Hikma plans to become Iraq’s main opposition party but challenges abound

The call for a million-man march march by Hikma has not gone without criticism.
Saturday 20/07/2019
Iraqi Shia cleric and head of Hikma party Ammar al-Hakim gives a speech in Najaf, last May. (AFP)
Playing on grievances. Iraqi Shia cleric and head of Hikma party Ammar al-Hakim gives a speech in Najaf, last May. (AFP)

BAGHDAD - The Hikma Movement, led by cleric Ammar al-Hakim, is seeking to capitalise on rising dissatisfaction with the Iraqi government to become the country’s main Shia opposition party but winning supporters will likely be difficult amid the general mistrust of politicians in Iraq.

In June, Hikma, which translates as “Wisdom,” withdrew from the al-Islah bloc in parliament and announced it was forming a “constructive opposition” to the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

Hikma has called on Iraqis to take part in a million-man march across the country to protest poor services and corruption. The party said it would call for “civil disobedience” if the government did not meet demonstrators’ demands.

Hameed Mu’alla, leader of the General Assembly of Hikma, said that the party has the choice of “two kinds of opposition — soft and aggressive. Soft opposition by questioning parliamentary officials. Aggressive opposition by calling for demonstrations and

civil disobedience.”

Kareem Hammadi, a journalist in Baghdad, participated in a seminar titled “Opposition as a Necessary Balance Force in the Political System” organised by Hikma in early July.

“In my presentation, I stressed the importance of having a strong Shia opposition, even under a Shia-led government,” Hammadi said.

“Hikma could convince Iraqis who have lost faith in Iraq’s democratic landscape that the party wants a true solution to the government’s mistakes, privatisation, corruption and poor services.”

“We need a real opposition, one that is not opposed to the idea of the state and that is not linked to a terrorist organisation,” he said.” The process would include protests and civil disobedience but would not disrupt the government while it attempts to show that it is capable of taking care of the problems.”

Salah al-Arbawi, head of Ammar al-Hakim’s office in Baghdad, said the time had come to form an efficient opposition to the poor performance of government.

“The strategic value in our opposition initiative is that will end the political irresponsibility that has tarnished the previous period under the name of ‘harmonious democracy.’ It will lead to a consolidation of democracy and legal protection for the opposition to practise its rights through protests, sit-ins and even strikes,” Arbawi said.

“We do not want a messy opposition but an opposition that is based on law. This is the most powerful kind of opposition. Some people with political power are afraid of showing their true selves. We will take away the mask they hide behind and show the world who they are.”

“We will have demonstrations in all of Iraq’s provinces and demand the end of the chaos that reigns today,” he said. “To do this, we must disarm those who create chaos. Instead, we want everyone to focus on fighting corruption and creating jobs. The demonstrations will be especially for Hikma followers but anyone is welcome to join us.”

Hikma’s call was received well by other parties. Sarwa Abdulwahid Qader, a former member of the Iraqi parliament from the New Generation party, said the country needs a “loyal” opposition.

“In the democratic system, there must be opposition but there must also be loyalty. If the opposition from [Hikma members] is serious, they must be able to give real examples of negative acts by the government, diagnose the mistakes and have pragmatic solutions,” Qader said.

She branded Hikma’s position as “intelligent and courageous” and said the “formation of a strong opposition is very necessary. I agree with this [opposition] and think it very necessary to continue Iraq’s political process.”

Hisham al-Hashimi, a political analyst in Baghdad, said the opposition has responsibilities.

“Being in the opposition not only means challenging the government but also providing alternatives to it. The opposition must include every bloc that is not present in the government. The opposition needs to include independent parliamentarians,” he said.

“For a political bloc to be considered part of the opposition, it must satisfy two conditions: The bloc must not be a participant in the government and the majority of its members must feel that the government does not have their confidence.”

The call to march by Hikma has not gone without criticism. In Basra, the request was perceived by many as a cynical political manoeuvre. Activists accuse the party of seeking to regain Basra’s gubernatorial seat in the next local elections. The previous governor, Majid al-Nasrawi, a Hikma member, fled to Iran after allegations of corruption.

“The (Hikma) party is trying to get back into the Basra provincial council by riding the wave of demonstrations,” said Haider al-Musawi, a Basra resident.

Kadhim al-Sahlani, a protest leader in Basra, said demonstrators would not join forces with Hikma.

“We are not against [Hikma] and it has every right to demonstrate but we do not want to be part of it,” he said.