Money, influence fuel struggle within Iraq’s Muslim Brotherhood over Sunni Endowments

The revenue from the Sunni endowments is estimated to be about $6 billion annually.
Tuesday 30/06/2020
Sunni Muslim clerics attend a news conference by Iraq’s Sunni Endowment Office, at the Abu al-Hanifa al-Numan mosque in the Adhamiya district of Iraq’s capital Baghdad on April 22, 2020. (AFP)
Sunni Muslim clerics attend a news conference by Iraq’s Sunni Endowment Office, at the Abu al-Hanifa al-Numan mosque in the Adhamiya district of Iraq’s capital Baghdad on April 22, 2020. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – A fierce struggle for the position of head of the Diwan of Sunni Endowments is pitting the various wings of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, against each other. Not only is this diwan (bureau) a significant financial source, it is an important card for political manoeuvring within the Sunni house and in the context of relations with the other sectarian components of Iraqi society and the countries sponsoring them, including Iran, Turkey and Qatar.

To put things in perspective, the position of the head of the Diwan of Sunni Endowments is functionally equivalent to that of a minister, with the difference that whoever sits in the president's chair of the diwan manages a tremendous financial empire. So whenever the position becomes vacant, a merciless competition to fill it erupts within Sunni circles in Iraq.

The head of this diwan controls the revenue generated by thousands of religious shrines all over the country, to which visitors donate millions of dollars annually, as well as a large number of commercial real estate, leased lands and investment assets.

A 2107 file picture shows former president of Iraqi Sunni Endowment Abdul latif Al Hemyem delivering a sermon to worshippers during Friday prayers in Mosul, Iraq. (REUTERS)
A 2107 file picture shows former president of Iraqi Sunni Endowment Abdul latif Al Hemyem delivering a sermon to worshippers during Friday prayers in Mosul, Iraq. (REUTERS)

The revenue from the Sunni endowments is estimated at about $6 billion annually, which is just under half of the general budget of a country like Jordan.

The former head of Sunni Endowments, Abdul Latif Al Hemyem, left the position in mysterious circumstances; the interim head right now is Diwan Undersecretary Saad Kambash.

The Arab Weekly has learned that the Islamic Party is moving along more than one path to obtain the position of the head of the Diwan of Sunni Endowments, amid fierce competition between its wings.

The senior scholar of the Jurisprudence Council, Ahmed Hassan al-Taha, is backing his own nephew, Salahuddin Fleih, a member of the Islamic Party, for the vacant position, but there are two other candidates, both of whom are connected to different branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq.

Also desperately vying for this position is former Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, who failed to secure himself a seat in the House of Representatives or obtain a cabinet ministry in the governments of Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri speaks during a media conference. Reuters
Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri speaks during a media conference. (Reuters)

Ahmed Hassan al-Taha enjoys an excellent reputation as chief scholar of the Iraqi Jurisprudence Council, but proposing his nephew and son-in-law for the position of head of the Diwan of Sunni Endowments has sparked such widespread controversy that the proposed candidate, Salahuddin Fleih, opted to withdraw his candidacy after a fierce campaign was launched against him.

Sources close to the Jurisprudence Council relate that the council’s president believes that Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is facing tremendous pressure to chose a leader for the Sunni endowment, most notably from the previous Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri.

Jabouri is a leader in the Iraqi Islamic Party. He previously ran for the position of secretary-general of the party but lost to Iyad al-Samarrai, who also served as parliament speaker.

Following this defeat, Jabouri stepped aside from the party’s life along with a group of other leaders of the Islamic Party, but has not completely severed his close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The sources say that the current secretary-general of the Islamic Party, Rashid al-Azzawi, is also a strong candidate for the position of head of the Sunni Endowments, adding intensity to the competition for the post.

Azzawi has the support of Shia parties linked to Iran, where he spent much of his life.

The sources say that Taha, Jabouri and Azzawi are moving in many directions and on different levels to lay their hands on “the goose that lays golden eggs” that is the Diwan of the Sunni Endowments. According to political sources, none of the candidates for the position have any political advantage over the others.

This open competition between the wings of the Islamic Party is one more sign of the deep crisis paralysing the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq. Quite obviously, the religious slogans that the brotherhood is constantly waiving become insignificant for its leaders when it comes worldly gains.

Observers believe that the Diwan of Sunni Endowments is the last chance for the Islamic Party to organise its ranks in Iraq, amid expectations that the wing that will end up presiding the Diwan will be the one that will represent the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq.