Antichrist is a Major Shi’a Player

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Frenemies forever: Iraqi Shi’a after Mosul
With the liberation of Mosul a certainty, if not an imminent one, international attention on Iraq is largely focused on rebuilding the war-torn city and fostering intra-communal reconciliation.
The former is understandable as the immediate needs of Mosul are great and tangible. The latter also fits into western conceptualizations of Iraq, two decades after intervention, which views the country as comprised of three distinct and uniform communities: Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurd.
Meanwhile, back in Baghdad Iraqi Shi’a political parties and elites have long shifted focus away from defeating the Islamic State. Instead, they are returning to patterns of infighting habituated by decades of coalition- and relation-building in both the pre- and post-Saddam Iraq.
No such thing as structural political unity
While Iraqi Shi’a parties and elites did circle the wagons as the Islamic State bore down on Baghdad, once the Hashd al-Shaabi militias (Popular Mobilization Units) emerged, at the behest of Ayatollah Sistani’s fatwa calling Iraqis to arms, and American-led airstrikes began the existential nature of the threat of the so-called Islamic State was effectively nullified.
Political unity of Iraq’s Shi’a parties and elite [nearly] only occurs in response to a common enemy, which most recently took the form of the Islamic State and in previous periods had been Saddam Hussein and the United States.
Contrary to popular discourse, Iraq is not three cohesive ethno-religious blocks that act in unison. In fact there has been no such thing as structural political unity for Iraqi Shi’a for at least the past two and a half decades. When such unity does materialize it quickly disappears and is replaced by vicious competition.
Drain the Baghdad swamp
A contemporary example of the unscrupulous nature of Iraqi Shi’a coalition- and -relation building is Moqtada al-Sadr, who has rather opportunistically seized upon the pro-reform, anti-corruption protests that have been taking place in Baghdad since the summer of 2015 by throwing his and his movements weight behind the protests.
The protests were in support of a reform drive that was primarily the work of another Shi’a politician Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi, which on its surface would suggest either support from a fellow Shi’a, Sadr, or at least disagreements kept behind closed doors.
Al-Abadi, however, has little political base within his Dawa party of State of Law coalition and as a result has seen his efforts at reform stymied. Instead of supporting, Abadi Sadr took the public position that the reforms do not go far enough, creating headaches for Abadi who struggled to elicit any support for the reforms from fellow Shi’a inside and outside his own party.
Many see Sadr’s calls for reforms as disingenuous since members of his movement are integral partners in the political process. Sadrists representatives sit on the Electoral Commission, for example, which was recently the target for reform by Sadr and his followers. Sadr is likely supporting the protests calling for reform, and not necessarily the reforms themselves, to energize his political base and attract new supporters in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary elections.
Moqtada al-Sadr and his movement are deeply enmeshed in the political system that he currently rails against and the protests are a tool employed to try and hammer his opponents with.
Preserving a kleptocratic pie
In this environment of renewed competition Iraqi Shi’a political elites do not share common views on much. Deep divides persist between Iraqi Shi’a parties over what role clerics should have, whether Iraq should move towards a federal structure, and the desirability of Iranian influence in the country. These fundamental positions of the major Iraqi Shi’a parties make long-term alliances an impossibility.
Perhaps the sole thing they can agree on today is the preservation of a political system that permits state capture for the sake of perpetuating patronage networks. This system was consolidated after intra-Shi’a violence abetted in 2009 with the defeat of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
Although violence throughout the country raged on, the fighting between Shi’a groups was replaced by competition over resources of the Iraqi state, a trend that accelerated under the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki (2006-2014).
Today, corruption is a deeply entrenched feature of the Baghdad political terrain. Iraqi Shi’a political groups and elites shifted away from violence to competing over revenue from oil sales and control over ministries and parliamentary committees in order to employ family members and supporters.
In addition, Iraqi political elites continue to favor the status quo of a centralized state, despite the promises of devolution to Iraq’s provinces. The reason for this being that a centralized state in Baghdad is one that is easier to steal from.
Plus ça change aux Baghdad…
While these elites have so far managed to fight off attempts at reform, popular grievances against poor governance, insecurity, poverty and inadequate service delivery remain unaddressed. Even the storming of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone in May of 2016, jarring as it was, proved unable to move the needle on the substantive reforms so desperately needed. So then what becomes of Iraq if the status quo is maintained?
The last 25 years of Iraqi history shows that despite violence and acrimonious political rhetoric, Iraqi Shi’a parties are still likely to form alliances to contest upcoming elections with their ostensible rivals. If the sustained pressure of the reform protests can continue to be contained, Iraq’s political elite will likely manage to cobble together a government after the 2018 parliamentary elections that is no more responsive to its constituents than before.
Steps forward
Mosul will require substantial bandwidth and resources from external actors for the near to medium term, deservedly so. The next crisis, however, will almost certainly involve the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 2018.
External stakeholders should look to ways to support more productive competition between Shi’a parties that results in parties and leaders that are more receptive to the needs and wishes of their constituencies. This can be accomplished at least in part by facilitating confidence building and reconciliation between existing Iraqi Shi’a political groups.
In the spirit of more productive competition, external stakeholders can provide long-term support to Shi’a social movements, civil society advocacy groups and even nascent parties. Fostering a counter weight to the stagnant Iraqi Shi’a political class external stakeholders can help to challenge the complacency of the established elite. This could take the form of long-term core funding to these groups or discrete training courses held outside the country.
Ultimately, an additional focus on promoting the quality, legitimacy and diversity of Iraqi Shi’a political representation will translate in strengthening cross-ethno-sectarian reconciliation efforts in Iraq.

