While much of the reporting on the Iraq focuses upon the sectarian dimension within the country, mostly overlooked are the internal Shiite divisions. This might actually be more important as these parties rule the country. The rise of the Hashd al-Shaabi poses a long-term threat to the Shiite establishment due to their widespread popularity. Recently Kataib Hezbollah (KH) raided an office of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) in Basra, leading the latter to issue a blistering condemnation. More of these confrontations are likely to happen in the future as these groups jockey for position in post-Islamic State Iraq.
At the start of May 2015 Kataib Hezbollah and the Supreme Council got into a spat that showed the intra-Shiite rivalries in Iraq. KH raided an ISCI office in Basra, looting it and destroying equipment. KH had been attacking a local Supreme Council official in Basra for corruption, which seemed to be the precipitating factor. KH also used a friendly media outlet to critique the head of the Supreme Council Ammar Hakim accusing him of denying the terrorist charges against former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. In return, ISCI attacked KH for attempting to undermine reconciliation and the National Alliance, which is the coalition that includes the Supreme Council and the Sadrists. A source within the Supreme Council said that Kataib Hezbollah wanted to turn its battlefield success into political power afterward, which would usurp the National Alliance. The ISCI response was apt, because it laid bare the fear that some Shiite parties are feeling about the Hashd. They are immensely popular with the Iraqi street because of their fighting forte. They could easily use this to promote themselves in upcoming elections. The parties that would lose votes in the process would be the established Shiite religious parties.
ISCI joins Moqtada al-Sadr as two political groups, which have begun criticizing the Hashd. Sadr has attacked what he calls “brazen militias” who have carried out killings of civilians, undermined the government and do not follow the orders of the Iraqi Security Forces. He has made these statements several times. This is due to his long time rivalry with groups such as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, but also because he like ISCI see the dilemma the Hashd could pose to his movement. All of these groups are religiously based and therefore are competing for the same constituency. The Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq ran in the last parliamentary elections, and whose to say how many of the new Hashd groups may decide to join the political process after the insurgency is defeated. As a result it is likely that more of these incidents will occur, and verbal spats will increase in frequency as these organizations continue to fight the Islamic State on the battlefield, while vying for support on the home front.
Al Arabiya, “Iraqi Hezbollah storm the headquarters of the Supreme Council in Basra,” 5/11/15
Habib, Mustafa, “Whose Side Are They On?” Niqash, 5/14/15
Iraq News Network, “Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous challenge sedition in Iraq,” 5/12/15