BAGHDAD–Iraqi sources told The Arab Weekly Thursday that the country’s parliamentary elections slated for October 10 could be postponed due to a u-turn of some political forces. These forces, the sources said, used to support the idea of holding early polls before they changed their mind.
Local Iraqi media had earlier reported that April 21, 2022 was proposed as an alternative date for holding the elections. The proposal, according to Iraqi media, was floated during a meeting late Tuesday in Baghdad, with the presence of the representatives of some political forces that were described as “balanced and influential.”
The sources, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, revealed that some Shia parties attributed their volte-face to the recent decision of the Sadrist movement to boycott the polls.
Some of those who attended Tuesday’s meeting in Baghdad believe that the Sadrist movement, led by powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, should be given an opportunity to reconsider its decision. In this regard, they fear that a boycott by Sadrists could end up creating a challenge to the legitimacy of the electoral process, and so to that of the future government.
A boycott by Sadrists, some political forces say, would mean the abstention of a large segment of the Iraqi society, given Sadr’s popularity among Shias.
A former Iraqi MP, however, lashed out at those calling for the postponement of elections, questioning the significance of the Sadrist movement’s boycott as a justification. In this regard, he argued that the Sadrists’ boycott was just a cover for the concerns for Shia forces and parties about failing to secure enough votes to control the future political scene in the country.
Powerful Shia political parties and figures, the former MP said, do not want the elections to be held at a time when public resentment is still palpable in the country. These forces are concerned they would become the subject of a punitive vote by Iraqis, which would lead to the loss of the influence they have maintained for eighteen years.
According to a source quoted by the Rudaw Media Network, the meeting on Tuesday witnessed the submission of another proposal to dissolve the current parliament on February 22, 2022.
The mandate of the current parliaments is supposed to end in 2022, but Iraq’s political parties had decided to hold early elections after massive popular protests toppled the previous government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi in late 2019.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih have insisted so far on holding elections on time.
The idea of postponing elections was floated long before the Baghdad meeting on Tuesday, garnering the support of many political forces in the country at the time.
The Sadr-backed Sairoon Alliance was among the latest political groupings to demand a postponement of elections, according to MP Bader Saegh al-Zayadi, who considered that a boycott by Sadrists would affect the legitimacy of the whole process, stressing that “the elections cannot be held on October 10.”
Zayadi noted that other parties had announced their intention to boycott the elections, at a time when the government and the international community insist on holding inclusive polls, with the participation of all political parties.
Zayadi was referring to the recent decision of the National Dialogue Front led by Sunni politician Salih al-Mutlaq, who expressed his concern about fraud, in a repeat of what happened during the 2018 elections.
Earlier in July, the Iraqi Platform, led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, announced they too were dropping out of the race. Wael Abdel Latif, deputy head of the Iraqi Platform party, said that with the presence of armed factions threatening the lives of activists, there is no room for fair elections. The electoral law in its current form may lead to internal war between those armed groups, he added. The Iraqi National House, a new party formed by a group of Tishreen (October movement) protesters, also withdrew from the elections for the same reasons.
There is widespread apprehension among Iraqi political parties and forces about the possible outcome of the October 10 elections. Shia political parties, which were fervently denounced by protesters in their own strongholds in central and southern Iraq, are particularly concerned.
Sunni political forces are also fretting about the upcoming elections amid a steep decline in their popularity in Sunni regions in the west and north of the country. The Sunni population in the country’s west and north is still reeling from the cost of war against ISIS, having to deal with poor services and a slow reconstruction pace.
While Sadr’s political rivals focused on the commanding heights, the Sadrists recognized that “sometimes real power lies at the bottom,” said a senior government official. “The Sadrists focus on institutions with money and access to resources.”
Rubaie, Sadr’s political representative, noted that governments are swept away at the ballot box but the state “is permanent and all positions other than the minister are part of the state. A minister comes and goes, but the deputy will stay.”
Ghizzi declined an interview request. His office said the secretary-general’s role is the administration of state institutions and political appointments are outside its remit.
