Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for August 28th, 2011

A Daawa Militia? The Appearance of Fursan Dawlat al-Qanun

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 28 August 2011 14:25

Throughout the post-2003 period in Iraqi history, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Daawa political party of Nuri al-Maliki has been its lack of any militia component. This set the Daawa apart from other Shiite Islamist movements like ISCI, the Sadrists and even Fadila (which had paramilitary affiliates at least in Basra). Indeed, during the summer of 2009 when other Shiite parties tried to convince Maliki to join them in a wider sectarian alliance, one of the arguments marshalled by Maliki in defence of going it alone was precisely that his party believed “in the state, not in militias”.

Last week, there were some cracks in this image as a previously unknown entity named “The State of Law Knights” (fursan dawlat al-qanun) appeared on the political scene with threatening comments against Kuwait. Unless Kuwait would stop its controversial Mubarak port project, it was said, military and popular action from the Iraqi side of the border would ensue. Despite seemingly frantic attempts by State of Law leaders to dispel the notion of any link between themselves and the new organisation that carries almost the same name, enemies of Maliki seized on the story as evidence that Maliki had finally began formalising a relationship between his own State of Law bloc and a paramilitary organisation.  Some even quoted anonymous Sadrist sources to the effect that the controversial tribal “support councils” that were established by Maliki in rural areas from 2008 onwards are in fact now being converted to a new role as paramilitary fursan.

So who got it right this time, the conspiracy theorists or Maliki’s people? There does in fact seem to be a degree of substance to the story. The secretary-general of the State of Law Knights is one Abd al-Sattar Jabbar al-Abbudi, who claims to have had “an electoral alliance with State of Law in the 2010 parliamentary elections”. This appears to be correct as far as there does indeed appear a candidate called Abd al-Sattar Jabbar Gati Khalifa on the State of Law list for Baghdad in 2010 who is almost certainly the same person (in 2005 he ran as an independent and was then called Abd al-Sattar Jabbar Gati al-Abbudi), although he seems to have run as an individual on the State of Law list in 2010 and not as the head of a separate entity within the State of Law coalition. As candidate number 114 he was hardly the top pick of the leadership, and he must have got less than the 1,300 personal votes that formed the threshold for winning promotion on the basis of personal votes on the State of Law list in Baghdad.

Accordingly, this latest phenomenon appears to be yet another incarnation of something we have seen previously: Political outfits that are clearly pro-Maliki, but that do not enjoy his formal endorsement. This has been seen previously with websites such as qanon302.net (which often but not always toes the Daawa party line). One interesting question is of course why Maliki –  who is being described by his detractors as increasingly autocratic – are unable to control these supposedly fringe elements within his very own coalition circles. Could the whole move be deliberate? The term “knights” has been used by Maliki to amplify his rhetoric in the past  such as during the “Charge of the Knights” operation in Basra in 2008.

As for the Mubarak port issue itself, a good deal of it looks like storm in a teacup designed to redirect attention from the general incompetence of the Iraqi government in making progress on its own harbour projects around Basra. Shiite politicians may find it potentially useful since it distracts from criticism concerning Iranian trespassing on the Iraqi border in the Kurdish areas, but if it is allowed to take precedence at the expense of more pressing domestic issues, Iraq rather than Kuwait is likely to be the main casualty of this whole affair.

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Posted in Iraqi nationalism, UIA dynamics | 26 Comments »