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‘Islamic resistance’ weaponizes Arab states against their people

Health workers parade in Sanaa on March 9, 2024, as part of a Houthi mobilization drive. (Reuters)
Health workers parade in Sanaa on March 9, 2024, as part of a Houthi mobilization drive. (Reuters)
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11 Mar 2024 09:03:36 GMT9
11 Mar 2024 09:03:36 GMT9

US Central Command’s leader Gen. Michael Kurilla warned senators last week that Tehran had “every proxy operationalized” across the region, creating “a convergence of crises” and “the most volatile situation in 50 years,” with US forces and global shipping among the primary targets of these “resistance” factions.

When figures such as Hassan Nasrallah, Qais Al-Khazali and Abdulmalik Al-Houthi hold forth about the “Islamic resistance,” who are they resisting? Certainly, Iraq’s paramilitary Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi and the Houthis have scarcely ever encountered a real Israeli, far less fought one, so bragging about resisting “Zionist occupation” is nonsense. Despite the rhetoric and saber-rattling, nothing these militias have done has helped the people of Gaza one iota — but do they even care?

Entities such as Hezbollah, which once pretended to put national priorities first, have shed their redundant former identities and restyled themselves as part of a pan-regional “Islamic resistance” movement. Whether they escalate or scale back their military activities has become wholly a matter for hostile foreign power brokers, who would happily see Lebanon or Iraq burnt to a crisp for the greater glory of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This vision was spelt out in an enlightening 2015 speech by prominent Hashd figure Al-Khazali, who described the 2014 establishment of the Hashd as an existential moment for Iraq, which he claimed had witnessed a transition from “resistance factions to a resistance state.” He outlined his vision for how “resistance” would be consolidated at the state level. To a large degree, this has come to pass, as Hashd factions have entrenched themselves throughout Iraq’s political system.

These paramilitary forces have lobbied strenuously against any investments or diplomatic engagement from Gulf and Arab states

Baria Alamuddin

Inna Rudolf from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation has spoken insightfully about how Hashd factions labored to consolidate this vision for Iraq as a “resistance state,” along the lines of my own book on the subject, “Militia State.” Rudolf argued that “the architects of the resistance state in Iraq opt for an all-inclusive formula,” pursuing domination of the social, political, military and economic domains.

This consolidation of a bloc of resistance states that trade with one another and align their higher interests with Tehran is a component of Iran’s strategy for shielding itself from Western sanctions in perpetuity, while seeking to be the preeminent force in the region. Lebanese and Iraqi financial institutions in this transnational “resistance economy” can be cannibalized for laundering funds from narcotics, terrorism and sanctions evasion, without meaningful repercussions. Meanwhile, these satellite states become ever more isolated from the surrounding Arab world, as these paramilitary forces have lobbied strenuously against any investments or diplomatic engagement from Gulf and Arab states that could ease the financially and morally bankrupt status of these “resistance states.”

After Oct. 7, the Western world behaved as if the existence of these transnational proxies was a total surprise. But these Iraqi and Syrian paramilitaries came together under the noses of Western diplomats, with their tacit agreement: notably after 2014, when the Hashd was perceived as a force that could be used to defeat Daesh, without the trouble and expense of putting Western forces on the ground. This deeply flawed strategic thinking has come back to bite the world.

These Iraqi forces have subsequently doubled in size, exploiting their political muscle to double their share of the state budget to nearly $3 billion. The Hashd also reaps about $10 billion a year from its monopolization of illegal taxation alone. When added to the billions from oil smuggling, extortion and control of various economic sectors, the group’s warlord leaders are probably some of the region’s wealthiest figures. The Hashd’s hijacking of the state constitutes a fundamental threat to national security. In mid-2022, clashes between Muqtada Al-Sadr’s supporters and Hashd factions pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

As a proud Lebanese citizen, I witnessed this process first-hand, as Hezbollah trampled all over my country’s inherent diversity, parasitically devouring the nation state and seeking to replace it with a weaponized theological tyranny. Lebanon has gone from being prosperous, diverse and rich in cultural and educational achievements to an economic basket case, from which those who can have already fled — and a hair trigger away from all-out war with Israel due to Hezbollah’s clumsy and opportunistic exploitation of the Palestinian cause. How are Christians, Sunnis, Druze and other denominations supposed to freely exercise their religious and cultural freedoms under such a “wilayat al-faqih” theocracy?

The genuine resistance are grassroots mass movements that relentlessly take to the streets in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran itself

Baria Alamuddin

Likewise, in Sanaa, leaders of the Houthi minority sect have used Iranian weapons and support to dominate a shattered, nonfunctioning country. Gratuitous attacks against global shipping provoked a US-led bombing campaign, leaving Yemen more marginalized and friendless than ever.

This ambition to straitjacket these nations within an axis of resistance, in this morbid culture of death, is actively opposed by substantial majorities of the population. The killing of entire Lebanese families in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes has not saved the lives of one woman or child in Gaza. Farmers want to be able to safely tend their land unmolested by unexploded cluster munitions or the debris of phosphorus bombs. Mothers do not want their children growing up in a war zone.

Israel’s occupation is illegal and inhuman, but the Arab territories that Iran has tried to forcibly monopolize are more than 100 times larger than anything the most deranged Zionist extremists have ever sought to annex from Palestinians.

These self-styled Islamic resistance factions neither represent the humanist aspirations of the Islamic faith nor serve any cause of nationalist resistance. The only things these mafioso militants are resisting is their citizens’ freedom, security and prosperity, while hijacking and weaponizing political institutions against their own citizens.

The genuine resistance are grassroots mass movements that relentlessly take to the streets in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran itself, courageously seeking liberation from paramilitary brutality, theocratic tyranny and hostile foreign agendas. Only about 12 percent of Tehran residents voted in elections on March 1. So many people submitted blank or spoiled ballots that officials joked that numerous seats in parliament should be left vacant. If the ayatollahs are so despised in their own capital, why should we tolerate their preeminence elsewhere?

This resistance to theological oppression is a resistance agenda we can all get behind. And given the absence of support for the ayatollahs and their agents anywhere in the region, it is one resistance campaign that is ultimately destined to prevail.

  • Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
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