The Beast Returns (Revelation 13:1)

 
Photo Credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
By Vijay Prashad / AlterNet
March 7, 2017
So, he’s back. George W. Bush leaves his Dallas attic and his paintbrushes to visit the television studios. He has a book to flog—Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.
Since he left the White House, Bush has taken refuge in his canvases, on which he has painted the faces of about 100 of the veterans he sent to war. “I was thinking of their stories, their troubles, their joys,” he told Sandra Sobieraj Westfall of People magazine in one of the many fluff pieces that have come out on his book tour.
On Ellen DeGeneres’ television show, Bush spoke with evident sentimentality about his close relationship with Michelle Obama. “She likes my sense of humor,” said the ex-president. Pictures of Obama hugging Bush are not uncommon on social media. It is as if her hug is a sign of his rehabilitation.
Bush has been reticent to talk politics, but seems to have made an exception in the Trump years. This is personal. Trump not only belittled Bush’s brother, Jeb, but also his mother, Barbara, and Trump suggested that Bush’s war on Iraq was a fiasco. George W. Bush came out of retirement to stump for Jeb in South Carolina. He intimated that he would not vote for Trump. During his book tour, Bush made critical noises about Trump’s immigration policies and his attack on the press. “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account,” Bush told Matt Lauer with a smirk.
Dismay at Trump’s presidency is allowing for the rehabilitation of George W. Bush. It is now a cliché for people to say that they look back longingly at the Bush years as an antidote to the harshness of Trump. In November 2016, Mehdi Hasan of al-Jazeera wrote an op-ed in the New York Times called “Why I miss George W. Bush.” Hasan considered Bush’s statements after 9/11 where he distinguished between Islam and terrorism. The “miasma of anti-Muslim hate and fear-mongering” of the present, Hasan suggested, made Bush admirable.
Certainly, Bush made favorable noises after 9/11 about the difference between Islam and terrorism. But Bush’s policies of war in West Asia, notably Iraq, and his rhetoric of warfare collapsed any possible distinctions. One forgets that on October 6, 2005, Bush gave a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy where he discussed the “murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals,” which he called the “greatest challenge of our century.” Such language dovetailed with the gurgle in the sewers of American fascism, which had incubated the term “radical Islamic extremism” (preferred by Donald Trump), and with the snarls in the Republican Party, which used the term “radical Islam” as an explanation for all the world’s ills.
Bush’s Iraq War
It is one thing to curl one’s lip in disgust at ISIS and to sneer at the Eastern maladies of dictatorship and religion that seem to curdle the social worlds of West Asia. It is another to acknowledge the authorship of the United States in the destruction of nations in the region, and its role in the incubation of groups like ISIS. How does one even begin to consider that Bush—the instigator of the destruction of Iraq—is now considered to be an avuncular figure among liberals?
It is a sign of his own anxiety that Bush decided to paint veterans. Perched in his study, he must ponder the cost of the war on those who wear the uniform of the United States. But there are no paintings of Iraqis, civilians, or soldiers. There is no mention of the million Iraqis who died as a consequence of Bush’s decision to conduct what the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called an “illegal war.” Not one of the profiles in courage includes the Iraqis who collaborated with the U.S. occupation and now find themselves unable to enter the United States as a consequence of Trump’s Muslim ban.
Illegal war: On 15 February 2003, 15 million people marched across the countries of the world to protest the anticipated U.S. war against Iraq. This was the largest known protest in world history. Our slogans warned not only that the war was illegal, but that it would have a catastrophic impact on West Asia. We were ignored. When asked about this protest on March 6 by Fox News’ Jim Angle, Bush brushed aside any warnings. “We will respect innocent life in Iraq,” he said with a straight face. At that time, UN Secretary General Annan was silent about the illegality of the war. A year later, on BBC, Annan said, “I have indicated that it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”
