BAGHDAD — Increasing conflict and finger pointing between leading Shi’ite political blocs are heightening instability in war-torn Iraq.
“It is said in the Arab world that if thieves were not seen while steeling, they would be seen while dividing the loot,” Wayil Hikmet, an Iraqi historian in Baghdad told IPS.
“That is what goes for the accelerating collapse of the Iraqi political system that was made in the USA. The thieves of the Green Zone are now giving me and my colleagues good material to write down for the coming generations,” Hikmet said, referring to new scandals floating to the surface of the political scene in recent days.
The Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq (SICI) led by Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, and The Sadr Movement led by anti-occupation cleric Muqtada Al- Sadr are accusing each other of committing serious crimes against humanity in the southern parts of Iraq.
In early September, clashes between Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia and the Badr Organisation militia of SIIC erupted in the holy city of Kerbala, 100 kilometres southwest of Baghdad.
Kerbala, with a population of about half a million, is a holy city, particularly for the Shias, as it is home to the tomb of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
The shrine of Imam Hussein is a place of pilgrimage for many Shia Muslims.
The clashes between the two powerful militias left at least 52 people dead and over 200 wounded.
“Hakim and Muqtada were brought to the scene by the Americans who employed the two ambitious clerics in order to fight side by side against any Iraqi resistance,” Lukman Jassim, a former Baath Party member, told IPS in Baghdad.
“But it is well known in Iraq that the two groups cannot put up with each other because of the historic disputes between their fathers and grandfathers and the conflict between them over power in Iraq. It was another American mistake,” Jassim explained.
Jassim overlooks the fact that there have thus far been two anti-occupation uprisings led by al-Sadr, but his comments nevertheless underscore the rising tensions between the two groups.
Bahaa Al-A’raji, an MP with the Sadr movement, told journalists in Baghdad this week that his movement is being targeted by the SICI that dominates the Ministry of Interior. Many Sadr followers have been arrested and tortured by police loyal to the SICI in different parts of Iraq, Al-A’raji said.
SICI operates militarily via the Badr Organization militia, which was created in Tehran in 1982 and has been armed, trained and advised by Iranian intelligence since then.
Recently in Baghdad, footage was displayed on many local TV stations showing a woman with cut lips accusing police of having tortured her and her two baby girls in Kerbala.
“It is a crime against humanity committed by police for political reasons,” Liwa’ Smaissim, the spokesman for the Sadr Movement in Kerbala, told IPS via telephone.
“The SICI is trying to eliminate our movement so that it controls the scene on its own,” Smaissim said.
Accusations regarding the woman and her babies were aimed at a Major Ali of the Iraqi Police third Battalion in Kerbala.
“This man and his battalion have committed hundreds of crimes under the flag of maintaining peace in the city,” Smaissim told IPS, “our followers and other citizens were exposed to torture and many others were assassinated.”
Al-A’raji told IPS that he contacted the Ministers of Interior and Defense to complain, but the two ministers told him that the third Battalion does not take orders from them.
“We are an official unit of the Iraqi police and naturally we take orders from the Minister of Interior,” Major Ali, who was accused of the torture and other crimes against civilians, told IPS via telephone.
“The CD distributed of a woman and her babies been tortured is a fake and was made up by a ‘certain group’ for political reasons. I was off sick during the period of the presumed arrest of that family,” Major Ali claimed.
“The third battalion is an official force of the Ministry of the Interior and Major Ali is targeted by a ‘certain group’ because he risked his life in order to reveal the hundreds of crimes they committed here and else where,” an Iraqi police general, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS, stressing that, “This particular group has committed the ugliest crimes in the Iraqi history and we are determined to put them all to court.”
Iraqi police general’s references to the Sadr movement show the now deep divisions between those who were allies not long ago.
“I believe what is being said by both sides,” a general at the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad, speaking under terms of anonymity, told IPS.
“It is true that the Badr militia and the Mehdi Army have committed thousands of political crimes against civilians as well as looting the economy of the country all along the years of the U.S. occupation to Iraq,” he said.
The general added, “Evidence at the ministry show how terrible their behaviour was, but it was a political will of all the Iraqi prime ministers, from Iyad Allawi, to Ibrahim Jaafari, to the current Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki to conceal the facts for personal and political reasons. The Americans definitely knew what was going on, but they had their reasons to keep quiet about them too. It is the Iraqis who will pay their blood at the end of the day.”
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)