Foreign Policy Blogs

Fearing 'the State Within a State' Legacy

CommNet.jpegIn response to Hezbollah's recent show of force against Lebanon's ruling majority, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zibari made an interesting remark to the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. He stated that the government's persistence in reining in the Sadrist Movement's Mahdi Militia is indicative of its determination to stop Iraq from becoming another Lebanon with a Hezbollah-styled 'state within a state’. His comments, made while attending a meeting of Arab leaders in Cairo addressing the situation in Lebanon, were subsequently picked up by the Voices of Iraq news agency as well.

But is Hezbollah's recent 'success’ in this game really cause for alarm in Iraq, or is this just another case of the regional winds shaping the media discourse? Either way, if one was to look at the Lebanon case study, one would see that Hezbollah's 'state within a state’ is more than just a product of its military prowess.

With the Mahdi Militia-Hezbollah comparison, the issue of weapons outside the control of 'state’ immediately comes to mind. In Hezbollah's case, their lopsided military advantage over the Lebanese state and other parties can be seen as a legacy of Syrian occupation and Iranian sponsorship. Today, in Iraq many have strongly argued that Iran is doing the same with the Mahdi Militia through the provision of weapons and training.

Politically, however, Hezbollah has become the flagship of a larger opposition coalition in Lebanon. Although the group's resistance against Israel gave it nationalist credentials, one should also look at the softer side of the party in order to understand why Hezbollah has also acquired political legitimacy beyond its traditional Shia constituency. For example, it is worth noting that the group has acquired credibility by providing social services to many Lebanese beyond the reach of the government.

These socio-political factors have in effect given the 'state within a state’ de facto legitimacy in the eyes of many Lebanese. So while the Sadrist Movement and its Mahdi Militia might be looked upon as a nascent Hezbollah, setting up a 'state within a state’ doesn't happen overnight. In fact, to come to fruition it might take years of government ineptitude, continued work at the grassroots level, coalition building, and significant outside support. Thus, the prevention of this dynamic from taking shape may very well be possible… if the Iraqi government proves itself capable in addressing the socio-political aspects of the 'state within a state’ as well as the military ones.



Pete Ajemian

Pete Ajemian is a New York-based analyst who has written on topics of political violence, terrorism, and Arab media politics. He has conducted research for US law enforcement and recently completed graduate studies at the University of St. Andrews where his dissertation research examined issues dealing with new media, politics and security in the Arab world. His interest in Arab political media developed over the course of his Arabic language studies in Lebanon and the US. He has also written previously on the subject for issues of Arab Media & Society.

Areas of Focus:
New Media; Politics; Security;