As Iran sinks financially, Iraqi militias generate funds via protection rackets

Michael Flanagan
Michael Flanagan
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In areas rife with corruption, lawful behavior is often punished as the forces of law enforcement do not work for the people but for the often malignant forces wielding actual power.

Sadly, parts of Iraq are becoming feudal kingdoms with selective law enforcement designed to protect both the financial and the power interests of those locally in charge.

Being from Chicago, I am very familiar with this situation. The past of my city was rife with violent gangs “owning” defined territories “protected” from rival factions – “protected” at a cost to the businessman who pays and pays not to be attacked by his protectors.

Usually, the ordinary police were in on the scheme and were well paid to look the other way or even better paid to partake in the “protection” activities.

Protection rackets can be very lucrative. Violence awaits those that question the local ruling gang and there is no law enforcement neutral enough or powerful enough to seriously entertain a complaint.

So, locals with money or position pay and pay the gangs because there is no alternative. Either they pay for protection from the thugs or suffer violence from them – often coupled with indifference (or even criminal cooperation) of the police.

Iraq is quietly being divided into lucrative fiefdoms where those that wish to thrive or do any business at all must pay. In the North, the Kurds and Masoud Barzani are running their protection racket. It is more benign, less violent but just as iron-clad and lucrative as the others.

In the West, ISIS continues to exert undue influence and extorts monies from all comers looking to do business there. In the South, Iran exerts its influence through Iranian militias and other official and unofficial structures looking to shake down businessmen.

One of Iran’s ‘top earners’ (as they are called in the American Mafia) is Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). AAH is an Iranian-backed militia with its origins in Muqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi Amy.

When Muqtada made a tentative peace with the formal Iraqi government (and the Americans as well), AAH continued its attacks breaking-away from Al Sadr. Ironically, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq translates to the “League of the Righteous.”

As Iran sinks financially, the need for its militias in Iraq to generate their own funds has acutely risen. The League of the Righteous is extorting and “protecting” its way to financial independence.

Recently, Kuwaiti companies run by a daughter of the ruler Sabah IV of Kuwait paid a heavy protection price to AAH to be able to invest in the new airport complex in Diwaniyah Province. This was so open and notorious that it was actually reported in the newspapers. Better to pay than be bombed, rocketed or just killed outright.

In Baghdad, sides are being drawn in less obvious ways. The political parties are deeply involved in the protection rackets to control lucrative businesses and investments.

Recently, a prominent Baghdad restauranteur was arrested by security forces with AAH identification papers on him. This was reported by an equally prominent television station run by Amir Hakim. Amir Hakim is not of AAH but is a former leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) party when they were in power in Iraq a few years ago – a rival party to AAH.

Because it was reported that an AAH identity card was found on the man, the Iranian Party Bloc, al-Fateh, complained loudly that Hakim was using his media prominence to purposely target AAH, Iranian interests and Iran’s newest acquisition, the Popular Mobilization Forces (the PMF).

A personage no less than the President of the Republic had to be ultimately involved. He called for calm and for restraint because the two parties were on the verge of open, armed conflict over the matter. Nothing less than his involvement was required to stave off bloodshed.

The upshot of this is that outside investment, already wary of the inconsistency of the ordinary rule of law in Iraq, are completely scared off by this activity. More than a few large, outside deals have utterly collapsed in the South particularly.

AAH’s violent involvement in ordinary business activities in order to raise money has made it a pariah in the South of Iraq. Because of their brutality, they are also feared and, sadly, obeyed.

Iraq is twice burdened by its corruption and now lawless protection rackets. Both plagues are a direct result of the lack of dependable and honest law enforcement coupled with a court system that is independent and capable of enforcing the law.

Until these deficiencies can be cured, outside investment will be scarce and internal economic activity will be minimal. Iraq must free itself from these twin evils.

Michael Patrick Flanagan represented the 5th District of Illinois in the historic 104th Congress. He sat on the Committees on the Judiciary, Government Reform and Oversight, and Veterans’ Affairs. Prior to his Congressional Service, Michael was commissioned in the United States Army Field Artillery. After leaving Congress, Michael and his firm, Flanagan Consulting LLC, have represented both large and small corporations, organizations, and associations. In 2009, Michael took a sabbatical from his lobbying business and entered public service again with the United States Department of State in Iraq as the Senior Rule of Law Advisor on the Maysan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Maysan, Iraq. For his work, Michael was awarded the Man of the Year by the Iraqi Courts, the Civilian Service Medal by the US Army and was also given the Individual Distinguished Honor Award. Michael is currently a consultant in Washington, D.C. His email ID is [email protected].

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