Into the void
Still, some posts were out of the Sadrists’ reach. Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi refused the Sadrists’ pick for central bank governor and several other roles under pressure from Iran-backed groups to resist Sadrist appointees, according to a former minister and a lawmaker involved in the talks. “They wanted to control the state oil marketer, central bank, interior ministry senior positions and various government banks. Abdul Mahdi resisted,” the former minister said. Abdul Mahdi didn’t comment.
But the last obstacles would vanish within months.
In late 2019, protests erupted against Abdul Mahdi’s Iran-backed government. Demonstrators slammed corruption and foreign influence, with particular venom reserved for Iran. Iraqi security forces and Iran-backed militias cracked down on the unarmed protesters.
Sadr took to Twitter calling for the government’s resignation. His supporters joined the protests. “Having the Sadrist Movement on our side was extremely important. It’s a powerful force and it gave us moral and material support,” 31-year-old pro-democracy protester Mustafa Qassim said.
Abdul Mahdi’s government announced it would resign in November 2019.
Weeks later a drone strike ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump killed Iran’s top Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad airport. The loss of the two men further fractured and divided the pro-Iran bloc.
Into the void stepped Sadr. He used the scattering of his rivals and a weak interim prime minister, Kadhimi, to accelerate the Sadrists’ takeover, according to a dozen current and former government ministers and Western diplomats.
Kadhimi, who remains in office, has denied that the Sadrist Movement is calling the shots. “The only thing Sadr asked of me and the Sadrist Movement was: Take care of Iraq,” he said in a televised interview in May. He didn’t elaborate. Kadhimi’s office didn’t respond to questions from Reuters.
Starting in September 2020, Ghizzi and the prime minister’s office signed off on a raft of appointments. The Sadrists took the role of deputy interior minister for administrative affairs, a job that oversees spending and appointments. A Sadr loyalist became a deputy in the communications ministry. Where the Sadrists haven’t filled posts directly, their preferred candidates have, making them beholden to Sadr, government officials and lawmakers said.
Posts the Sadrists dominate through allies include a deputy oil minister, the central bank governor and other sensitive fiscal posts, according to oil and finance ministry officials. Sadr aide Rubaie denied that Sadrists control the central bank. Central bank governor Mustafa Ghaleb and deputy oil minister Karim Hattab didn’t respond to questions from Reuters.
A recent report by Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think tank, estimates the Sadrists have taken some 200 of the most influential sub-ministerial positions since 2018.
The Sadrist Movement’s increasing role in the running of the state has helped it push its choice of legislation and approve or veto key government decisions. The 2021 budget allocates more funds to Iraq’s southern Shi’ite heartlands, the Sadrists’ traditional support base, and to the ministries where it has the most influence, according to senior Shi’ite and Kurdish politicians. That may leave less for northern Sunni areas that were destroyed in the battle with Islamic State and are in desperate need of reconstruction. The Sadrist Movement didn’t comment.
Hezbollah, the armed Shi’ite movement that has come to control much of the Lebanese state, has provided political instruction to the Sadrists, said two Sadrists and three senior Shi’ite officials. For example, in local elections in 2009, the Sadrist Movement calibrated the number of candidates it put forward in each area to avoid splitting the Sadrist vote. Sadr’s rise
An early general election set for October and a new election law, both pressed for by the Sadrists, favour large parties with a wide popular support base because candidates will require more votes, and could fuel Sadr’s ascendancy, legislators and analysts say.
The Sadr aide and two other Sadrist officials said the movement and Hezbollah remain in close contact and regularly share political, economic and military expertise including how to deal with local and regional political crises. They declined to elaborate. The two organizations use a similar approach of local outreach combined with militia and political activity. They have family ties through second cousins and marriage. Sadr’s family historically hails from Lebanon.
A Hezbollah spokesman confirmed the group had provided what he called assistance and electoral instruction to Iraqi factions including the Sadrists, and said relations between the two movements were “ongoing and positive.”
With elections due in October, the Sadrists are feeling confident. “The (next) prime minister will, one million percent, be a Sadrist,” deputy parliament speaker Hassan al-Kaabi said in a televised interview in April.
Most of Sadr’s opponents concede that the Sadrists will come first, and their outsize influence in state administration will give them the final say on who leads the government.
That prediction poses a dilemma for Western and regional powers.
