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unhappy families
major political party plans split but keeps divorce quiet for now

Kholoud Ramzi
Iraqi politics are fractured by nature as allegiances shift and political blocs split or merge. Now one of the most powerful political parties representing the interests of Shiite Muslims looks likely to divorce…
22.11.2011  |  Baghdad

A split within one of the most important political organizations representing the interests of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims looks likely.

The first clue was a text message sent to Iraqi journalists’ phones last Friday morning. The message invited the journalists to attend the official 29th anniversary celebration of the Islamic Supreme Council. Until the last elections in Iraq, during which it lost support, the Islamic Supreme Council was one of the most powerful political bodies in the country for Shiite Muslims.

The text message told journalists that during the ceremony, to be held at the Council’s headquarters in the affluent Jadriya neighbourhood of Baghdad, “the council will announce that one of its affiliated organizations will be excluded and that a new organization will be formed”.

However during the ceremony, no mention was made of the Badr Organization - once the armed military wing of the Supreme Islamic Council and opposed to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s regime but now a political party that operated under the auspices of the Council. The Badr Organization was an important part of the Council but its leadership has been having differences of opinion with Council leadership for some time now.

However at the celebrations no split was announced. Instead the Council announced the formation of a new youth organization called “Fursan al-Amal”, which translates to the Knights of Hope.

“The new formation comprises a group of young people and aims to infuse a new spirit into the political activities of the Islamic Supreme Council’s organizations,” Ali Shubar, an MP with the Islamic Supreme Council, told NIQASH. Shubar denied that the Badr Organization would split from the Council, saying that: “the leaders of the two parties are still deliberating and have yet to make a final decision on the matter”.

However political observers felt that the split might still come before the end of the year. Ever since the difficult and much negotiated formation of the new Iraqi government in November of 2010, the two groups have been at loggerheads – this was obvious because of the conflicting statements each was making on various political issues.

The head of the Badr Organization, Hadi al-Amiri, supported current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s bid for power and was rewarded with a ministerial post: he is the current Minister of Transport in Iraq.

Meanwhile the head of the Islamic Supreme Council, Ammar al-Hakim, had to be persuaded to stop using his alliance with al-Maliki’s main opponent, former Iraqi prime minister Ayed Allawi, to put pressure on al-Maliki.

After this, people began to refer to the two groups within the alliance separately – as the Badr group and the al-Hakim group.

After years of supporting the Islamic Supreme Council, the seeds of the split were planted two years ago when al-Hakim was chosen as the leader of Islamic Supreme Council, to replace his father who died of cancer at a Tehran hospital in August 2009.

In electing al-Hakim their leader the Council ignored many within their ranks who were against al-Hakim’s election because they felt he was young and inexperienced. The leaders of the Badr Organization were among those dissenters; they felt that simply choosing a leader using patrilineal descent would weaken the group. And ever since then, various comments have been made about how the Badr Organization leaders have felt marginalized by the Council.

Tensions came to a head in late August this year when al-Hakim decided to change the name of the political bloc the Supreme Islamic Council leads from the Mehrab Martyr List, which referred to his murdered uncle, a former leader of the Council, to Muwaten, which translates to The Citizen.

Al-Hakim apparently felt that the name was more indicative of the role of the political bloc in its attempts to serve Iraqi citizens – in terms of social welfare initiatives, the Supreme Islamic Council has tried to work in a similar community-minded way to other political groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

However sources inside the Badr Organization said that they were against the name change and that it had been done without their consent.

In Baghdad speculation remains rife as to whether the two groups will soon part ways. The two organizations already have separate administrations and offices. As Badr Organization MP Mohammed al-Bayati told NIQASH: “The divorce has already happened. But it won’t be announced officially until the end of the year.”