Shia Militia protests in Baghdad: Report from within the current Demonstrations
The testimonies below were obtained by MECRA’s Iraq correspondent in interviews in December 2021 with militants of the Ktaeb Hizballah and Asaib Ahl al –Haq organizations, engaged in the current protests in Baghdad. The individuals interviewed are active fighters of the Asaib Ahl al Haq group, and the Ktaeb Hizballah, who were withdrawn from their posts outside of Baghdad in order to take part in the protests. The protests are being held to contest the results of the October 10 general elections. The ‘Fatah’ Alliance of the militias went down from 48 to 15 seats in the elections. KH and AAH, component elements of the alliance, are demanding a recount of the election results.
The picture that emerges here is of a coordinated and controlled mobilization of the militias, conducted in order to resemble a popular demonstration. The use of political/military movements in this way is familiar from other contexts in the Mid-East region and beyond it. The evidence shown here is an example of the advantages enjoyed by disciplined militia structures when operating in a democratic political context, in opposition to bodies not enjoying the same organizational capacities. However, the testimony offered also contains some indications of disunity and lack of common purpose among the pro-Iran militias in Iraq.
Testimony of ‘KP’, an Asaib Ahl al Haq fighter detailed to take part in the protests:
'Only individuals affiliated with the following factions/ movements are permitted to enter the demonstration arena:
1- Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, led by Sheikh Qais Khazali
2- Rights movement, the political wing of Kata'ib Hezbollah
As for the remaining factions, they have refrained from participating in the protests due to political conflicts between the leaders of the Al-Fateh Alliance, led by the head of the Badr bloc, Hadi al-Amiri, and the head of the Sanad bloc, Ahmed al-Asadi, who refused to participate in the protests because he won a parliamentary seat in Baghdad governorate.
The National Contract Alliance led by Faleh al-Fayyad, the official head of the Popular Mobilization Committee, also appears to be satisfied with the present situation after this alliance won five seats in the last elections.'
HP, a second AAH fighter, informed MECRA of details regarding the organization and daily life inside the demonstration tents. According to HP, attendance to the squares is organized according to a formal schedule planned by the demonstrations coordinator.
‘The administrative offices of the Asa'ib and Hezbollah movements have emptied their administrative offices in Baghdad and set the official ‘working hours’ inside the sit-in as from 3 in the afternoon until 10 in the evening. Participants have a set shift during this period, in which they are required to participate.’ (that is, these ‘demonstrations’ are in fact an organized manifestation of militia fighters, rather than a popular demonstration in the usually understood sense of the word – ed).
Another protester, who declined to be named, noted that:
‘The Popular Mobilization Authority provides the logistical basis for the demonstrations and sit-in, including food, drink, tents, beds and blankets
All the demonstrators are provided with three meals a day of good quality food, and the demonstration coordinators have allowed us to transform the protest tents into places to play dominoes and place tables and smoke hookah, in order to encourage us to attend daily and maintain the mass momentum.’
Demands and slogans
All pictures and placards for the demonstrations arrive printed and ready, and the protesters only have to raise them and hang them on the sit-in tents.
The most prominent personalities whose pictures are hung at the protest tents are Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi – accompanied by demands that he be ‘brought to justice’ for the murder of four demonstrators, the head of the United Nations mission, Jeanine Plasschaert, and the head of the Electoral Commission, Judge Jalil Zeidan, who are accused by the protest organisers of rigging the elections, in cooperation with Emirati intelligence.
The protesters have also raised pictures of some leaders of the armed forces in Al-Kazemi's government, most notably the head of the Anti-Corruption Committee, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Abu Ragheef, and the Baghdad Operations Commander, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Salim, whom they called "Abu Al-Arg".
The demonstrator (Y.S), a fighter of the Ktaeb Hizballah organization in the Jurf al-Sakhr sector told MECRA:
‘The leadership of their movement ordered us to leave our military units in Jurf al-Sakhr and join the demonstration square, and they told us:
"The resistance in the place of protest is not less rewarded than jihad on the frontlines."’
A similar decision was taken by the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq movement after it emptied some of its fighters affiliated with the Salah al-Din and Baghdad operations commands of the Popular Mobilization Committee, and ordered them to join the protest square.’
MECRA met with a member of the protection detail of a former parliamentarian affiliated with the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq movement, which is part of the Al-Fateh Alliance. In conversation,this individual provided MECRA with important information about the reason for maintaining the momentum of the protest and supporting it by all means.
He said, "The leaders of the demonstrations know that there is little chance of success in calling for a manual recounting of the election results, but we believe that the continuation of the mass escalation paves the way for changing the unfair election law, which caused us to lose many seats.
He added, "The number of people killed in the demonstrations is in fact only one demonstrator who belonged to the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq movement. As for the other four names whose deaths were announced, they are individuals who went missing in the battles of Syria while defending the shrine of Sayyida Zainab four years ago."
Their true fate remains unknown, according to this individual. But the coordination framework for the demonstrations decided to increase the number of victims in order to win public opinion and achieve demands, and has thus made use of their names. The protests are continuing.