joined Dawa during the same period, and both went into exile in Iran where they participated in plans to overthrow Saddam Hussein they could not be more different when they became premier. Jaafari loved to talk people to death about esoteric topics, while doing very little as leader of Iraq. Maliki was accused of seizing too much power, and doing too much. Their shared experiences therefore did not shape their vision of how to run Iraq nor their management styles.

Haider Abad’s life started out similar to Jaafari and Maliki’s, but then turned out much different. Like the other two, Abadi came from a well off family. Similar to Maliki, Abadi joined Dawa in 1967 as a teen. He then got a bachelor’s degree at the University of Technology in Baghdad where he became a lecturer in Electrical Engineering making him a professional as Jaafari was. The difference was that Abadi ended up going to London for graduate school and his doctorate in the 1970s. During that period he became the head of the Dawa Party in England where Jaafari would later work with him. After 2003 he was made Communications Minister, and then elected to parliament in 2005 where he was made chairman of the economic committee specializing on reviving the state owned enterprises. He later served as an adviser to Maliki and was put in charge of Tal Afar, which was then under insurgent control. In recent years, he was on the finance committee where he pushed for cutting off budget payments to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for its independent oil policy. Unlike Jaafari’s reputation as a philosopher and Maliki’s as an autocrat, Abadi is known for being a technocrat. He has been a State of Law loyalist as well, but that could be expected since he has been in Dawa for most of his life.

Given the history of Jaafari and Maliki and their time in office there is no reason to believe that Abadi will be like them. Jaafari and Maliki were complete opposites while prime minister even though their time as Dawa members had many similarities. Abadi has even fewer things in common with those two. His technocratic background might be just what Iraq needs during this moment of crisis. Working on problem solving rather than political disputes would be a huge step forward. At the same time, his early statements about what he wants to do in government cannot be taken at face value. He has called for a trimmed down government and for militias to all be under state control. Jaafari and Maliki made similar comments when they took office, but did nothing substantial about them. Only when Abadi actually becomes prime minister and starts forming policy will it be known whether he will be similar or different from his predecessors.


1. Worth, Robert, “Iraq’s New Presidential Names Shiite Leader as Prime Minister,” New York Times, 4/7/05


Arango, Tim and Gordon, Michael, “Next Leader May Echo Maliki, But Iraqis Hope for New Results,” New York Times, 8/19/14

Associated Press, “Shiites choose nominee for Iraq prime minister,” 4/21/06

Buratha News, “Who is the prime minister-designate to form the next government, Haider Abadi?” 8/11/14

Burns, John, “Precarious Cease-Fire in Amara Holds,” New York Times, 10/22/06

Cole, Juan, “Saving Iraq: Mission impossible,” Salon, 5/11/06

Gordon, Michael and Trainor, General Bernard, The Endgame, The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, From George W. Bush to Barak Obama, (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012)

Michaels, Jim, “Shiites Redefine Battle in Baghdad,” USA Today, 8/10/06

Parker, Ned and Salman, Raheem, "Notes From The Underground: The Rise of Nouri al-Maliki," World Policy Institute, May 2013

Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “FACT SHEET: IBRAHIM AL-JAAFARI,” Institute for the Study of War,” 5/12/10

Tavernise, Sabrina, “Many Iraqis See Sectarian Roots in New Killings,” New York Times, 5/27/05

Worth, Robert, “Iraq’s New Presidential Names Shiite Leader as Prime Minister,” New York Times, 4/7/05

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ethnosectarian Politics In Iraq, Its Future And Repercussions, An Interview With Univ of Miami Prof. Adeed Dawisha

Sectarian politics has ruled Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Although the Americans are widely blamed for institutionalizing this style of government, the Iraqi opposition was already organizing themselves by sect and ethnicity in the 1990s. Since the U.S. invasion, every Iraqi government has been a national unity one where all the winning lists have been given a seat, and top positions are divided up using ethnosectarian quotas. Washington and others have argued that this system was necessary to include all of Iraq’s diverse population, so that they could work together to form a new democracy. In practice however, it has only led to dysfunctional governments and corruption. To discuss the impact and future of this form of rule is University of Miami Political Science Professor Adeed Dawisha who specializes in democracy and politics in the Middle East.

1. The United States started organizing the Iraqi government along ethnosectarian lines with the Iraqi Governing Council that it formed in 2003. The number of seats was handed out to each group based upon their perceived population size, while also trying to include secular and religious groups. What was the original argument the Americans made for dividing up the council in that fashion?

After the massive conversion to Shiism among Iraq’s tribes from the late 18th century onward, the ethnographic composition of the country has been roughly 60% Shiites, 20% Sunnis, 18% Kurds, and 2% other minority religions and beliefs. Yet throughout the same period Sunnis dominated the political process. This imbalance was aggravated further, taking on violent forms, during the Saddam era. So after the forcible removal of Saddam, the general sentiment was for a more equitable distribution of political power, something which Iraqis had not had for over two centuries—hence the allocation of seats in the first Governing Council in accordance with the ethnographic composition of Iraqi society.

2. In 2004 Iyad Allawi was named the interim prime minister. He was a secular politician, yet he followed the same quota system, and so did all the subsequent governments. Why did the Iraqis buy into this system when they were in control?

Once a precedent is set, particularly one that is advertised as based on fairness, it is difficult to break it. When you have a majority group (Shiites), as well as a minority group (Kurds), who between them constituted almost 80% of the population, believing that they’d had two centuries of exclusion and persecution, and that they now have finally attained a fair representation in government, no contrary argument, regardless of how pertinent or justifiable it is, could have won the day.

3. Some believe that sect and ethnicity are primordial divisions within Iraq that have always existed, while others have argued that ethnosectarian politics only came to the fore when the state lost legitimacy leading people to look towards other groups and identities for protection. What is your opinion of why ethnosectarian politics became so prominent in present day Iraq?

