Muanis, 50, says he abandoned his militia fatigues in favor of politics. He now heads a political movement called “Harakat Huqooq”, or Rights Movement, which presents 32 candidates and an electoral platform emphasizing the departure of US troops from Iraq.
The Kataib Hezbollah group has been repeatedly hit by US forces near the Iraqi-Syrian border. In December 2019, the United States carried out strikes targeting military sites belonging to the group after blaming it for a rocket barrage that killed a US defense contractor at a military compound near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. About twenty militiamen were killed.
Harakat Huqooq’s campaign ads adorn the streets of Shiite-dominated areas in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
Iraq holds elections on October 10, the fifth parliamentary vote since the US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, which shifted the country’s power base from the Sunni Arab minority to the Shiite majority. The vote was brought forward by a year in response to mass protests that erupted in late 2019 against rampant corruption, poor services and unemployment.
While a new electoral law has allowed more independents to run, Shiite groups continue to dominate the electoral landscape with a close race expected between pro-Iranian parties and their militias – the most important of which is the alliance. Fatah – and the political bloc of heavyweight Shiite nationalists Moqtada al-Sadr, the biggest winner in the 2018 election.
The Fatah alliance includes leaders associated with the Popular Mobilization Paramilitary Units, a coordination group for most of the pro-Iranian state-sanctioned militias, including Kataib Hezbollah. But the group lost some popularity in the wake of the 2019 protests, with activists accusing tough armed factions of brutally cracking down on protesters by using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.
Protesters demanding change and reform have also often complained about Iran’s heavy-handed interference in Iraqi politics. More than 600 were killed and thousands injured in the protests that lasted for months.
Analysts say the entry of Kataib Hezbollah – the group is distinct from the Lebanese group of the same name – could be an attempt by Iran to strengthen its allies in the Iraqi parliament.
Bassam al-Qazwini, a Baghdad-based political analyst, said after Iran’s 2019 protest movement pushed extremists into politics.
“Harakat Huqooq opens the door for hard factions to enter politics and parliament building,” he said, adding that he did not expect them to win many seats .
Muanis, a thin man with a light beard, said the reasons for entering politics were people’s disappointment with the current political situation and the failure of politicians to implement reform.
“So we are participating to make changes,” he said. If he wins, he says he will work from inside parliament to “regain Iraqi sovereignty by removing the occupier,” he said of the Americans.
Asked about the proliferation of weapons outside of state control, he said: “Whenever the occupation is no longer there, we can discuss it. Then there would be no need to carry arms. “