by Hamdi Malik
From The Washington Institute
Part of a series: Militia Spotlight
or see Part 1: How to Use Militia Spotlight
Media www.rajawalisiber.com – Hossein Moanes, a senior Kataib Hezbollah member is now leading a newly-established political movement which competes over votes of supporters of the muqawama with other Iran-backed militias in the upcoming elections.
On September 11, 2021, Hossein Moanes, the head of Kataib Hezbollah (KH) affiliated Harakat Hoquq (HH – the rights movement) gave an interview to the Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) affiliated al-Mayadeen TV (Figure 1).
He presented a long list of problems that have gripped Iraq in recent years. When he was asked who is responsible for these problems, he replied: “the political system and the political blocs, each according to its participation [in the political process”. Given that al-Fatah bloc, which is dominated by the Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), is a major player in the political scene, Moanes was essentially criticizing his fellow muqawama groups.
Even these blunt words were a toned-down version of rebuke he has been delivering to other muqawama political parties since he established his political movement. In his first TV appearance as the head of HH in late July 2021, Moanes presented himself and his movement as an alternative to other muqawama parties. He told Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s iNEWS TV: “there is a big political vacuum and disappointment towards our people… I… established this movement to address part of this frustration…” (Figure 2).
Moanes’ language was even stronger in his speech at the launch of Houquq’s election campaign on August 4, 2021. At this event, he delivered a harsh rebuke to all political parties who have been present in Iraqi parliament and government. He said: “the corruption is a field for unrivalled national unity… as all groups with various religious, racial and ethnic identity participated in it… all [the political groups] have taken part in corruption… and the time for change has come… it is time for a group outside this game to step forward to manage the country, [a group] outside these alliances which in many occasions compromised the rights, the national decision and dignity and sovereignty” (Figure 3).
Backlash from other muqawama elements
This narrative did not go down well with other muqawama groups. Only two days after this speech, in a rare move, Jawad al-Talibawi, the military spokesman for AAH, attacked the KH commander and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) chief of staff, Abu Fadak al-Muhammadawi. In a twitter post, Talibawi criticized Abu Fadak and questioned his integrity because he had decided to appoint the son of, Juma Inad, Iraq’s defence minister as the commander of one of Sunni units in the PMF. Talibawi said:
“Being the PMF’s chief of staff and a successor for the martyr leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis bear you a bigger responsibility to take the right decisions and avoid appeasing [others] when it’s at the cost of the blood of the martyrs, or even worse to the benefit of enemies of the PMF. Let me be frank with you! Your decision to appoint son of someone who accused the holy PMF of having a secondary role in liberating Iraq from ISIS is a decision that can [only] be taken by a politician who wants to appease the corrupt at the cost of the interests of the nation” (Figure 4).
The reason Talibawi opposed appointing Inad’s son is that when the PMF sieged Baghdad’s International Zone after the May 26, 2021 arrest of PMF commander Qasim Muslih, Inad criticized the militias and downplayed their role in defeating ISIS. This infuriated the militias and rendered Inad an enemy of the muqawama. Talibawi’s comments were an indirect response to Moanes and his parent organization, KH, calling out KH’s own political deal-making. The comments were notable for being delivered publicly, rather than using internal muqawama channels, reflecting sharp political competition before the elections.
KH tries to mend fences
KH felt compelled to issue a statement in an effort to mend the rift. In its August 8 statement which was published on KH website and widely shared by muqawama media, the militia group called for the candidates to only “promote their plans without transgressing others, especially those who have a right over us, and we believe that keeping them is a religious and moral duty” (Figure 5).
Since then, Moanes toned down his language, but his strategy remains to set his movement apart from other muqawama groups and to presenting his group as an alternative to them to win votes of the muqawama supporters.
Many experts believe that Moanes is Abu Ali al-Askari, the notorious KH security spokesman. Moanes has always denied this connection, potentially as he is trying to separate his military identity from his political brand. In December 2020, Abu Ali al-Askari threatened to cut the Iraqi prime minister’s ears “the same way ears of the goats are cut” (Figure 6).
He is now trying to present himself as a political figure who has left his militia, but all the evidence indicate that he is still very much a senior member of KH, a U.S. designated terrorist group.