Horrendous war: The U.S. opening salvo against Iraq followed the “shock and awe” doctrine. Harlan K. Uliman, who developed the theory, told CBS’ David Martin, “You take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.” A Pentagon official said at that time, “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” Hundreds of cruise missiles rained on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, 400 on the first day and a comparable number on the second. UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday said at the time, “The United States and Britain are proceeding with plans to annihilate Iraqi society, a catastrophe that would be heightened by the threatened use of tactical nuclear weaponry.” In fact, the U.S. used depleted uranium shells, which in Fallujah produced cancer rates higher than in Hiroshima after the nuclear bomb.
Destruction of the State: When the United States occupied Iraq, it systematically—and against the Geneva Conventions—dismantled the state. Bureaucrats of the ministries and officers of the military were fired, and U.S. officials arrived to privatize Iraq to the benefit of multinational corporations. On May 27, 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfled wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Bush wanted to “favor market systems” and “encourage moves to privatize state-owned enterprises.” There was to be no Iraqi vote on these moves. They were to be dictated by the United States, which would also deliver a Constitution for Iraq. As Rajiv Chandrasekharan’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City documents, the White House sent “loyalists” from the Republican Party to help privatize Iraq and hand it over for profit. The country was to be gutted. And it was.
Torture Occupation: When the Iraqi insurgency broke out against the occupation, the United States found itself ill-prepared to tackle the rise of Iraqi patriotism. Harsh torture, as at Abu Ghraib, and massive violence, as against the city of Fallujah, defined the U.S. reaction. A defeated and captured Saddam asked to negotiate. If he had been treated with some dignity and allowed to bring in his followers, the insurgency might have been quelled. It would have been possible, at that time in December 2003, to allow the various sections of Iraq to come together. But instead the U.S. occupation used sectarian divisions to consolidate its fading power, breaking Muqtada al-Sadr’s attempt at Shia-Sunni unity, building up the most sectarian forces against each other and delivering Saddam’s loyalists to the more hardened extremists who would appear (such as later, ISIS). Iraqi society, fragile during the sanctions years of the 1990s, broke under the pressure of the U.S. occupation.
Producing ISIS: The U.S. occupation forces decided to cut agricultural subsidies, which tore into the livelihood of farmers in northern Iraq. In Diyala province, farmers hastened to the insurgency. “Americans will be kicked out,” said Saad Adnan, one of the farmers. It was in Diyala and Anbar that the farmers would later join the Islamic State of Iraq, which was formed in 2006. This is the parent of ISIS. It is convenient for the U.S. to claim that ISIS is a Syrian group. Its Iraqi history links it too closely to Bush’s illegal war. Part of the rehabilitation of Bush and his war is to avoid this connection.
When Bush went to Iraq in 2008, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at him and yelled, “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog.” In Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, Laith al-Amari designed a statue of a shoe to honor al-Zaidi’s message. It had to be taken down almost immediately. The Iraqis have a greater right to define how Bush is remembered. Their art is sharper than his. Their message more moral.
Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of 18 books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press, 2012), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013) and The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016). His columns appear at AlterNet every Wednesday.