If the question is suggesting that the state lost legitimacy after the invasion of Iraq, then I have major problem with such an interpretation. The state under Saddam had little, if any, legitimacy among a commanding majority of the country’s population. It was under Saddam’s rule, particularly the last decade and a half, that ethno-sectarianism, tribalism and sub-state identities came to the fore, overshadowing the more inclusive Iraqi identity. What the Americans did was to institutionalize these identities. The American move, as I said earlier, was undertaken with probably the best of intentions, but unfortunately it proved to be an absolutely terrible decision in terms of Iraq’s post-invasion political development.

4. You’ve argued that the quota system is the reason why Iraq’s politicians run the ministries like personal fiefs. Can you explain the connection between the two?

The apportionment of cabinet portfolios stems from the original American decision to create ethno sectarian balance within the first Governing Council. The practice was taken a step further when after the January 2005 elections, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari apportioned cabinet seats not only to the various ethnic and sectarian groups but also to different grouping within the winning coalition. The result was that Jaafari’s authority over his ministers became marginal at best. This continued through Maliki’s first term (2006-2010) and right into his second term. The result was that ministries became separate cantons in which the loyalty of the minister was directed more to the leader of his party or his ethnosectarian group than to the prime minister. From around the fall of 2011, Maliki has used the inevitable paralysis in the cabinet to sideline the ministers and take unilateral decisions. 

5. Federalism has been another problem for Iraq. Originally, the U.S. wanted to devolve power away from Baghdad to the provinces to try to prevent another dictatorship being formed. What the country ended up getting was the recognition of the Kurds’ control of Irbil, Dohuk, and Sulaymaniya. Provinces were also given the right to form their own federal regions, and some tried recently, but were stopped by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. How could decentralization help with the governance of the country, and why have the premier and other parties opposed it?

After years of centralized authoritarian politics, which attained an absolutist form under Saddam, it was obvious to many analysts that creating a federalist political structure, where power devolves away from the center to the regions, was the best way to ensure that dictatorship does not return. Post-Hitler Germany is the best illustration of this argument. But what transpired in Iraq, mainly through purposeful Kurdish advocacy, was not the kind of territorial federalism that had been suggested, but one that was based on ethnosectarianism. This kind of federalism goes beyond creating a power balance between center and regions; it encourages cultural separatism and political division. The Kurdish region today is independent in everything but name! On this issue, I sympathize with Maliki, because if southern Shiite provinces and Sunni provinces in the middle of Iraq are allowed to follow in the footsteps of the Kurds, then this probably would be the first steps to the disintegration and demise of the state of Iraq.   

6. For the last several years Prime Minister Maliki has talked about forming a majority government. What would have to change in Iraqi politics for the elite to give up on national unity coalitions, and instead agree to ruling and opposition parties?

Many are waiting for the 2014 general elections as the possible beginning of a new political era. The thesis is that the present political elite will have recognized, after more than a decade of fruitless governance, the bankruptcy of the idea of national unity government, and that they’d be compelled to move to a majoritarian form of government, where a strong and decisive government will be balanced by an equally strong opposition. The problem here is twofold. One, Iraq’s proportional representation electoral system (PR) is not conducive to majoritarian rule. PR is geared toward producing coalition governments. So a drastic change of the electoral law to a kind of constituency based, first past the post system would be needed, and I very much doubt this would happen. Two, the party system (if one can call it that) is fragmented, and has been in a state of constant flux, with alliances continuously shifting. This is the worst environment for creating a majoritarian system.       

7. Another part of creating a democratic society is rule of law and strong institutions. Iraq so far has neither, and instead the elite like to rule through personal connections and patronage, something that previous leaders have used such as Premier Nuri al-Sa’id from the monarchy period. Why haven’t the political parties put more emphasis upon building institutions?

If you examine the various parties, you would see that they are not the kind of parties we associate with democratic systems. They are not stable organizations that draw support from segments of society because of clearly defined and articulated ideologies and/or political and economic programs. In Iraq, parties are groupings that coalesce around personalities. Parties are no more than labels created by individual leaders, and therefore, in stark contrast to Western democracies, their status and coherence are completely dependent on the leaders’ legitimacy, and his continued desire to keep the party going. The State of Law has no credibility independent of Maliki. People who vote for al-Ahrar are in fact voting for Sadr. If Maliki and/or Sadr were to decide to move on to another label, their “parties” would instantly disappear from Iraq’s political theater. And this is true of all parties. Once politics is dominated by individuals, not rule-based organizations, then personal interest is apt to supersede the national interest, and the energies of various, and often bickering, individuals are expended not on building national institutions, but on maneuvering and conspiring to achieve personal power.                 

8. Finally, Iraqi politics are always hard to predict, but what direction do you think things are heading?

I still believe strongly that Iraq today with all the near chaos and uncertainty is a far better place than the supposedly “stable” country under the malevolent rule of Saddam Hussein. That being said, it is sad to say that when one looks into the future, one is hard put to find any real indication of a palpable and meaningful political transformation over the horizon. My main concern is that the same personalities, who so far have failed miserably to reform the country, would be dominating Iraq’s politics over the next one or two decades. There is a troubling dearth of new leaders within these parties and grouping, or outside of them, who are emerging with new and substantive ideas. Even if there is a pool waiting in the wings, its upward trajectory would go through routes predetermined and controlled by the existing system of patronage, and religious allegiances.

Given the resulting stagnation of the political process, state institutions will continue to be ineffective. The party that has profited most from the persistent weakness of central authority, and will thus continue to benefit from such a circumstance, are the Kurds. For the rest of Iraq, it might be a case of plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  


Dawisha, Adeed, “Iraq: A Vote Against Sectarianism,” Journal of Democracy, July 2010
- “The Unraveling of Iraq: Ethnosectarian Preferences and State Performance in Historical Perspective,” Middle East Journal, Spring 2008

Dawisha, Adeed and Dawisha, Karen, “How to Build a Democratic Iraq,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2003

Ghanim, David, Iraq’s Dysfunctional Democracy, Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford: Praeger, 2011

Al-Qarawee, Harith, Imagining The Nation, Nationalism, Sectarianism and Socio-Political Conflict in Iraq, Lancashire, Rossendale Books, 2012

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How The U.S. Spent Billions On Infrastructure, Which Iraq Could Not Maintain

The United States continuously under estimated the magnitude of what it would take to rebuild Iraq. Originally, America had no plan for any kind of reconstruction believing that there would only be a humanitarian situation in the country after the 2003 invasion such as refugees, and food shortages. When the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took over it then began a massive, multi-billion dollar rebuilding plan, but emphasized large infrastructure projects that had little immediate impact upon Iraqis. By 2005, the U.S. began switching to local reconstruction efforts that were supposed to be linked to a comprehensive counterinsurgency program, but that took two years to fully come to fruition. During the entire time what was neglected was the ability of the Iraqi government to manage and maintain the infrastructure that was being built and refurbished for it. Billions of dollars in power plants, water facilities, schools, etc. were being turned over to Iraqi authorities who either didn’t want or couldn’t run them. The Americans eventually tried to address this issue, but it came too little too late, resulting in massive waste.

