Shiite militia parades through Baghdad, warns against budget delays
An Iraqi Shiite militia on Thursday paraded through Baghdad in a show of force and issued a warning to political parties intentionally delaying approval of the budget, saying “we will not remain silent for long.”
“We warn political factions and parties that deliberately delay the approval of the budget in order to obtain their gains,” the Rab’Allah militia said in a statement.
They warned political parties within the government that, “We will not remain silent for long if the people’s demands are not fulfilled in budget, especially the demands of the people in southern provinces.”
Rab’Allah is often linked with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashd al-Shaabi) and their statement was carried on PMF propaganda channels on Telegram. Photos shared on the same channels showed a member of the group reading the handwritten statement as militiamen marched on the streets of Baghdad, carrying AK-47s, and wearing balaclavas with “Rab’Allah” written on them.
The PMF, on their official Telegram channel on Thursday, distanced itself from the Rab’Allah show of force. It denied holding “any military activity” inside Baghdad, saying their brigades “are called by numbers not by other names.” They also added that movements of their forces are “within the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and in coordination with the Joint Operations Command.”
Last week, the parliament postponed a vote on the 2021 budget. After months of negotiations, a last minute attempted addition to the bill meant parties were unable to agree on the final text. Shiite parties wanted to make amendments regarding obligations to hand over oil and non-oil revenues the Kurdistan Regional Government would have to meet in order to receive its share of federal funds.
Rab’Allah called out Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani, accusing him of deliberately delaying approval of the budget.
They also voiced support for efforts of some lawmakers to cancel a devaluation of the dinar against the US dollar introduced last December.
Videos published on their Telegram channels showed the militiamen driving through the streets of Baghdad on the back of dozens of pickup trucks, faces covered, carrying RPGs and AK47s. Some held up images of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi with a shoe print on his forehead, captioned “It’s time to cut off his ears.”
During the reign of former dictator Saddam Hussein, soldiers who deserted the armed forces had their ears cut off as a sign of their cowardice.
This is not the first time Shiite militias have threated to cut off the prime minister’s ears. Abu Ali al-Askari, a security official for the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah, threatened Kadhimi in December, telling him not to “test the patience” of the group following the arrest of one of their members in connection with a rocket attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Rab’Allah has been linked to several attacks in recent months, including storming the KDP office in Baghdad in October 2020, setting the building alight to protest comments from a senior KDP official who “cleansing” Baghdad’s Green Zone of the militia networks.
In November, Iraqi activist Akram Adhab was shot in Baghdad by masked men after he posted on Facebook that “Baghdad is a prison run by Rab’allah.”
The group is also implicated in a November attack on a massage parlor in Baghdad.
Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Thursday called on the PMF to either punish Rab’allah, if the militia is a part of the PMF network, or publicly deny any relationship with them, and said the government must prevent a return to violence.