The Antichrist Liberates Mosul (Revelation 13)

Arab News
After months of grinding progress in Mosu  it looks as if Daesh is preparing to flee, heralding the end of the “Islamic State” project in Iraq — in its current form. Good riddance to one of the worst scourges of modern times!
For three years Daesh has been a unifying force. Sunni tribes, Shiite militias, Peshmerga and even Iran and the US could all claim to be fighting on the same side against this menace. What happens when they wake up and realize that this shared threat is gone?
It had been convenient to ignore the issue of Kurdistan’s status, and whether the Kurds are simply looking after Kirkuk. What happens when the government demands its share of Kurdish oil reserves? Northern Iraq hosts minorities with demands for guaranteeing their security and interests, after their government failed to protect them from extermination, mass rape and many other horrors. And what about Turkey’s assertion of its military rights in the area?
Such issues pale in comparison with the potential for conflict between Sunni and Shiite factions. Sectarian Shiite leaders accuse Sunnis of facilitating Daesh. Meanwhile Sunnis have records of thousands of young men detained or summarily executed by militias — systematic war crimes amounting to sectarian cleansing. There are even tensions between Shiite factions over conflicting visions for post-Daesh Iraq.
A new Human Rights Watch report documents mass deportations of hundreds of Sunni families in Salahuddin province in acts of collective punishment, which allow for the expulsion of even distant family members of individuals accused of collaborating with Daesh. In a single incident in Sharqat last year, an entire district of over 1,000 people was evicted after five Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary fighters were killed by Daesh.
With provincial and parliamentary elections coming up, Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militants have exploited their role against Daesh to consolidate political power, by preventing displaced Sunnis from voting and relentless propaganda through well-funded media outlets.
Public frustration at massive levels of corruption and sectarianism was a major factor in why Mosul fell so easily to insurgents. In June 2014, Mosul’s security was managed by Gen. Mahdi Al-Gharrawi, who instead of facing charges for torturing inmates in secret prisons prior to 2008, was forgiven and promoted by former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. The corruption of his administration in Mosul so demoralized his troops that they fled when confronted by Daesh’s tiny force.
Purges by Al-Maliki forced out his rivals and left Sunni tribal forces, who risked their lives against Al-Qaeda, with nothing. Communities have seen young men rounded up like cattle and disappeared. It will take a miracle to convince Sunni communities to re-engage with a leadership unwilling to offer anything more than accusations of collaboration with the enemy.
Daesh has offered a convenient distraction to other disputes in the region — but what happens when this shared threat is gone?
Meanwhile, the insurgent movement will go underground, regain its strength and reappear under new guises. Its strategy again will be reaching out to disenfranchised youth — and Iraq is overflowing with such people, just as it is overflowing with arms, militias and all the ingredients necessary for renewed conflict.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr talk about demobilizing paramilitary groups, but militants could not be clearer. Militia leader Qais Al-Khazali said last week: “Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi will remain, will continue to expand and never will be dissolved. Just as the Hashd has been present on the battlefield, it will take its place in politics… Just as we smashed the heads of Daesh fighters, we will smash the heads of politicians who fell short and sold out their nation. We will purge them from Iraq.”
If after 2018 pro-Iran militias guilty of ethnic cleansing are in government, we can say goodbye to any notion that Iraq is a democratic, inclusive and sovereign state. In 2005, 2010 and 2014 there were intense US efforts to prevent pro-Iran figures monopolizing the government. In recent US Senate hearings on Mosul’s future, experts warned of the dangers of losing interest in Iraq and allowing Iran to consolidate the Hashd as a Hezbollah equivalent.
The visit to Iraq by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir drew a response from Hashd media outlets, because they know exactly what this visit means. Tehran installed its puppets in Baghdad because of a lack of GCC engagement. Sectarian thugs even forced the Saudi ambassador out of his post. A strong GCC role would help compensate for a bullying Iran and a negligent US — ensuring a power-sharing formula that puts the interests of Iraqi citizens as its priority.
There has been no serious preparation for the post-Mosul phase. This is not a moment to trust the good faith of the Iraqis themselves — those with a hostile agenda are too powerful. Iraq after Mosul will require even more muscular international support than Iraq prior to Mosul, including Western and GCC states working hand-in-hand.
Only such intervention can prevent the implosion of Iraq, the emergence of new and reinvigorated extremist groups, and Iran as the sole dominant power.
Does this scenario not sound frightening enough to deserve urgent action?
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Beware of the Antichrist (Revelation 13)