By 2006 the U.S. had spent $90 mil on the Dora power plant, but it was constantly breaking down due to the lack of maintenance and political pressure to produce as much electricity as possible (Wikipedia)

It took years for the U.S. to understand the importance of building government capacity in Iraq. Capacity is the ability of the authorities to effectively and efficiently run the country. In the fall of 2004, an officer from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) found a water treatment plant outside of Hillah in Babil province that had $5 million in repairs done to it. The contract for the facility only included fixing it, so it was never connected to the city’s water system, and Hillah’s municipal workers were never trained on how to operate it. The U.S. had not transferred the plant to Iraqi control, and it was simply sitting idle and decaying. By 2006, $90 million had been spent on the Dora power plant that provided most of the electricity for Baghdad. In August, there was an electrical surge that knocked the facility out of service. Technicians there were not doing regular maintenance. The director generals at the Electricity Ministry told the managers at Dora that they should swap parts between the generators to keep them running, which wore them down quicker, and led to more breakdowns. The Ministry also forbade the buying of replacement parts unless there was an emergency, and that plants could not be shut down for routine repairs. This was all the result of pressure from Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to produce as much power as possible. Basically, short-term political considerations were undermining the long-term health of the electrical network. These were two glaring examples of the shortcoming of the American reconstruction effort in Iraq. Many contracts only focused upon the immediate facility, and included nothing on maintaining them. The U.S. had pushed the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure, and forgotten about the institutions and training necessary to run them. The result was that by late-2005 the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) found that facilities, which the United States had spent billions on, were breaking down. These revelations slowly, but surely got the Americans to begin to address this problem, but it was never enough.

As early as the summer of 2003, the U.S. began training Iraqis to sustain the projects that were being worked on, but it ran into all kinds of problems. One was that USAID found out that the competence of Iraqi workers varied so widely that it was hard to set up any single training program that would apply to all of them. This added extra time and costs to try to include as many Iraqis as possible. Another was that training took place at each individual facility worked on by the Americans. In Iraq’s top down government system, those local facilities had little to no autonomy, and had to rely upon the ministries for everything. If the Baghdad agencies were not included then the assistance would go for naught. Third, there was no real coordination between the various American groups working on training. Therefore it was largely done on an ad hoc basis. Finally, maintenance was not included in this effort, something that USAID tried to warn the CPA about. CPA head Paul Bremer did not listen. As USAID Mission Director Spike Stephenson said, Bremer was only interested in buildings things, not sustaining or maintaining them. This would set the stage for major issues down the road. Not enough Iraqi workers were trained to adequately run the infrastructure that was being turned over to them. There was extreme dysfunction between the district, provincial, and central governments, with Baghdad trying to centralize power in their hands, and ignoring all the other levels. The U.S. tried to overcome those differences, but were only partially successful. That made it hard for all the projects the Coalition was working on to be maintained by the Iraqis, because a school built at the district level may not be accepted by the Education Ministry, and it would either sit idle or run out of supplies and funding as a result. That led to benchmarks for services not being met, and billions in dollars going to waste. By 2005, the U.S. became afraid that many of the projects it was leaving for the Iraqis would be unused, because it had not emphasized sustainment.

The U.S. response was to set up a number of organizations to address capacity building, but they all fell short of expectations. In late-2005, the State Department created the National Capacity Development Program, which focused upon 12 main ministries that included 65% of the government workforce, and 74% of the budget. The Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office was supposed to coordinate this effort, but it proved too big for it to handle. In March 2006, the Ministerial Capacity Team was put into place to manage projects by bringing together all the main stakeholders. That summer, the Ministerial Assistance Teams were set up to build capacity within the ministries of the new government that was taking office after the December 2005 elections. Around the same time, the U.S. Embassy put together the Joint Task Force for Capacity Development, which had almost the same job as the Ministerial Capacity Team of bringing together all the Iraqi and American agencies involved in reconstruction. Its lack of authority meant that it had little impact. USAID began the Tatweer program to train workers in the Planning, Finance, Oil, Electricity, and Water Ministries. It took a long time for it to get up and running, and in the end, the U.S. lacked the personnel to make it effective. The U.S. Embassy then created the Joint Executive Steering Committee that placed more advisers within the Oil, Finance, and Electricity Ministries. They came into conflict with the existing advisers, and the Iraqis did not like them either, so it ended up being a failure. By 2007, the State Department was trying to shut down many of these groups, because it wanted to consolidate all of their work within the embassy. An audit that year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the U.S. lacked clear goals in building the capacity of the Iraqi government, and that it often changed its goals, which undermined the effort. Like most of the reconstruction of Iraq, the Americans approached capacity building in an ad hoc fashion. That meant they were never able to fully meet the challenge.

