20 years of 9/11: in northern Iraq, Iran’s oppressive shadow

By Hélène Sallon

Posted today at 8:00 a.m., updated at 10:13 a.m.

A large tent flanked by flags bearing the image of the Shiite Imam Hussein stands at the foot of the shrine of Nabi Younes (“the prophet Jonah”), in eastern Mosul. The scene would have been inconceivable before 2017, when the metropolis of northern Iraq was under the control of Al-Qaida, then capital of the “caliphate” of the Islamic State (IS) organization, and its persecuted Shiite minority. .

Onlookers pay little attention to it, even if the presence of Shiite militias in the predominantly Sunni city annoys it a lot. “These tents are used to demonstrate their strength and to test the reaction of the street, comments Ali Khdeir, former member of the Mosul city council. Shiites don’t even make up 2% of the city’s population, but Iran has maneuvered for [leur] give power. “ The pro-Iranian Shiite armed factions of southern Iraq, the hard core of the Popular Mobilization (MP) units that came to reclaim the territories that fell to IS in 2014, and the tribal militias they co-opt have gained a foothold in the city and its region, the ethno-religious mosaic of Nineveh, at the liberation in 2017. On the pretext of preventing the return of IS, they refuse to leave and claim their due for the war effort.

East of Mosul, August 13, 2021. On the left: Ali Khdeir, former member of the Mosul city council and independent candidate for the legislative elections of October 2021. On the right, Shiite tent set up by the militias decorated with pennants bearing the effigy of Shiite Imam Hussein.

If the presence of these militias – which would number more than 30,000 men in the province – remains discreet in Mosul, each has an “economic office”, on the lookout for the slightest profit. Grabbing of state land and properties of those who fled IS, imposition of protection taxes on traders and racketeering of beneficiaries of infrastructure and investment projects: no economic sector escapes their control, nor any service. All means are good to associate, willingly or by force, the local actors in their predatory enterprise: from the partnership with crooked businessmen to the co-option of local, corrupt and power-hungry elites. And, if necessary, intimidating recalcitrant officials and contractors.

Many suspicious land transactions

The giant portrait of the two heroic figures of the MP – Iranian General Ghassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abou Mahdi Al-Mohandes, killed in an American strike in January 2020 -, displayed at the Nabi Younes crossroads, attests to the importance of the site and its businesses for the Shiite factions. In the flea market, which opened in September 2018, second-hand dealers pay monthly rent to the investor who operates the place for the waqf – the Shiite mortmain property department.

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