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Iraq and the new Ottoman Janissaries

Mashari Althaydi

Published: Updated:

On June 9, 1826, the forces of Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, the sultan of Ottoman administrative reforms and aka Sultan Adli, deployed in the horse field in Istanbul where Janissaries forces that rebelled against the sultan and the state had gathered. The frightening Janissaries suffered a horrible defeat, and 6,000 of them were killed.

The next day, Sultan Mahmud II issued a decision to disband the entire Janissaries corps and its military troops and cancel their legions’ names and banners.

A group of historians thus viewed that day as a new and “modern” birthdate of the Ottoman state. Today, with the difference in time and characteristics, we see how the sectarian Iraqi Popular Mobilization somehow resembles the role, harm and defiance of the Ottoman Janissaries against the state’s well-being and health.

The birth of these Popular Mobilization militias, which have a sectarian Shiite fragrance and which are clearly organically linked to the Khomeini mentality in Tehran, was accompanied with controversy, clamor, anger and suspicions as well as with a poisonous stimulation of the militant, sectarian and nationalistic atmosphere from all parties.

The card of the Popular Mobilization Forces which is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Hadi Al-Amiri’s companion, has now become a card which politicians of Shiite parties are playing by courting them at one point and keeping away from them at another.

Comparing the Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization to the Ottoman Janissaries may seem preemptive and shocking to some but this is how it is, if Iraq wants to heal from the disease of the non-state.

Mashari Althaydi



Among those is Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, whose office recently issued an interesting memorandum emphasizing the importance of “not politicizing the Popular Mobilization Committee.” This came in response to an order issued by the Mobilization’s command to move their troops and get them out of some Sunni cities, to flatter Sunni parties which among their principles are the exit of the Popular Mobilization from their cities. Some Iraqi observers think this is a “move” by the two allies, Amiri and Maliki, to gain the Sunni voice, of course temporarily, and that is directed against the Sadr-Abadi alliance.

The Popular Mobilization itself and via its militant symbols does not have any special appreciation of Abadi as it’s closer to the “mujahid” Hadi Al-Amiri and his ally Nouri al-Maliki. This is why it said in its statement that Abadi is blandishing foreign powers “to win a second term.”

Aws al-Khafaji, the head of Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, clearly stated who these foreign powers are before as he said: “Isolating Abadi’s government is the only way to restore the Iraqi decision that’s dependent on Washington.” Abadi has previously flirted with the leadership and gangs of the Popular Mobilization and stressed on rejecting to disband it and even elaborated in glorifying it.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the article. Comparing the Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization to the Ottoman Janissaries may seem preemptive and shocking to some but this is how it is; if Iraq wants to heal from the disease of the non-state and break free from the authority of “the Janissaries’ new aghas.”

According to the Ottoman history, the Janissaries’ chief, the agha of the Janissaries, had a special headquarters in Istanbul and offices in the areas where the troops operated, and he was one of the most prominent figures in the Ottoman state.

The old and new aghas resemble each other!

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.