Sadr has variously railed against Tehran, Washington, London and Gulf Arab capitals for their interference in Iraq. But he has also been one of the few senior Shi’ite leaders to visit Saudi Arabia and has spent long periods in Iran despite an uneasy relationship with the Islamic Republic.
“Muqtada has good relations with the Gulf, Iran, Turkey,” a senior Sadrist official said, but corrected himself after mentioning America in the same breath. “He has relatives in (the holy Iranian city) Qom,” he said, referring to Sadr’s reclusive older brother, who is based in Iran.
A senior official in Iraqi Kurdistan, the autonomous region which has close ties with the United States, said of Sadr’s geopolitical alignment: “I find it very hard to see Sadr confronting Iran. In the end, Muqtada will be closer to Iran than he will to America.”
A Western diplomat said Western nations viewed Sadr as an “unknown quantity” who is the only Iraqi leader able to enact reform and counter Iran-backed militias but retains a deep distrust of America and Britain in particular.
“There would also be concerns over human rights,” the diplomat said, referring to Sadr’s Islamist stance against homosexuality, alcohol consumption and women’s freedoms. In March last year, Sadr blamed the legalization of same-sex marriage by some foreign countries for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadr’s ascent also carries risks for his movement.
Followers have sometimes been ruthless in their grabbing of state posts, said two senior government officials who oppose Sadr.
Abu Amir, a teacher in southern Iraq, described being threatened by supporters of Sadr to step down from his position as headmaster of a state school – a job his Sadrist predecessor had just been sacked from over corruption charges. They wanted his Sadrist predecessor to be reinstated, he said.
“As soon as I began the job, I got messages from Sadr supporters threatening me and telling me to resign,” he said. The deputy education minister – a Sadrist newly appointed in his post – walked into the school a few days later with armed men and reinstalled the disgraced former head. Abu Amir had already fled. He asked that he not be identified by his full name for fear of retribution. The Sadrist Movement didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Some younger Sadrists are meanwhile abandoning the movement.
Qassim, the protester, used to be a supporter. He said he and many others left in disgust after followers of Sadr turned on the pro-democracy activists in early 2020. Sadr abruptly withdrew his backing for the protests a few weeks after they succeeded in their goal of toppling the Iran-backed government.
“Sadr might be gaining state power, but he’s losing people like me,” said Qassim.
Israel’s military says its aircraft have struck Hamas sites in Gaza, in an escalation of hostilities after earlier cross-border gunfire seriously injured an Israeli soldier and wounded 41 Palestinians, two of them critically.
Israel says some Palestinian protesters threw explosives towards troops
A 13-year-old boy was shot in the head as Israeli soldiers opened fire, Palestinian authorities say
Israel says its jets then struck four Hamas weapons sites
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered near the Strip’s heavily fortified border, where some tried to scale the border fence and others threw explosives towards Israeli troops, the Israeli military said.
“IDF [Israel Defense Forces] troops responded with riot dispersal means, including when necessary live fire,” it said in a statement.
Among the two Palestinians critically injured was a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head, Gaza’s health ministry said.
It described most of the other injuries as moderate, including gun shots to limbs, backs and abdomens.
Cross-border fire from Gaza seriously wounded an Israeli border police soldier, who was taken to hospital for medical treatment, the military said. There was no claim of responsibility for the Gaza gunfire.
In response to the soldier’s shooting, Israeli “fighter jets have struck four weapons storage and manufacturing sites” belonging to Hamas, the military said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
Bracing for more hostilities, the military said it had sent additional forces to the Gaza border area. Israeli media reported the military had increased deployment of its Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Saturday’s air strikes showed Israel was “trying to cover up its failure and disappointment in front of the steadfastness of our people and their valiant resistance”.
At least 250 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel were killed in the May conflict, in which Gaza militants fired rockets towards Israeli cities and Israel carried out air strikes across the coastal enclave.
Israel keeps Gaza under a blockade, tightly restricting movement out of the territory, which is home to 2 million Palestinians.
Egypt also maintains restrictions on the enclave. Both cite threats from Hamas for the restrictions.