In late-2006, the U.S. began focusing upon Iraq’s budget execution, because without adequate funding Baghdad would not be able to maintain its infrastructure and increase its services.  Overlapping authority and red tape made the transfer of money within the Iraqi bureaucracy difficult at best. The Planning Ministry had to approve all requests for funding, before the Finance Ministry would release the money. Like every other ministry, almost every decision at Planning and Finance had to go all the way to the minister himself before anything could be done. The U.S. tried to speed things up by placing dozens of advisers within the Planning Ministry to help with the approval process. The Americans also began daily assessments of budget performance, while Deputy Premier Barham Saleh started holding weekly meetings on the budget. This had some positive short-term effects. In 2005, Baghdad was able to spend $1.432 billion of its $6.316 billion capital budget, 23% of the total. In 2006, it spent slightly more at $1.615 billion, but that was out of $8.312 billion, only 19%. Finally, in 2007, that jumped to $3.435 billion out of $12.168 billion total, 28%. As Iraq’s budget has increased however, the execution rate has declined. In 2009, it spent an all time high of 89% of its capital budget. That then went down to 78% in 2010, and 33% in 2011. Capital budgets are of utmost importance to Iraq, because that is the money that goes into investing in infrastructure and the like. The gradual growth in spending in capital outlays showed that the United States was successful for a time in building capacity within the Planning and Finance Ministry. Yet, as the sums gradually increased with the growth of Iraq’s oil exports and the international price of petroleum, the bureaucracy was again overwhelmed by the task, and the execution rate has gone back down to almost what it was in 2007.

The failure of the United States to prioritize capacity building and sustainment within the Iraqi government right after the invasion was a major setback. The U.S. eventually tried to address the problem, but it didn’t get a sustained effort until 2006, three years after the overthrow of Saddam. Not only that, but the Americans always took an ad hoc approach, and lacked a unified plan. That didn’t mean there wasn’t some progress, and Iraqis didn’t increase their institutional know how, but the major deficiencies remain to this day. The bureaucracy is still incapable of spending all the money available to it, and services do not meet demand. The U.S. had grand plans for Iraq, but again and again it came up short.


Christoff, Joseph, “Securing, Stabilizing, And Rebuilding Iraq, Testimony Before the Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, U.S. House of Representatives” Government Accountability Office, 10/30/07

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09

Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program, “Assessment of Current and Anticipated Economic Priority In Iraq,” United States Agency for International Development, 10/4/12

United States Government Accountability Office, “Progress Report: Some Gains Made, Updated Strategy Needed,” June 2008

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How The United States Ran Into Party Politics As Well As Violence Trying to Rebuild Iraq’s Government

In 2005, American civilian and military officials decided that rebuilding Iraq’s government would be a top priority. The U.S. needed a government to run services and provide an alternative to militants. This was part of a new comprehensive counterinsurgency policy that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was trying to implement. The new strategy ran into three problems. First, the U.S. created local and district councils after the 2003 invasion with no laws or regulations, which made it difficult to integrate them into the Iraqi government once sovereignty was returned in 2005. Second after the two elections in 2005, Iraq’s new political parties took over the ministries. They set about concentrating power in their hands, ignoring the provincial and local councils, and delivered services on a partisan and sectarian basis. Third, the civil war was just starting, and violence made it difficult for the government to operate, because public workers were being killed and intimidated, while ministers were using their offices to carry out political and sectarian attacks. These all undermined the Americans’ plans, and some of these problems persist to the present day.

Karrada district council in Baghdad holds ceremony for new power generator paid for by the U.S. Army in 2008. It was these types of local projects that the Americans were hoping would empower the local governments it helped create (U.S. Army)

After the 2003 invasion, the U.S. set about creating new councils throughout Iraq. At first, this was done on ad hoc basis by American military units. There were no orders on how to set them up, so officers took different approaches. In May 2003 for example, General David Petraeus who was then the commander of the 101st Airborne Division set up a city council in Mosul in Ninewa province. General James Conway of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force began organizing for provincial elections in Najaf. Eventually, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) became involved as well. The Americans believed that they were initiating a new system of governance similar to what they had back in the U.S. with city councils, state legislatures, etc. The problem was these councils were never codified in Iraqi law, which would regulate them, delineate their powers, and provide them with budgets. The Coalition Provisional Authority refused to promulgate any laws for them believing that a new Iraqi government should do that. When sovereignty was returned, Baghdad didn’t want to deal with them either. It wasn’t until 2008 for example, that a Provincial Powers Law was finally passed, and that has largely been ignored. That meant while they operated it was hard for them to gain any traction, especially because they became completely dependent upon the U.S. for resources.

The issue of Iraqi governance was further complicated by the two elections that occurred in 2005. In January, there was voting for provincial councils and an interim parliament to draft a new constitution. Then in December, there was balloting for a permanent legislature. What happened was each level of government ended up conflicting with the others once these new politicians took office. One major issue was again the lack of laws for the new governing system. The result was that the new governorate councils demanded control over services and development, which authorities in Baghdad were unwilling to grant them. In turn, the provincial officials often ignored the district and local councils. Second, when new ministers were named they placed their followers into office often relying upon family and tribal members who were unqualified to run things. This also opened the door to corruption, which siphoned off huge amounts of funds. Third, the new political class was shaped by the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Under Baathist rule, individualism and initiative were not only discouraged, but could cost people their lives if they ended up contradicting Saddam. The new political parties that took power in 2005 were run in the same manner. Ministers, parliamentarians, and provincial council members all looked to their party bosses rather than the public for instructions. Fourth, the ministers attempted to concentrate as much power as possible over services and funding in their hands. They used these resources to build up patronage systems to protect and expand their bases. This made the ministries accountable to individual politicians and their parties rather than the public. Party and sectarian rivalries also came into play, as ministers would not cooperate with those of a different list. The same problems affected interactions between the central and provincial governments. For example, the Interior Ministry refused to get rid of some police chiefs that provincial governments wanted to be fired, because the chiefs were from the minister’s party. It also undermined national development plans, because politicians only wanted projects to go to their constituents. The Americans originally believed that creating all these new levels of government would decentralize power in Iraq, so that another dictatorship would not return. The fact that they did not codify much of this new system, and didn’t anticipate the role of party politics showed short-term thinking and the lack of serious planning. The United States attempted to create linkages between the different levels of government, build their capacity, and mediate between them, but to this day there are still conflicts between them.

