Discussion Paper (December 2006) – Inside Shiite Politics in Iraq: Internal Strives and Shifting Alliances

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent dismantling of the Ba’ath regime and security apparatus have not only empowered the long oppressed Shi’a majority of the country, it has also created a dangerous security vacuum that has been filled by various sectarian militias and foreign jihadi Salafis.

Today, Iraq is at the verge of a bloody civil war, in which Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds quarrel over Kirkuk; Sunni and Shi’a Iraqis quarrel over control of mixed neighbourhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere; home grown Sunni Islamist militias, tribal chiefs and former Ba’athis fight against the US troops and the weak central government; and foreign jihadi groups fight against US forces and the Iraqi government as well as the Shiites.

One conflict, however, that has not featured prominently in the coverage of the global news media, but which will as much determine the fate of Iraq and its future political outlook is that between quarrelling Shi’iite factions themselves. This conflict will surface even more if the new federalism bill that was passed in mid-October 2006 and is, in principal, already enshrined in the new Iraqi constitution is put into practice.

Since the 2003 war, the Shi’a political landscape in Iraq has been dominated by four main groups, which for the sake of consolidating the Shi’a’s new influence over the country’s political future, have so far chosen to cooperate under the umbrella of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the strong Shi’a block that emerged victorious out of the 2005 elections.

The four groups are: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the traditional ulama of the Hawza; The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its Badr Organisation; the al-Da’wa Party headed by Ibrahim al-Ja’afari; and Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army (also referred to as the Sadrists). Furthermore, there is also the Fadila Party, a break away group from the Mahdi army that is particularly strong in Basra, and although not having a strong impact on national politics will be a very important player to keep in mind for the power struggle unfolding in the Shi’a dominated south.


About the GPI

The Global Policy Institute is a research institute on international affairs. It is based in the City of London, and draws on both a rich pool of international thinkers, academics as well as policy and business professionals. The Institute gives non-partisan guidance to policymakers and decision takers in business, government, and NGOs.