The Iranian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that it was expanding its defense efforts beyond the borders of the country, in an apparent message of deterrence to Israel and the West, as hopes for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal continue to fade.
“Our country has an important role to play in strengthening the resistance front and expanding the radius of defense of national security beyond the borders of the country,” the ministry said in a message for Defense Industries Day, the Moj News Agency reported.
“We will not hesitate to strengthen our military capabilities, including the missile program designed solely for defense purposes,” it added.
The statement came as the foreign ministries of Germany, France, and Britain expressed “grave concern” over Iran’s growing violations of the moribund 2015 nuclear accord.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna confirmed last week that Iran has produced uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent for the first time, and has significantly increased its production capacity of uranium enriched up to 60%.
The production of uranium metal is prohibited by the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, and is meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
On Thursday, Germany, France and Britain — the western European members of the JCPOA — called the moves by Iran “serious violations” of its commitment under the JCPOA. They said that “both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon and Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure.”Advertisement
Iran insists that it is not interested in developing a bomb, and that the uranium metal is for its civilian nuclear program.
Since then, Tehran has been steadily increasing its violations of the deal to put pressure on the other signatories to provide more incentives to Iran to offset crippling American sanctions reimposed after the US pullout.
The western Europeans, as well as Russia and China, have been working to try to preserve the accord.
US President Joe Biden has said that he is open to rejoining the pact, but that Iran needs to return to its restrictions, while Iran has insisted that the US must drop all sanctions.
Months of talks have been held in Vienna with the remaining parties of the JCPOA shuttling between delegations from Iran and the US.Advertisement
The last round of talks ended in June with no date set for their resumption.
Hopes for an Iranian return to the accord have dwindled significantly following the ascension of Iran’s new president, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi.
Bringing the troops home does not end the war with terrorists. It just moves it to a location and time of their choosing.
Letter to the Editor Wall St Journal
The United States has at least 2,500 troops in eight different countries around the world. The hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan has left Americans and US Afghan operatives stranded. Worse, it strengthens Taliban influence on nuclear-armed Pakistan. Putin has already denied the US use of Central Asia for survey activity. Worse Afghanistan will now be a safe harbor for terrorists around the world. The original idea was not to turn Afghanistan into Belgium, but to deny terrorists a safe haven to plan world-wide mischief. And now Team Biden also abandoned the Bagram Air Base, an improvement the Taliban would likely never have constructed on their own. And then there are the billions of dollars of Humvees, helicopters, airplanes and MP-4s the Taliban are now brandishing for TV crews.
So let’s connect the dots. Team Biden rejected all things tinged with oil and gas as noted in this space last week. Now the Team, unable to rely on domestic oil and gas, is begging OPEC to increase production. But wait; team Biden claims oil producers pollute. And this is the war on Climate Change. How does relying on a barrel of OPEC oil rather than Permian Basin oil, fight climate change? Worse this makes Iran’s oil more valuable in that Biden’s EPA will soon descend on US producers with massive new regulations.
After decades of recovery from the Saigon exit disaster, now America is seen as an unreliable ally. Already the President of Taiwan has stated “our only option is to become stronger and more united.” Team Biden failed to get the withdrawal in the correct order. Remove Americans and Afghan translators, destroy or remove weapons of war, then bring home troops. The temptation to take hostages for ransom will surely occur to someone in the new regime. And the usual adversaries, china, Russia, North Korea will certainly use this calamity to test the resolve of Team Biden in the near future. India has long feuded with Pakistan. Danger in Pakistan and an emboldened China are not good news for India.
Our suggestion that oil prices are headed to the mid 50s appears to be correct This Friday WTIC prices dropped to the $63 level. That turns the daily trend down.
We also expected stock prices to fall into the seasonal lows of September-October. The NASD 100 has likely completed its first leg down from 15,175 to 14,775. Expect a rebound and then a lower low probably near 14,000.
Many profound ramifications of America’s exodus from Afghanistan are competing for attention. Among the top challenges, Pakistan’s future stands out. For decades, Islamabad has recklessly pursued nuclear weapons and aided Islamist terrorism — threats that U.S. policymakers have consistently underestimated or mishandled. With Kabul’s fall, the time for neglect or equivocation is over.