Once in power the ruling parties were intent on staying in office for as long as possible. There were ideas to have new provincial elections after the December 2005 parliamentary voting for instance, but they were put off again and again. There was discussion of holding new governorate balloting in September 2006, and then March 2007, but laws were never passed, and an election commission was never authorized to conduct them. It wasn’t until January 2009, that the provinces got to elect new council members. American plans for Iraqi democracy once again ran into the reality of party politics. With Iraqis in office, they got to dictate the rules of the game. They saw the voting process as a way into controlling the new Iraq and its resources, and were not going to give that up for any abstract ideas the U.S. was pushing for how things should be run.

Former Deputy Health Minister Zamili of the Sadr Trend was accused of running death squads from 2005-2007. Today he is a parliamentarian (Al Tahreer News)

The situation was made worse by the emerging civil war. Al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgents, and large parts of the Sunni population rejected the new government seeing it as imposed by foreigners, and empowering Shiites and Kurds at their expense. Targeting government officials and offices became a top priority. As violence increased, parties employed their own personal militias, and the security forces and ministries to seize power. In 2005, Bayan Jabr of the Supreme Council’s Badr Brigade became Interior Minister. He immediately began recruiting his militiamen into the police force, especially the special commando units. They were accused of arresting people for being Sunnis, torturing them, and murdering them. In November, a U.S. military unit raided a secret prison housed in the basement of an Interior Ministry building in the capital with 173 prisoners in it, many of which claimed they had been tortured. The Sadrists controlled the Health Ministry and used it to carry out sectarian attacks. In one incident in 2006, Iraqi soldiers kidnapped six people from a Baghdad emergency room, and took them to the Health Ministry where they disappeared. That same year, the health chief from Diyala visited the ministry offices in Baghdad, and was never seen again. In 2007, the Americans arrested the deputy Health Ministry Hakim Abbas al-Zamili on charges of running death squads out of the Health Ministry. He was later found not innocent after several witnesses against him failed to show up, others were threatened, and the presiding judge was removed over rumors that he was willing to find Zamili not guilty before the case even started. Likewise, in 2007, Culture Minister Asad al-Hashemi of the Iraqi Islamic Party attempted to assassinate parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi, but failed, and killed his two sons instead. An arrest warrant was later issued for Hashemi, forcing him to hide in his uncle’s house in the Green Zone, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, before he escaped, and fled the country. The Minister was later found guilty, and sentenced to death in absentia. The government, which the Americans were attempting to develop to help fight the violence, was becoming a cause of it. The ruling parties were not only going after their rivals, but were actors in the civil war kidnapping, arresting, torturing, and murdering people, because of their sect. The hopes of creating a functional, decentralized Iraqi government were fading fast.

Former Culture Minister Asad al-Hashemi of the Islamic Party was convicted of attempting to assassinate parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi in 2007 leading to him fleeing the country (AFP)

All of these problems were exemplified in Baghdad. The U.S. created 437 neighborhood, 195 sub-district, and 96 district councils in the capital after the invasion. In 2005, the Supreme Council won provincial elections there. In August, it pushed out the mayor of the city who was a secular technocrat for the governor of Baghdad who was from the Supreme Council. That year an American army unit gave reconstruction funds to a local council officer to build a pipeline to a planned water plant that was under construction. The problem was he was in a Sunni neighborhood, and the pipes would have to cross into a Shiite area where the plant was. The Supreme Council controlled provincial council refused to connect the line, because it wanted the plant to serve Shiite neighborhoods only. The growing violence also stifled the operation of the government. More than 50 members of Baghdad’s councils were assassinated. There were daily gun battles on Haifa Street, which housed various government offices such as the Board of Supreme Audit. Employees couldn’t go to work for weeks as a result, because it was too dangerous. In effect, the government at almost every level ceased to operate. The political and sectarian differences meant that there was little cooperation between offices. The violence made it impossible for many public employees to go to work, and many of them ended up dead in the streets.

The U.S. pushed ahead with its plans throughout this difficult period. It attempted to use bureaucratic solutions to solve the conflict between the different levels of government. In June 2006, the Project and Contracting Office said that all U.S. and Iraqi stakeholders had to sign a memorandum of understanding to go forward with any projects to ensure that they would be completed, and not run into the political and sectarian problems that others had faced. That failed to solve anything. Next, the newly created Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) worked with the different levels of government to help them cooperate, worked to build their capacities, and carry out reconstruction. This was especially important for the local councils the Americans had created, which the provincial councils and ministries were trying to ignore. In 2006, the U.S. military also began prioritizing working with the local authorities, and ended up providing them security, distributed reconstruction funds to them, etc. Given all the chaos that was going on in the country at the time, the effects of these efforts took years to have any real positive outcomes. Additionally, the PRTs were originally understaffed, which meant they had great difficulty in carry out their duties. Finally, they were never able to completely overcome the party politics and the monopolizing of power that was going on in the central government. Provincial authorities to this day struggle with the ministries over who has authority over various tasks.

The United States came into Iraq with no real plans on how to set up a new government. Individual military units first created local councils, but these were never put into law, so their power was always disputed. Then the Coalition Provisional Authority wanted to create a new decentralized system, but again, failed to enact legislation to ensure that it would work. When Iraq held elections in 2005, the newly empowered parties tried to seize as much authority as they could, ignored the councils created by the Americans, and only wanted to provide services to their followers. Finally, the violence that went into overdrive starting in 2005 shut down large parts of the government. Not only that, but politicians became perpetrators of political and sectarian attacks driving the country into further chaos. The United States attempted to work through all this and make its ideas of a new Iraqi democracy a reality, but completely underestimated the difficulty of that task. First, its lack of pre-planning made it act in an ad hoc fashion, which defeated itself. Second, Iraqi parties had their own plans for the country, which often differed from those of the Americans. In the end, the Iraqis were going to be in control and determine their own future. These problems between center and periphery within Iraq continue to this day as seen in the dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad, and between the other provinces and the central government over security and economic policy. If these differences ever get resolved it will be by Iraqis own machinations, and will likely take decades, something the United States never had the luxury of having when it was trying to work on governance issues.


CNN, “Deputy health minister arrested in U.S.-Iraqi raid,” 2/8/07

Diamond, Larry, Squandered Victory, The American Occupation And The Bungled Effort To Bring Democracy To Iraq, New York: Times Books, 2005

Glantz, Aaron, “Iraqi Health Ministry Severs Ties With US Over Raid,” AntiWar, 8/15/06

Ibrahim, Haider, “Local elections postponed – again,” AK News, 12/11/11

International Crisis Group, “Iraq After The Surge II: The Need for a New Political Strategy,” 4/30/08

Kadhim, Abbas, “Iraq’s Quest for Democracy amid Massive Corruption,” Arab Reform Bulletin, 3/3/10

Londono, Ernesto, “After Six Years, ‘We’re Worthless,’” Washington Post, 10/8/09

Musings On Iraq, “From Bad To Worse, How Militias Moved Into The Iraqi Police Force, And The United States Failed At Nation Building. Part Two Of An Interview With Jerry Burke, Former Advisor To The Baghdad Police And Interior Ministry,” 2/13/12

Packer, George, “War After The War,” New Yorker, 11/24/03

Ramzi, Kholoud, “a family tie too tight: nepotism runs deep in iraqi politics,” Niqash, 7/21/11

Rubin, Alissa, “Trial of 2 Ex-Officials in Iraq Is Delayed as Witnesses Fail to Show,” New York Times, 2/20/08
- “Charges Are Dropped Against 2 Shiite Ex-Officials Accused in Sectarian Killings,” New York Times, 3/4/08

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09

Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Committee blames councils for potential delay in municipal elections,” AK News, 3/27/11

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How The World Found Out That Iraq Still Tortured People

In November 2005, an American military unit found a secret prison in an Iraqi Interior Ministry building in Baghdad. It contained over 170 prisoners, many of which showed signs of torture. U.S. and Iraqi officials knew that abuses were taking place within the country for quite some time, but had said little about it beforehand. Human rights groups had also noted mistreatment, but gotten little coverage. The detention center however, received worldwide attention, and let the world know that Iraq had not progressed much when it came to human rights despite the fall of Saddam Hussein.

On November 13, 2005, 173 prisoners were found in a basement in an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad. The facility was located in the Jadriya neighborhood across from the Green Zone. A unit from the 3rd Infantry Division went to the site after several people had come to them looking for missing family members. Many of those in the prison had been tortured, with one prisoner claiming that 18 people had died as a result. The controversy caused by the discovery, forced Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to admit that abuse did occur at the building, which was a first. (1) He also ordered an investigation into the matter. At the same time, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told the press that only seven of the detainees had been abused. The Deputy Interior Minister for Intelligence Ali Hussein Kamal said that the Special Investigative Unit was responsible for the bunker. He went on to say that a general and a colonel were in charge, and that the latter reported directly to Minister Jabr. Both of them were members of the Badr Brigade, the militia of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. When Jabr became the Interior Minister under Jaafari’s government he immediately set about recruiting members of his militia into the security forces, especially the commando units. They started going after Sunnis in what was the beginning of the sectarian civil war. The Jadriya prison was one sign of the emergence of this conflict as almost all of the detainees there were Sunnis.
Interior Minister Jabr (right) was a commander in the Badr Brigdae and brought in hundreds of his militiamen into the security forces while in office (AP)
The Jadriya story opened the door to Iraqi officials talking about abuses going on within the security forces. An Interior Ministry official told the New York Times that there were 8-10 unofficial prisons in Baghdad, which were used to hold people picked up without warrants. The former head of special forces at the Ministry General Muntadhar Muhi Samarraie and the Deputy Human Rights Minister Aida Usayran said that members of the Badr Brigade within the police were torturing prisoners. The Inspector General at Interior added that there were extrajudicial killings going on. He too pointed to militia elements within the security forces as being the culprits. Even before men from Badr were being recruited into the police there were stories of abuses going on under Interior Minister Allawi Falah Hassan al-Naqib who served under the interim Premier Iyad Allawi. The rapidly deteriorating security situation led to thousands of men being brought into the security forces with no real checks on their backgrounds. Some were former police, some were insurgents, and some were militiamen. All of them had grown up under dictatorships either in Iraq or abroad in places like Iran where the Badr Brigade was based before the 2003 invasion. The U.S. were in charge of training all these new recruits, but never committed the necessary resources. There was also a rush to get as many police into the field as quickly as possible to deal with all the chaos and violence. The Americans were therefore never able to change the culture of the Iraqis who were used to beatings and torture, and repeated those techniques as new policemen mostly to gain confessions, which is the basis of the Iraqi justice system.

The U.S. knew about the mistreatment by the Iraqi security forces as well. The State Department detailed cases that occurred during Allawi’s time in office including torture, rape, and illegal detention in its annual human rights report of 2005. In April, General John Vines, the senior tactical commander in Iraq, issued an order that soldiers had to prevent any abuses by Iraqis, and report it. The next month, General George Casey, commander of Coalition forces, sent a letter to his troops saying that they needed to make sure Iraqi forces treated detainees correctly. That same month, the 1st Cavalry and 3rd Infantry Divisions collected over 120 allegations of abuse by the Iraqi security forces including beatings, electric shock, and choking. In June, General Casey issued a memo that Iraqi forces had to respect the rule of law and human rights after he received reports of mistreatment. By 2005, Iraq was a sovereign country meaning that the only thing the U.S. could do about this issue was inspect any joint facilities they had with the Iraqis to see whether any torture was going on, protest when they found any, and demand the Iraqi government follow up on cases like the Jadriya prison. The Americans also pushed for Interior Minister Jabr to be removed, but to no results until a new government was named in 2006 since his Supreme Council was an important element in the ruling coalition. Almost all of this occurred behind closed doors however, as the U.S. did not want to expose the wrong doings of its ally.

Human rights groups and the United Nations also tried drawing attention to the situation in Iraq. In January 2005, Human Rights Watch’s “The New Iraq? Torture and Ill Treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody” documented abuses under Allawi’s interim government committed by the Iraqi intelligence and police forces, and accused Iraqi officials of either supporting torture or not caring about it. (2) The paper said that abuse was routine, and there was no effort to stop it. The United Nations found that the Iraqi government was carrying out illegal arrests, extrajudicial killings, and torture, some of which was due to militias within the security forces. An official from the Human Rights Ministry told the Times of London that Jaafari’s government was no better. While these groups’ reports were all noted in the press, they were only blips amongst all the other stories about the growing violence in Iraq. They therefore had little to no impact, and were mostly missed by the general public.

