Regional, international loyalties fuel inter-Sunni power struggle in Iraq

There are signs of a looming showdown between Sunni political forces in the western regions of Iraq for the control of what has become known as the “Sunni project”.
Wednesday 05/05/2021
Head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces Faleh al-Fayyad, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces Abdul Azizi Al-Mohammedawi, and Iranian ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi attend  an event, in Baghdad,  January 2, 2021. (AFP)
Head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces Faleh al-Fayyad, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces Abdul Azizi Al-Mohammedawi, and Iranian ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi attend an event, in Baghdad, January 2, 2021. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi parliamentary sources described the attack by the Iraqi Forces Alliance headed by Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi against the head of the Popular Mobilisation Authority, Faleh al-Fayyad, as unprecedented.

They said that there are signs of a forthcoming showdown between Sunni political forces in the western regions of Iraq for the control of what has become known as the “Sunni project”.

This showdown stems from the conflict between regional axes that divide Sunni groups in Iraq, between those sympathetic to the United States and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and those linked to Qatar. Turkey and Iran, on the other hand.

The Iraqi Forces Alliance has launched an unprecedented attack on Fayyad, who is loyal to Iran and is perceived as affiliated with the Qatari-Turkish axis, accusing him of introducing a reshuffle among the leadership of the Tribal Mobilisation Brigades in the Kirkuk governorate in order to favour partisan figures who are loyal to him.

The Tribal Mobilisation Brigades represent the Sunni forces within Fayyad’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which is made up of mostly Shia militias.

The statement came out after Iraqi Sunni forces failed to curtail the attempts by PMF chief, Faleh al-Fayyad, in Iraq’s western governorates to win over for electoral ends a particular Sunni figure active within the tribal group.

The Iraqi forces’ statement accused Fayyad of electoral profiteering, threatening leaders in the Tribal Mobilisation Brigades and enticing others to serve his electoral interests, by exploiting his position as the head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

The statement called on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to intervene immediately and described as a “time bomb” the exploitation of areas liberated from ISIS to promote the electoral designs of the head of the Popular Mobilisation Authority.

However, an Iraqi political source played down the impact of Fayyad’s moves, denying that his meetings are part of a credible electoral plan.

He explained that the Sunni segment of the population, considering its exceptionally bad living conditions, is no longer considered an influential factor in the elections. Its representatives are, in one way or the other, mere followers of the ruling Shia parties.

Talking to The Arab Weekly, the source pointed out that the so-called “Sunni project” does not exist except in opposition statements which are encouraged by the PMF in a bid to give the impression of an imminent threat posed by the return of the Sunnis to the highest level of power.

The same source said that the money spent by some on trying to buy the allegiance and loyalty of parts of the populations has been utterly wasted.

A political alliance is in place to serve the common  electoral interests of Faleh al-Fayyad and Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar.

Khanjar, who runs economic projects between Turkey and Qatar, enjoys political support from Doha and Ankara.

Khanjar heads the Arab project allied with the Fatah bloc led by Hadi al-Amiri, the closest ally of Iran, a bloc that is at odds with the Iraqi Forces Alliance bloc led by Halbousi, who is seen as being close to the Saudis and the Americans.

Divisions  among Sunni forces, parties and blocs contribute greatly to weakening the power of the Sunni segment of the population and its struggle for power and resources with Shia groups that wield almost total control over the security forces.

Iraqi political sources  said that Fayadh used Qatari funds provided by Khamis Khanjar to win over Sunni figures active within the Tribal Mobilisation Brigades.

It is difficult for Khanjar to operate in many Sunni areas because of the popular rejection he faces, especially after he was targeted by the US Treasury Department sanctions for his involvement in corruption including paying bribes to government officials in Iraq.

Khanjar yields to Fayyad in areas where he cannot operate in terms of selecting candidates to run in the parliamentary elections.

Fayyad’s electoral progress in the Sunni areas has depended on appointments and dismissals from within the tribal forces loyal to him.

The Sunni attack on Fayyad came after the failure of earlier pleas to the government and the religious authorities to prevent his interference.