The Iraq Report: Villagers evicted in minister's family feud
In what could amount to criminal conduct, international human rights organisations have implicated Iraqi Defence Minister Juma Inad in the forced expulsion and eviction of dozens of families from a village in Salahuddin governorate, north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, due to a familial dispute.
This comes at a time when Iraqi families have been forced out of displacement camps and made to return to bombed-out homes destroyed in the 2014 - 2017 war against the Islamic State group (IS).
"The Defence Minister reportedly punished his brother for marrying the widow of an alleged former IS member by using the Iraqi armed forces to illegally expel 91 families from al-Aetha"
Inad's seemingly unethical and illegal conduct will undermine Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi's efforts to boost the credentials of his "technocratic" government both at home and abroad.
Kadhimi is currently attempting to position Iraq as a regional security broker in an upcoming summit due to be held at the end of August. The summit will test Iraq's ability to act as a "Middle Eastern Switzerland'', although serious questions remain as to the extent that Baghdad remains under the sway of Tehran.
Defence minister allegedly oversees village expulsions
Human Rights Watch released an explosive report last Wednesday revealing possible connections between the illegal expulsion of dozens of families from al-Aetha, a village in the northern Salahuddin governorate, and a senior cabinet minister.
Defence Minister Juma reportedly punished his brother, Abdulrazaq Inad, for marrying the widow of an alleged former IS member by stripping him of his government perks and vehicles, and by using the Iraqi armed forces to illegally expel 91 families from al-Aetha.
Throughout July and August, the villagers were expelled by military units to one of the extant camps for internally displaced people (IDP) in Nineveh Governorate, the site of IS's last stand as their so-called caliphate was destroyed in 2017.
In "Marked for Life", covering Nov 2018 - October 2020, @amnesty urged @IraqiGovt to not close IDP camps that would leave thousands marked by #torture in #Iraq + #KRG detention stranded, with no safe refuge. https://t.co/nPlGfRti0B— Raz Salayi🕯️ (@razsalayi) August 9, 2021
Many IDP camps were abruptly ordered to close in October of last year by Kadhimi's administration, leading to criticism from the UN that the closures would impact tens of thousands of IDPs who did not have sufficient notice and who would be going back to destroyed infrastructure, insecurity, and unemployment.
One villager told HRW that when he asked one of the soldiers why they were being evicted, the soldier said, "it's because of some problem between you villagers and the [defence] minister."
He continued: "We are being blamed for something we had no part in. We are powerless victims."
Those interviewed by HRW said that these new evictions had severely disrupted their lives. One mother of six said one of her sons refused to leave and fled to his grandmother's house: "My mother told me that he is traumatised and is refusing to eat. He cries all day. My other two sons have missed their final secondary exams and are stuck here in the camp."
It is unclear why Inad would undertake such extreme measures, but a local who asked not to be identified for his own security told The New Arab that it was because the defence minister was afraid of being accused of being an IS "sympathiser".
"In Iraq's system, even if a distant cousin is a former Baathist or ended up living under Daesh, it's enough to get you killed"
"He thinks that because Abdulrazaq married this widow that it somehow makes him kin to Daesh fighters," the source said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. "In Iraq's system, even if a distant cousin is a former Baathist or ended up living under Daesh, it's enough to get you killed."
Belkis Wille, a senior crisis and conflict researcher at HRW, said: "The notion that a minister can on a whim and without justification kick hundreds of people out of their homes should shock the conscience."
"These families have been suffering for years at the hands of a government that has endorsed and sometimes participated in a range of collective punishment measures against them," Wille said.
When extrajudicial punishments against villagers are seemingly orchestrated by a senior cabinet minister, Kadhimi is going to have a hard time proving that his administration serves the interests of the Iraqi people.
A recurring complaint by Iraqis is that their ministers do not represent their interests and or that they appear to live detached lives from what common Iraqis experience. A high-level minister ordering the evictions of dozens of families will only serve to reinforce the perception that Iraq's political class are an arrogant elite who can, and at a whim, wreak havoc in the lives of regular Iraqis.
Iraq seeks role as a regional security broker
While Kadhimi's domestic reputation suffers, his government is now attempting to increase Iraq's international credibility by hosting a summit intending to boost regional cooperation and ease tensions between neighbouring states.
While no formal date has been set, the prime minister's office said that the summit will be held at the end of this month. Invitations have been sent to Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, the EU and allegedly Syria (Iraq denies this).
The summit, named the "Iraqi Neighbouring Countries Conference", will seek to reduce regional tensions in order to enhance local security.
"There are serious doubts as to whether Iraq is the architect of this summit or if Iranian interests are once again using the offices of the Iraqi state as a vehicle to achieve their regional ambitions"
An official statement from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's office praised the summit and said that "cooperation between the region's countries without foreign interference is the necessary condition for the region's stable security".
The summit will seemingly endeavour to position Iraq as a sort of Middle Eastern Switzerland, a neutral state where regional powers can negotiate disputes without foreign interference.
However, there are serious doubts as to whether Iraq is the architect of this summit or if Iranian interests are once again using the offices of the Iraqi state as a vehicle to achieve their regional ambitions.
There have been no reports indicating that the US has been invited to attend, which may be perceived as a snub to Washington particularly coming at a time when the Taliban have reconquered Afghanistan and the US is viewed as being in retreat.
While Kadhimi is generally viewed as a pro-US candidate, he will not be blind to the fact that Washington's political clout in the region has drastically dropped in recent years, and will also be acutely aware that the White House abandoned another ally in Afghanistan with disastrous consequences.
It is likely, therefore, that Kadhimi will be keen to make accommodations with more traditionally pro-Iran elements to secure his own political position and to shore up his own survivability in the likely event that Washington will leave him to his own fate in Baghdad.
Washington is currently suffering its largest credibility hit since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 as the Taliban recapture Afghanistan after 20 years of war and therefore Tehran may view this moment as an opportunity to solidify its control over Iraq and its reach into other Arab countries.
"While Kadhimi is generally viewed as a pro-US candidate, he will not be blind to the fact that Washington's political clout in the region has drastically dropped in recent years"
Iran will also be keen to establish a regional understanding about the various spheres of influence the respective invitees' control. The guest list involves every power player and broker in the region, and the inclusion of the EU suggests that Iran would like the attendance of a foreign power that is perceived to be more aligned with its interests, particularly with regards to any nuclear deals.
Syria's Assad regime's attendance is a further sign that Iran is the main beneficiary and benefactor of this summit.
It also remains to be seen if Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another regional mover, will accept the invitation extended to him by Iraq. Erdogan will be concerned at the presence of the Assad regime and how his attendance may legitimise the Syrian dictator, as Ankara and Damascus lock horns over the Syrian crisis.
Yet with the repeated failure of the US to effectively balance these various powers and stabilise the Middle East, it may yet be the case that the Baghdad summit is widely attended, if only to see if a mutually beneficial regional entente is possible. However, it must be stressed that this outcome is extremely unlikely considering the polarised positions of the invitees.
The Iraq Report is a regular feature at The New Arab.
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