The Jadriya story put the spotlight on Iraq’s poor human rights situation. Iraq was supposed to be transitioning to a democracy, but its treatment of prisoners showed that some things had remained the same. The incident only brought to light what U.S. and Iraqi officials already knew, and what outside groups had warned about before. The large number of stories exposed the dark side to the new Iraq. Little has changed since then with the security forces still routinely torturing prisoners in order to gain confessions. The government also continues to run secret prisons showing a basic lack of due process and a respect for rule of law. Baghdad is as uninterested in solving these problems today as it was back in 2005 meaning that they will only continue. The difference now is that everyone knows.


1. San Francisco Chronicle, “Iraq concedes detainees likely were tortured,” 11/16/05

2. Edmonson, George, “Iraq routinely torturing prisoners, group says,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1/26/05


Allbritton, Christopher, “Why Iraq’s Police Are a Menace,” Time, 5/20/06

Burns, Robert, “Documents show top brass knew of abuse,” Associated Press, 12/7/05

Edmonson, George, “Iraq routinely torturing prisoners, group says,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1/26/05

Fadel, Leila, “Abuse of prisoners in Iraq widespread, officials say,” Knight Ridder Newspapers, 11/28/05

Graham, Bradley, “Iraqi police accused of abuses,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/20/05

Hider, James, “West Turns Blind Eye As Police Put Saddam’s Torturers Back To Work,” Times of London, 7/7/05

Knowlton, Brian, “U.S. alleges rights abuses by Iraqis,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/1/05

Moore, Solomon, “Killings Linked to Shiite Squads in Iraqi Police Force,” Los Angeles Times, 11/29/05

Said, Yahia, “Misunderstanding Iraq: Recommendations for US Policy,” Revenue Watch, November 2005

San Francisco Chronicle, “Iraq concedes detainees likely were tortured,” 11/16/05

Wong, Edward and Burns, John, “Iraqi Rift Grows After Discovery of Prison,” New York Times, 11/17/05

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Support For Maliki Allows Sadr To Escape Prosecution For 2003 Murder Of Cleric Abdul Majid Al-Khoei

On October 24, 2011, Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council announced that the murder case against Muqtada al-Sadr for the death of Sayid Abdul Majid al-Khoei in 2003 had been dropped. The court said that there was no incriminating evidence against Sadr, while a spokesman for the Council claimed that there was never even an investigation. He went on to say that there was an arrest warrant for Sadr, but that the British issued it. All of this was an amazing story, since an Iraqi judge did in fact hand out a warrant for Sadr and several of his lieutenants in 2003, and an attempt to enforce them by the Americans led to the first Sadr uprising in April 2004.

Sayyid Khoei (AFP)
Sayid Abdul Majid al-Khoei was a leading Iraqi cleric who went into exile after the Persian Gulf War. In 1991, after the conflict ended, Shiites in southern Iraq rose up against Saddam Hussein. Khoei was actively involved in the rebellion, transporting weapons and fighters between Najaf and Karbala, taking part in attacks, and even met with Coalition forces to ask if they would help. They declined, even though Washington had encouraged Iraqis to overthrow their government. The revolt only lasted a few days, and was eventually put down by the use of widespread repression by Baghdad. Al-Khoei’s father, Grand Ayatollah Sayid Abu al-Wasim al-Khoei was the head of Iraq’s Shiite religious establishment at the time, and was put under house arrest for helping the rebels. Afterward, several hundred thousand people became internal and external exiles, trying to flee the government forces. Sayid Khoei ended up escaping to London in 1992, where he lived in exile for the next eleven years. Khoei came from a prominent family, and he and his father’s involvement in the 1991 uprising made him one of the main Iraqi exile figures before the 2003 invasion.

In London, Khoei tried to remain involved with his community and Iraqi politics. He headed the Khoei Foundation, a Shiite charity, and fostered good relations with the United States State Department and the British Foreign Office. In December 2002, he attended a conference of Iraqi opposition parties in London to prepare for the coming U.S. invasion. The meeting went nowhere as the different factions were deeply divided. He also went to Washington D.C. to meet with CIA and Pentagon officials to discuss the impending war. Afterward, he began recruiting people who could go to Iraq after the fall of the regime to help stabilize the south. Due to his time in the West, and his moderate views, Khoei became a favorite of the two powers leading the drive to war with Iraq, England and the United States. They were hoping to draw upon his standing, and family name to help stabilize Iraq after the fall of the regime.

