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Iraqi militia registers as political party ahead of elections

Asaib Ahl al-Haq will form a political party in Iraq [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 May, 2017

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An Iran-backed militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haqq, has received a licence to form a political party in order to stand in Iraq's upcoming elections.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shia militia, has been awarded a licence to form an authorised political party in order to take part in Iraq's upcoming elections, the country's Independent High Electoral Commission announced on Wednesday.

The paramilitary group "has met all the legal requirements of the Commission necessary for the registration of political parties - and the Commission's board, upon the powers with which it has been vested, has granted it permission to found a party", read a statement from the electoral authority.

While a number of different factions across Iraq have both political parties and military wings that are usually informally though thoroughly connected, the decision by Iraq's electoral commission is a first by allowing the Asaib Ahl al-Haq to register its political party with the same name of its armed militia.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq would also seemingly be the first of Iraq's armed factions formed in the aftermath of the IS group's takeover of Mosul in 2014 to form a political party.

While the Asaib now comes under the rubric of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces, it was founded more than a decade ago when their Qays Khazali split from the armed militias of Muqtada Sadr.

Opponents of the move said the granting of the license stands in violation of the country's constitution which prohibits the establishment of political parties affiliated to armed groups and bans militias from entering the political process.

"Granting a militia permission to form a political party is a clear violation of the Iraqi constitution, which completely prohibits the military and armed factions from taking part in the political process," legal expert Montaser al-Jubouri told The New Arab.

"It is obvious that the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia are backed by Iran and the Iranian leader Ali Khamenei directly, and therefore no one can stop their participation in the elections - despite the fact that it clearly violates the constitution in an obvious and unprecedented manner," Jubouri said.

Iraq will stand on the brink of the abyss, post-Islamic State group, and now because of the entry of armed militias into the political process, the cycle of death and violence will continue

Sources in Baghdad told The New Arab that the Asaib Ahl al-Haq hoped to ally with Nouri al-Maliki, the former prime minister and current vice-president, in the upcoming polls.

In an earlier statement, the group's leader, Khazali, said he sought to enter the elections in hope of becoming the next prime minister of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Independent High Electoral Commission has faced allegations of fraud and corruption amid accusations of helping some candidates gain unfair advantage over others seeking election.

The Asaib decision has raised concerns that participation of armed factions in Iraq's upcoming elections, particularly by those accused of human rights abuses, could spark a civil war.

"Creating a political party from a militia that is openly backed by Iran is a setback in the political process in Iraq," political analyst Jassim al-Karkhi told The New Arab.

"Iraq will stand on the brink of the abyss, post-Islamic State group, and now because of the entry of armed militias into the political process, the cycle of death and violence will continue, especially since it is these same militias who have committed horrific massacres against civilians in many parts of the country - and now they are allow to enter the elections."

While provincial elections in Iraq were initially expected in 2017 and full parliamentary elections for April 2018, political wrangling between various factions as well as ongoing efforts in the fight against IS militants in the north of the country have led to a delay in the passing of the requisite acts for the elections to be held.

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