The Iraq Report: Pro-Iran MPs demand Saudi 'reparations'

The Iraq Report: Pro-Iran MPs demand Saudi 'reparations' for suicide bombers
8 min read
29 May, 2020
Lawmakers close to Iran are trying to pass legislation that would force Riyadh to pay reparations to Iraqi victims of terrorism perpetrated by Saudi nationals.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi is courting Saudi money as rivals seek to undermine Riyadh. [Getty]
Mustafa al-Kadhimi's new government has not been in power for a month and it is already facing significant hurdles arising from internal divisions within the Iraqi parliament and the public's rapidly dwindling trust in the Iraqi prime minister to be able to effect real change in the war-ravaged country.

While on the one hand Kadhimi sought to reassure the Iran-backed parliamentary blocs and Shia militant groups that he would not undermine them, he has simultaneously reached out to Iran's rival Saudi Arabia to seek financial support. This has led to a parliamentary revolt by the former ruling coalition, which has very close ties to Iran.

Kadhimi's affectionate display of loyalty to pro-Iran groups that was filmed and widely circulated has also put him at odds with the Iraqi public, who have been calling for Iran's excision from Iraqi politics since October last year.

His failure, even at this early juncture, to hold them to account has been exacerbated by reports from the United Nations that hundreds of Iraqi protesters had indeed been abducted, forcibly disappeared, and tortured, placing the long-term success of Kadhimi's government in doubt.

Kadhimi courts Saudi money as rivals seek to undermine Riyadh

Iraqi finance minister and acting oil minister, Ali Allawi, arrived in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on an official visit last Friday and held meetings with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud over the weekend in signs of thawing ties between the two Arab countries.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi's new government has not been in power for a month and it is already facing significant hurdles arising from internal divisions

The Kingdom is set to invest in an Iraqi natural gas field and will also loan Baghdad $3 billion to partially cover Iraq's budget deficit and address its liquidity problems, according to a statement on Saturday by Bin Farhan.

The statement also revealed Riyadh would be restoring its ambassador to Baghdad, reversing a 2016 decision to withdraw former envoy Samer al-Sabhan after the diplomat was accused of issuing inflammatory statements by the Iraqi government who were in turn accused of meddling in Saudi Arabia's internal affairs.

"The instructions of King Salman were issued to reflect the Kingdom's desire to strengthen relations between the two countries," Bin Farhan said after his meeting with Allawi.

Read more: The Iraq Report: Mustafa al-Kadhimi takes
aim at pro-Iran militias

Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman, Deputy Minister of Defence and son of the ruling king, said the kingdom is rooting for Iraq. "We hope Iraq reverts to being one of the strong Arab pillars that stands strong, and that its people live the life they deserve in peace," Prince Khalid bin Salman said. 

"The kingdom stands by Iraq to support its advancement, peace and brotherhood with its Arab neighbours," the prince added. While this may take the appearance of a diplomatic win for Kadhimi's nascent government, it has come at a domestic price that is likely to outrage and infuriate the Saudis.

The New Arab's Arabic-language service reported on Thursday that a group of Shia Islamist lawmakers close to Iran have begun to try to pass legislation that would target Saudi Arabian "suicide bombers" and force Riyadh to pay reparations and damages to Iraqi victims of terrorism perpetrated by Saudi nationals.

The bill, being primarily pushed by the State of Law Coalition who ruled Iraq under the Shia Islamist Dawa Party and ex-premier Nouri al-Maliki, is proposed to be similar to the US' Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, better known by its JASTA acronym which was passed in the dying days of the Obama administration and facilitated legal claims against Saudi Arabia's alleged role in the 9/11 terror attacks.

Iraqi lawmakers loyal to Iran have charged Saudi Arabia with not doing enough to prevent its citizens from travelling to Iraq to fight the jihad against the US-led occupation from 2003, and MPs have said that "thousands" of Saudis joined terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and crossed over into the country from neighbouring Syria.

Iraq's finance minister and acting oil minister recently visited Riyadh in signs of thawing ties between the two Arab countries

Saad Al-Muttalibi – a senior State of Law official who once admitted his government had perpetrated war crimes on international television – said that "hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed by acts of terrorism" and that Saudi Arabia in particular should be held accountable.

If passed, the bill would have little impact on Saudi Arabia in a direct fashion. After all, Iraq is not a comparable power to the United States whose passing of the JASTA bill caused significant damage to US-Saudi ties. Saudi would also never pay reparations or damages to Iraq and would fear no repercussions as Baghdad would be simply too powerless to act.

