The power struggle in Iraq today centers on the struggle between Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Both have militias as part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).There is a total of 67 Shi’ite factions of which only four belong to the anti-Iranian Al Sistani faction. The PMU was originally established by Al Sistani to combat the threat of the ISIS in 2014 when it appeared the ISIS would overrun Baghdad. The Fatwa issued by Al Sistani has been used by the Pro-Iranian organizations to assume control of much Iraq’s political environment since then. Al Sistani’s religious doctrine emphasized , a “Quietist” religious role for Shi’a clerics, as opposed to the all encompassing Faqih Villayet doctrine of the Iranian Shi’ite rulers. The four factions of Al Sistani’s are seeking to limit PMU influence in Government of Iraq, and curtail pro-Iranian activities. The pro-Iranian PMU have been involved in violence against Iraqi civilians and massive corruption. One element of the PMU, Raba Allah, is more of a street gang than militia, has been carrying out criminal acts against civilians.
The four Sistani units, well trained and equipped, decided in Marc to withdraw from the PMU but there have been a number of mediation efforts by the Iraqi government to mend fences. The present situation is not clear. However, the promotion of Abu Fadik, an Iranian loyalist, to the PMU deputy commander position, and the appointment of Abu Muntadher Al -Husseini, from the pro-Iranian Badr organization as PMU as General Secretary, has basically derailed the conciliation.
This month the Al-Sistani factions, issued a statement pledging their allegiance to Iraq, and asking for integration into the Iraqi Armed Forces. This the Iranian PMU, adamantly refuses to do, obviously under the orders of their Iranian masters.
While the split has had wide coverage on local media, the Iraqi government has taken little notice, and the PMU has indicated it is simply a move by the four Al Sistani factions, without Al Sistani’s approval. This is an indication of the massive influence of Al Sistani, in that even the Iranian surrogates cannot openly defy the Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani.
The fact is however that Al Sistani is 90 years old and there does not seem to be any Iraqi nationalist clerics who could take his place– in terms of devotion or influence. While the split of the pro Al-Sistani factions hurt Iranian pretensions, it does not curtail Iranian influence in Iraq. The reason is simple: The inaction of the Iraqi government, and specifically the weakness of the Prime Minister Al- Kadhimi, who was elected with high expectations and hopes. But he has been a woefully weak PM, and seems to be hoping that a Biden administration will ease the pressure on Iran, thus giving him a period of tranquility for his rule, obviously submitting to greater Iranian control in order to maintain a Quisling type government.
The conclusion — for the foreseeable future–is pretty clear, until a general on horseback, possibly a Sunni, arrives on the scene, has the loyalty of the army, and can motivate it to get off its haunches and move against the Shia Iranian vassals, the Iranian stranglehold will tighten. Of course the few vestiges of democracy now in Iraq will gradually disappear, but then as it said- quite frequently -A thousand years of tyranny is better than one day of chaos.