Written by Mustafa Fahs; Originally appeared at Asharq al-Awsat
Al-Sistani’s meeting with a group of casualties from the Iraqi army has stirred much controversy. In the interim between their visit and announcing that visit many highly calculated and multi-dimensional messages were intended by this Najafi religious authority to the interior and the outside.
In terms of form, this is the second time in history that the top Shiite cleric or Marja, Ali al-Sistani, appears in a recorded video. The first time was after the bombing of Imam al-Hassan al-Askari grave in Samarra in 2006, where he appeared alongside three other major Maraji [plural of Marja] al-Hakim, al-Fayyad, and al-Najafi.
The purpose behind that appearance was to contain any sectarian sedition that the bombing had sparked. In terms of content, this second recording days after Friday’s speech that took place on the second commemoration of the victory over ISIS is a painful blow against the political class and the armed Shiite parties that are responsible for the bloody repression that has taken place since the beginning of the October uprising.
The Marja stated, “What has taken place in the last few days from assassinations and abductions asserts once again the importance of all arms being submitted to the rule of the government, and that there be no armed groups outside the state under any name or title. The stability of the country and maintaining civil peace is dependent on this.”
What is noteworthy in this second recording that took place a few months ago and has been revealed days after the Friday speech is that there was no mention of the Popular Mobilization Forces, knowing that a big part of it was dedicated to remembering the Iraqi people’s sacrifices in the war against ISIS, particularly the official armed forces with a clear and explicit focus on the army.
In the last few years, the Iraqi army has become the only official institution with national approval, which led to it being targeted with plans to weaken and isolate it and to get rid of its leadership through dismissals and marginalization. This happened after it had retrieved a part of its fighting spirit that naturally collided with any plan for dominating Iraqi sovereignty. The street and Marja’s insistence that it is the only legitimate weapon exacerbated its relationship with the leaderships of armed militias. The Marja considered in his speech that, “Today we must reaffirm what has been mentioned in terms of the necessity of professionally building the army and the Iraqi armed forces such that it owes loyalty only to the nation, and that it rises to defend it against any foreign aggression and protects its political system that emanates from popular will within a constitutional and legal framework.”
There is no doubt that Marja’s bias towards the army at this stage does not give it the green light to conduct a military coup, seen by many as the only solution to this political deadlock, and a response to the demands of the protesters who are suffering systematic killing by the regime’s militias. Despite that, Najaf and the Iraqi national elite’s sensitivity, mainly Shiite, is still haunted by fears of military coups and rule that brought horrors to Iraq and established a culture of persecution, assassination, and genocides. However, with the loyalist government continuing to rule and its refusal to implement any reforms, its insistence on killing and terrorizing Iraqis to force them to retreat, not responding to the demands of the street, and the fall of more civilian victims, then the army’s frustration will come out in the open and may push the armed units to announce mutiny against the political leadership under the cover of protecting the protesters and to stop the bloodshed that the political class is insisting on under foreign cover.
In this open confrontation between the regime and the people, some protesters depend on the larger sectors of the army and some of its special forces to intervene, such as the anti-terrorism services, in the right time to protect them against the militias. This is especially true that the Iraqi army has defeated ISIS and became the only institution with national approval. The street still considers General Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi to be the icon for the armed forces and its victories, and the most accepted names to take over the transition government, in addition to the former General of the armed forces, al-Asadi, and the former head of the general intelligence services, Mostafa al-Kadhimi, whose name is being mentioned alongside the two generals as meeting the conditions set by the October uprising.
Consequently, the re-engineering of Iraqi nationalism that began on October 1, now has a spiritual, popular, and institutional cover provided by the triad of Iraqi salvation, the army, the people, and the Marja.