Tension Escalates over Appointment of Diyala Governor

The headquarters of Diyala Provincial Council. Social media platforms

By KirkukNow in Diyala

The Sunni forces in Diyala Governorate are seeking to resolve the position of governor and beat the Shiite rivals who failed to form a new administration over the past three months.

The Sunni efforts, which have intensified since mid-April, closely covered by KirkukNow, have exposed its members to “threatening messages and assaults by armed groups and raids on their guesthouses,” according to the video and written documents they present.

The attempt to appoint the governor of Diyala comes after the formation of a new alliance of Sunni blocs within the provincial council, composed of the Taqadum (Progress), Siyada (Sovereignty), and Azim (Determination) blocs, which together hold seven seats out of 15 seats in the council.

The new alliance ended the division that lasted for three months within the Council, as two fronts were formed, one with eight members and the other with seven members, and each front included a mixture of Sunnis and Shiites. The division was on a party basis by the demands of the blocs and not on a sectarian basis.

Fares Muzahim, a member of the Diyala Provincial Council for the Sovereignty List, told KirkukNow, “We are now the largest bloc with seven members,” and explained that the three Sunni parties will meet within the next two days to determine their candidate for the position of governor and call for a governor’s election session.

This is the first step for the Sunni blocs to appoint the governor, given that it was decided, according to the negotiations that continued until April and the initial agreements between the members of the Council, that the position of governor would be for the Shiites, in exchange for granting the Sunnis the positions of President of the Council and Deputy Governor.

“The formation of the new alliance came after an outlaw force threatened some Sunni members of the Provincial Council,” according to Muzahim, who stressed that they are determined to install a Sunni candidate as governor of Diyala and that the nominated names are Muhammad Qutaiba, the representative of the Progress Bloc, Mudhir Al-Kirwi, the representative of the Sovereignty Bloc and Raad Al-Dahlaki, the representative of the Al-Azm Bloc.

The 15 members of the Diyala Council were divided into two teams: The Team of Eight and the Team of Seven. The two teams include a mixture of Shiite and Sunni parties seeking to secure the largest number of senior positions in the local government in their favor.

Diyala Provincial Council consists of 15 seats, four of which are allocated to women.  Diyala Governorate is home to 1.6 million people, 90,000 of whom live in the center of the Khanaqin dominantly Kurdish district, according to estimates by the Central Bureau of Statistics for 2019.

The last message from Bani Tamim with a picture taken from a video clip of surveillance cameras monitoring the movements of an armed force in front of the house of a member of parliament.

On April 15, an armed group, most of its members wearing civilian in 18 vehicles, some of which were shaded, under the name “Bani Tamim Clan,” sent a “threatening” letter to some members of the Diyala Provincial Council and representatives in Parliament from the governorate.

Member of the Diyala Provincial Council, Omar Al-Kirwi, brother of the representative of the Sovereignty Bloc (one of the candidates for the position of governor), Mudhir Al-Kirwi, posted on his account on a social media platform, “Dozens of tinted cars with armed men showed up in front of my guesthouse and had a threatening message to me.”

We will not surrender to people with suspicious agendas

 “Such messages will not break the will of those who fear God and feel responsible for their people. We will not surrender to people with suspicious agendas,” he added.

Bani Tamim is one of the largest Shiite clans in Diyala and they have four members in the provincial council.

On the same day, Nahida Al-Daini, representative of the Sovereignty Bloc and sister of Diyala Provincial Council member Rashida Al-Daini, posted on her social media account, “Armed men riding in 19 vehicles threatened my guards, and that the cars and gunmen belong to one of the influential parties. We tell them that we do not fear you."

Most Sunni parties and several Shiite blocs condemned the "threats", which no security agency has mentioned or investigated so far, according to KirkukNow's observations.

The Shiite representative of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq bloc, Ahmed al-Musawi, published a statement in which he called on the Operations Command and the Police to take a position regarding “threatening members of the Diyala Provincial Council to kill them and burn their houses.”

The escalation of political conflicts in Diyala to direct “threats” comes after the provincial council blocs did not reach an agreement on electing the president of the council and the governor in the first session that was held on February 5, followed by a series of meetings, the last of which was in Baghdad without being able to decide the position of governor due to internal disagreements between Shiite and Sunni parties regarding the selection of candidates.

The Shiites, holding seven members in the Provincial Council, disagreed among themselves over the candidate for the position of governor, and Muthanna Al-Tamimi, the former governor of Diyala and head of the Diyala Our National Alliance, which has four members in the council and alone won 42,812 votes (the first in the governorate) is still insisting on assuming the position.

During the past period, supporters of Muthanna al-Tamimi and the influential Bani Tamim clan in the governorate organized demonstrations in various areas of Diyala, demanding the reappointment of Muthanna al-Tamimi.

The notables and sheiks of Bani Tamim stressed in their last letter to the members of the Provincial Council that the position of the governor is to be in favor of Muthanna Al-Tamimi.

“We hope that they will not enter into any alliance against the people of Bani Tamim,” according to what was stated in their letter.

KirkukNow contacted Bani Tamim for several times to comment about threats against Sunni Lawmakers and members of the Diyala Provincial Council yet not responded.

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A demonstration by supporters of ex-governor Muthanna Al-Tamimi to demand his reappointment as governor, Diyala, February 2024. Social media platforms

This comes at a time when other Shiite parties, including the Badr Organization headed by Hadi Al-Amiri and the State of Law headed by Nouri Al-Maliki, are seeking to advance their candidates for the position of governor.

The civil activist and observer of the elections and the process of forming the local government in Diyala, Ali Al-Hajiya, told (KirkukNow) that “the situation has become very complicated, the disputes are taking a dangerous turn, an armed group threatened several members of the provincial council, namely Omar Al-Kirwi and Nahida Al-Daini. This incident leads the situation towards an unknown path.”

The disputes are taking a dangerous turn

In mid-February, Hadi Al-Amiri proposed a Shiite settlement candidate, Muhammad Jassim, the son of the President of the Federal Court, Jassim Aboud Al-Umeri, but the Bani Tamim clan went out in demonstrations and forced him to withdraw the candidate.

Currently, Muthanna Al-Tamimi acts as a council member, and Karim Ali Agha (from the Kurdish component) assumes the duties of acting governor.

In exchange for the insistence of Bani Tamim, the three main Sunni blocs (Sovereignty, Progress, and Determination) met last Tuesday, April 16, and decided, with the signature of 16 notables from the governorate, including a lawmaker and seven members of the council, not to participate in any meeting of the governorate council “unless the position of the governor goes to the Sunni component.”

The Kurds have only one member in the Provincial Council from the share of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK, and according to previous statements he made to (KirkukNow), the Kurds support the party that will grant them the largest number of positions.

But Muzahim says that the member of the Kurdish bloc is close to them.

“If he joins our alliance, we will give them the position of deputy governor,” according to the council member from the Sovereignty Bloc, who stressed that they will grant the positions of deputy head of the council and deputy governor to the parties that will join their alliance.

“Badr is the closest party to our alliance,” says Muzahim, who also stated that if the current temporary head of the Provincial Council does not set a date for the meeting, they will increase the number of members of the alliance to nine members and hold the session directly. By law, holding a session requires a quorum of 50+1.

The faltering formation of the Diyala administration comes at a time when the Provincial Council Elections Law stipulates that the governor and his two deputies must be elected by the council within 30 days of the first session.

"We are not afraid of any party or any reaction. There is a law against weapons, which is stronger than weapons... No one will be able to prevent us... We will not surrender to any regional or external pressures," Muzahim said.

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