When the invasion of Iraq finally began in March 2003, Khoei went back to Iraq, and immediately ran into his family’s main protagonists, the Sadrists. On March 28, Khoei was flown from England to a U.S. military base in Bahrain. Then on April 3, he was taken to Nasiriyah, and eventually Najaf, his former home. He convinced the American forces to withdraw from the historical section of the city, and began lobbying Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who had succeeded Khoei’s father as the chief Shiite cleric in the country, to issue a fatwa to allow U.S. forces in the rest of Najaf. One of his aides suggested that he meet with Muqtada al-Sadr who was taking advantage of the fall of the regime to gain greater authority with Shiites. The Khoeis and Sadrs had become rivals in the 1990s. In 1998 for example, Moqtada’s father Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr condemned Khoei for fleeing Iraq, and said that he should not be part of the religious establishment. For that reason, Khoei turned down the suggestion. Sadr was aware of Khoei’s arrival, and had him followed. Upon his return, Khoei was hoping to re-establish himself with the country’s religious community, and his family’s followers. At the same time, he re-started his rivalry with Sadr. The Sadrists were preaching Iraqi nationalism and opposition to the Coalition's presence in the country. Khoei's arrival with the aid of the U.S. marked him as a collaborator in the eyes of Moqtada, which would eventually cost Khoei his life.
The Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf where Khoei was murdered by Sadr's followers (Wikipedia)
On April 10, 2003 Khoei went to the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf to meet with its custodian, and hold a press conference there. This was a controversial move because the custodian was seen as being a collaborator with Saddam. Khoei, the custodian, and a small entourage arrived at the shrine in the early morning. A crowd of Sadr supporters gathered outside, and began chanting pro-Sadr slogans. Khoei tried to clam the crowd. Journalist Patrick Cockburn claims that someone lunged at Khoei with a knife, while his son, Haider al-Khoei wrote that the Sadrists began throwing rocks. In response, Khoei fired a shot in the air, which dispersed the crowd temporarily. The problem was, they came back with guns and started shooting at Khoei’s people. The shooting lasted 90 minutes, and Khoei and his party eventually gave up. Riyad Nouri, Sadr’s brother-in-law then ordered that Khoei be taken to Sadr’s residence in the city. As they walked out of the shrine, Mahdi Army militiamen stabbed Khoei and the custodian, killing the latter. Bleeding, Khoei was dumped on the street in front of Muqtada’s house, but Sadr ordered Khoei to be taken away. He and some of his followers tried to hide out in a surrounding shop, but he was eventually found, and shot. A few of Khoei’s entourage were able to escape and went to an American military base in the city, pleading for help. They refused to do so, and ordered the party to leave the country. Khoei’s people then went to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, but he was just as unhelpful. Muqtada immediately claimed he had nothing to do with the murder, and said that he actually sent his followers to try to protect Khoei. The Sadr and Khoei families had competed with each other over standing and position within the Shiite religious community for several decades. With the country in flux after the fall of Saddam, Sadr seemed to feel that he could take this rivalry to the next level by having his opponent assassinated in the street, foreshadowing how his Mahdi Army would operate during the coming civil war.

Khoei’s brutal death could not be ignored, and the U.S. and Iraqi authorities were forced to act. In June 2003, Khoei’s murder was investigated, and in August 2003, Judge Raed Juhi issued an arrest warrant for Sadr, and two dozen of his followers. That included Mustafa al-Yacoubi and RiyadNouri, two senior leaders, who had helped keep the Sadr movement alive after Sadr’s father was killed by Saddam in 1999. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was scared to carry out the order however. The CPA did not know how to deal with Sadr. Even though they did not consider him a powerful leader yet, they were afraid that if he was arrested, Sadr would become a nationalist leader, and turn Shiites against the Coalition. If they killed him, he could become a martyr. Those questions, led the U.S. to sit on the warrant.

The American indecision on the matter lasted for several months, but when they finally did act, it led to the first Sadrist uprising. In September 2003, for example, there were plans to move on Sadr, but then they were canceled. Finally, on March 28, 2004, the CPA shut down Sadr’s newspaper al-Hawza for inciting violence. Then on April 3, General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of Coalition forces in Iraq told CPA head Paul Bremer that he was going after Mustafa Yacoubi for the Khoei murder. When the U.S. arrested Yacoubi, Sadr’s followers quickly rallied to his aid, and began fighting the Americans. This led to the first uprising by Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army. Fighting took place in the cities of Najaf, Baghdad, Nasiriyah, Amarah, Kufa, (1) and Kut. Many of the Iraqi and Coalition forces folded in the face of this onslaught. Iraqi police in Baghdad’s Sadr City abandoned their posts, the Mahdi Army took over police stations in Kufa, Ukrainian and Italian troops were forced to withdraw from Kut and Nasiriyah, the Spanish and Salvadorans in Najaf, and the Bulgarians in Karbala were almost overrun. By May, Shiite leaders had brokered a cease-fire, and the fighting eventually ended. Sadr used the uprising to gain more power. He attempted to rally popular support against the Americans, which has become a mainstay of his message and appeal. With little religious training, Sadr also attempted to use his standing with the street to force his way up the Shiite hierarchy, and challenge the established clerics.
Sadr has used his political connections to escape arrest for the Khoei murder
Many of the Sadrists with warrants against them were eventually detained, but then they were released, and the case against all of them was compromised for political expediency. Riyad Nouri was arrested on May 23, 2004, but had the charges against him dropped on August 14, 2005. Yacoubi was set free that same day. When the December 2005 elections came around, Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Dawa party promised to release the remaining Sadrist lieutenants, and have the murder case dropped against them and Muqtada, if his movement would support Jaafari’s bid to be prime minister. After Jaafari was confirmed in office, the Sadrists were released, and the testimony against Muqtada was changed so that he was no longer implicated in Khoei’s death. Sadr himself ended up leaving Iraq in 2007 for Qom, Iran, to escape the United States’ Surge, and to attend religious training. When he decided to publicly return to Iraq in January 2011, he was afraid that the government would revive the warrant against him. He didn’t have to worry however, because once again in a political deal, Sadr’s murder charge was dropped in return for supporting Nouri al-Maliki’s second term as premier. Despite all the missteps that Sadr has made, and all the crackdowns by the United States and Iraqi governments, he has proven to be a survivor. Each time a new Iraqi government has been formed, he has played a pivotal role. That in turn, has repeatedly allowed him to escape prosecution, and have his followers released from prison.

The recent announcement by the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council that there is no longer a case against Muqtada al-Sadr is just the latest example of the political favors he has been able to draw upon. Today, Sadr sits as one of the main supporters of Prime Minister Maliki. As a result, his politicians have gained important positions in the new government, the Sadrists regained control of Maysan province, and many of his militiamen were released from jail. Sadr has also been able to come and go from Iraq as he pleases, with assurances that the arrest warrant against him will not be enforced. Despite the trappings of democracy, such as elections, a parliament, etc., the country does not have the rule of law. Maliki and other premiers have been able to bend the courts to their will. Even the murder of a prominent cleric like Sayid Abdul Majid al-Khoei can be suddenly overlooked, and the case made to disappear. As long as Maliki needs Sadr’s backing he can be assured that the assassination of Khoei will not be an issue.


1. San Francisco Chronicle, “30 killed in Iraq clashes after arrest of cleric’s aide,” 4/5/04


Ahmed, Hamid, “Gunmen Kill Sadrist Official in Iraq,” Associated Press, 4/11/08

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