However, the timing of this announcement by pro-Iran lawmakers to pass legislation to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the actions of citizens Riyadh itself considers to be terrorists can only be viewed in light of Kadhimi's attempt to foster relations with the Kingdom which has historically been viewed as a threat to Iranian interests in Iraq.

It is not yet clear if the State of Law bloc can cut the right kind of deals to push such a bill through, but the mere threat of one shows significant hostility towards Saudi Arabia and Riyadh will be looking carefully at how Kadhimi addresses this affront to the Saudis who he had only just returned from cap in hand.

Read more: The Iraq Report: Mustafa al-Kadhimi takes the helm in stormy political waters

Riyadh once threw its financial weight behind radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who was even invited to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Sadr had made all the right noises of being anti-Iran which attracted the attention of the Saudi royal. 

However, this later turned out to be a poor investment as Sadr later turned on the crown prince, essentially branding his grandfather and founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, as a heretic, an act known as takfir in Arabic which is taboo. Sadr's parliamentary bloc, Sairoun, has also actively worked with Iran-backed factions much to Riyadh's chagrin.

UN confirms Iraqi protesters had been abducted, tortured

Hundreds of Iraqis who were involved in anti-government demonstrations since October last year have been subjected to human rights violations, including torture, according to a new report released by the United Nations last Saturday.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, UNAMI, documented 154 allegations of missing protesters and human rights activists, stating that they had credible allegations of demonstrators being forcibly disappeared, abducted, tortured, and sexually molested.

Shia Islamist lawmakers close to Iran have begun to try to pass legislation that would target Saudi Arabian 'suicide bombers' and force Riyadh to pay reparations and damages to Iraqi victims

In every incident, those targeted for abductions had either participated in the protests or provided support to demonstrators, UNAMI said. Nearly all of the abductees were either activists prior to the protests, played significant roles in the demonstrations, or criticised authorities or armed groups on social media, it added.

Abductees were forced into vehicles by masked and armed men close to demonstration sites, according to UNAMI. Many described being blindfolded and driven to locations where they were detained.

All of them were "interrogated" by their captors, with questioning commonly focused on their role in the demonstrations, allegations of links to foreign states - particularly the United States - and their political affiliations.

All male abductees described being subjected to torture such as severe beatings, electrocution, hosing or bathing in cold water, being hung from the ceiling by their arms and legs, being urinated on, being photographed nude, death threats and threats to their families, UNAMI reported.

Read more: Surrealist painter captures Iraq's descent
into the abyss of corruption and decay

Female abductees said they were beaten, threatened with rape and sexually molested by being touched in their "private areas".

Iraq's protest movement, named the "October Revolution", called for sweeping changes and a decisive end to the current system imposed after the 2003 US occupation, which marked the inception of a ruling system shaped by sectarian and religious division.

Demonstrators were met with a brutal crackdown by security forces and Iran-backed Shia militias, with at least 700 killed and thousands injured. In a statement on Twitter, the Iraqi government said it had reviewed UNAMI's report and will launch an investigation into the matter.

"The [Iraqi Government] affirms its commitment to protecting human rights, to hold impartial and independent investigation, as stated in the government programme, into the events outlined in this report, and to respecting relevant international conventions that Iraq is party to," it said.

The UNAMI report also outlined a lack of accountability, as the few victims who pursued criminal complaints for their treatment either received no response from authorities or were encouraged not to pursue their cases further.

UNAMI's report was preceded by pledges by Prime Minister Kadhimi when he took office that he would deal with the "legitimate demands" of the protesters and that he would bring any groups who had harmed demonstrators to justice.

Hundreds of Iraqis who were involved in anti-government demonstrations since October last year have been subjected to human rights violations, including torture, according to a new report released by the UN

While many reports have made it clear that Iran-linked groups with close ties to the government in Baghdad have been heavily involved in anti-demonstrator violence and killings, Kadhimi was filmed offering profuse praise to militia commanders who had been implicated in attacks against protesters.

Iraqi activists and protesters had already made it clear they had little faith in Kadhimi being able to provide them with the change he promised, but the video of him paying homage to sectarian and violent militia leaders sent what remained of his popularity into a tailspin.

Should Kadhimi fail to be seen to be seriously dealing with these militias and Iran's malign influence over Iraq's internal affairs, it is likely his administration will not last in the face of pro-Iran political groups seeking to sabotage him and an enraged public seeking to oust him.

The Iraq Report is a fortnightly feature at The New Arab.

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