This is the second of a three-part series in advance of Saturday’s provincial elections in Iraq. Today I report on an interview with a leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Tomorrow I’ll provide an account of an interview with a leader of Iraq’s secular, nationalist bloc.
Karim Almusawi is the Washington representative of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). On Monday, I interviewed him in his office in downtown Washington about the upcoming elections in Iraq.
SCIRI was founded in Iran in 1982, and its military wing, the Badr Brigade, was originally a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which helped to install SCIRI as a powerful part of Iraq’s ruling elite, SCIRI and Badr have used both religion and paramilitary force to consolidate their influence in Baghdad and the south, and there have been widespread reports of Badr-led assassination teams carrying out hundreds of killings of opponents, including former Baathists.
Today, ISCI is a leading party in Iraq, especially in Najaf and the south, and it controls the provincial councils and governorates in six Iraqi provinces: Baghdad, Najaf, Babil, Qadisiyah, Dhi Qar, and Muthanna. According to many analysts, ISCI is expected to suffer a significant setback in the January 31 vote, losing seats both to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa party, an allied but rival Shiite religious party, and to a resurgent secular and nationalist movement that includes, for the first time, many Sunni-led parties.
But Almusawi isn’t expecting losses. Indeed, he says that ISCI will expand the number of provinces it controls. “We are working very hard to get Basra, to get Karbala, and others,” he says. Controlling those cities is critical to ISCI’s grand design, namely, the creation of a large, autonomous region in Iraq’s nine southern provinces. Critics, including other Shiite parties, say that ISCI is laying the groundwork for the partition of Iraq.
I asked Almusawi, a former engineer who’s represented ISCI in Washington since 2002, if he thought Iraqis would use the election to repudiate the Shiite-Kurdish ruling alliance, especially because of its failure to provide jobs and to deliver basic services such as electricity, gas, water, and trash collection. Almusawi says that Iraqis will blame Maliki, not ISCI, for the government’s failure. “Iraqis recognize who is leading the country–the prime minister. That’s why we ran by ourselves. Iraqis recognize that ISCI is not in power,” he says.