Election of New Iraqi Prime Minister Unleashes Wave of Anger and Infighting Among Pro-Iranian Shiite Militants
By Evan Kohlmann
Over the last 48 hours, Flashpoint has observed chatter from multiple sources indicating that Iraqi Shiite militants are deeply dismayed and disillusioned by the election of new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, despite him also being endorsed by Iran. Much of their ire has been directed towards Shiite hardliners who control voting blocs in the Iraqi Parliament–and specifically Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and its leader Qais al-Khazali. Despite being named as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity by the United States and a torrent of recent threats from AAH directed at the United States over the January 2020 American airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, AAH nonetheless consented to the election of al-Kadhimi, a former Iraqi intelligence chief who other pro-Iranian Shiite factions view as too close to the U.S. government.
Upon the formal naming of al-Kadhimi as Prime Minister yesterday, Kataib Hezbollah (a.k.a. Iraqi Hezbollah) immediately issued an official statement through their website and social media, sharply criticizing its would-be allies in the Iraqi Parliament without naming AAH or al-Khazali specifically. Kataib Hezbollah has been repeatedly targeted by the U.S. military amid accusations that the group has been attempting to launch attacks on American diplomatic and military assets in Iraq in response to the death of Soleimani and al-Muhandis. According to Kataib Hezbollah, “We appreciate the great pressure that the loyal group of brothers in Parliament were under over voting to select the al-Kadhimi government–but this does not excuse their responsibility for continuing to pursue those involved in the murder of our martyred leaders–whatever their job descriptions may be.”
However, these comparatively mild sentiments pale in comparison to the anger that boiled over on the encrypted chat service Telegram. Late yesterday, a Telegram account linked to breakaway Iraqi Shiite militant faction Ashab al-Kahf began issuing a torrent of angry posts that directly called out al-Khazali and AAH for their failure to put action to their belligerent rhetoric. Pointing to a photo of the late Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the account mourned, “twice you were backstabbed, the first time at the hands of your enemies and the second time at the hands of those that claim to love you…the betrayal of a friend is worse than an attack by the enemy.”
At first, the posts insisted that “names would not be mentioned”–but then quickly descended into ugly personal attacks on rival Shiite hardliners in Iraq: “without mentioning names, one of them promised to take revenge and loves oil so much, the other is hooked on women, the other killed half the Sunni people for money and fame, and later became their defender, the other is strong and leads a deep state, while the other is short and falls down at every celebration and doesn’t understand anything, but he is very evil.”
Attached to a photo of Iraqi Parliamentarians (seen below), the posts continued, “this one is a lowlife, you can’t blame him–but the other one is [a member of] Asaib [Ahl al-Haq]! …[O’ Asaib] where is your prestige and your sword that shines defending Islam and the sect? Where are the martyrs?…Has it really come to this? Shaykh Qais [al-Khazali] has become an agent of one of the three [Iraqi] presidencies?”
The ire from the Ashab al-Kahf Telegram account did not end there. Posts continue to trickle in on the feed throughout the night, lambasting “traitors” to the hardline Shiite cause in Iraq as “American trash”: “Are you happy, your bellies were tickled, the Americans smiled at you, Israel greeted you? May Allah curse your luck…you planted an ugly seed in Imam al-Mahdi’s project…if the heads of…those who claim to be America’s enemies publicly but its friends in private were cut off, Iraq’s situation would improve.”
The author of the posts made further claims regarding planned military operations targeting U.S. and U.K. forces in Iraq: “My brother who I trust just informed me that two operations by the rocket force targeting two sensitive locations operated by the American and British diplomatic corps were called off. The operations were prepared in case the devil’s dog [Mustafa al-Kadhimi] was elected…In the past, we would target one common enemy…but today, the scenario has changed.”
The posts conspiratorially blamed al-Kadhimi’s election on “American and Israeli infiltration of Iraq”–which according to the author “is deeper than one might think. The infiltration may have reached further than the political, financial security, military institutions…it may have reached individuals who surround the safety valve and center of trust.” The posts demanded a halt to political compromise aimed at preventing an outright military conflict in Iraq: “the Americans will get upset and will target us and we will fight with them…tell me what is different from now, let the situation develop and become like Yemen and then we can become prosperous…Get ready, agents of America and Israel, say farewell to the compromises and balances that caused us to reverse our progress backwards by centuries.”
For more information around U.S.-Iran tensions, you can refer to the webinar I hosted earlier this week, now on-demand here. And if you prefer more real-time updates around similar topics, please also feel free to follow me on Twitter @IntelTweet.