moqtada-al-sadr-264x300Beware of Muqtada al-Sadr

Also available in العربية
October 19, 2016
Whether the popular Shiite cleric’s motivations are ideological or political, Washington should make sure that neither his loyal militias nor any rogue splinter groups are tempted into further acts of violence against American personnel and interests.
This September, a McClatchy article outlined the kidnapping of three American defense contractors in Iraq, noting how they were held for thirty-one days and tortured after being snatched in January. Yet they were not taken by the Islamic State, nor by Iranian-backed stalwarts such as Kataib Hezbollah or Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), as many analysts and columnists speculated at the time. The true culprits belonged to Saraya al-Salam (the Peace Companies, or SAS), a Shiite militia headed by influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It is still unknown if this was a warning to the United States from Sadr himself, a rogue move by a splinter group, or a sign of a larger Sadrist effort against American forces in Iraq. Yet the news likely came as a surprise to many observers given Sadr’s high-profile focus on nonviolent political action in recent months, not to mention Washington’s repeated attempts to engage him. U.S. officials have been mum on the incident thus far — whether or not they remain so, they should keep a close eye on Sadr’s camp as the battle for Mosul and other important developments unfold.

ANTI-U.S. TRACK RECORD

Sadr has a strong ideological heritage of anti-Americanism. His late father, Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was known for his fiery rhetoric against the United States. And after the younger Sadr declared the existence of Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army, or JAM) following the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the group was involved in numerous bloody clashes with coalition forces, as was its partial successor Liwa al-Youm al-Mawud (the Promised Day Brigades, or LYM).
Since 2014, Sadr has rebuffed numerous U.S. attempts to engage him, according to Iraq-based contacts from the State Department. He has also issued sporadic threats against U.S. forces. On July 21, Alaa Aboud — the spokesman for SAS, the latest successor to JAM — stated there was no need for American participation in the battle for Mosul, and that Sadr’s forces were “thirsty for American blood.”
Despite such rhetoric, the decision to target Americans in January (and perhaps down the road) may have more to do with internal Iraqi politics than anti-Western ideology. Most notably, Sadr’s hostile posture could be a means of gaining leverage in his complex and often tumultuous relationship with Iran.

SANDWICHED BETWEEN BAGHDAD AND TEHRAN 

In the Iraqi political arena, Sadr has continually used forces under his control to demonstrate that he can project power anytime he likes. This includes the anticorruption protests he fomented earlier this year against Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government, during which his supporters took over Baghdad’s Green Zone. Sadr has also criticized the government’s cooperation with the United States.
Other protests this year have seen his supporters allegedly ripping down the banners of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, raiding their offices, and yelling anti-Iranian slogans. Further highlighting Sadr’s rupture with Tehran and Baghdad, SAS has been acting independently of the government-recognized umbrella network for Shiite militias, al-Hashd al-Shabi (aka the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMUs). Sadr himself has called the dominant Iranian-backed elements in the PMUs “brazen militias.”
To be sure, Sadr has publicly apologized for the anti-Iranian chants heard during this year’s demonstrations, and Tehran continues to provide direct military support to his forces. Sadr even attended an October 18 reconciliation event with leading Iranian proxy commanders, including two who split from his camp: AAH chief Qais al-Khazali and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba leader Akram Kaabi. There, he expressed support for Iraqi operations in Mosul and rejected Turkey’s involvement in the battle. Yet the divisions with Tehran are still deep, and more reports are emerging of assassination campaigns pitting Sadr loyalists against Iranian-controlled splinter groups, particularly AAH.
As Iran and Sadr compete to build loyalty within Iraq’s Shiite community, taking a stronger line against the United States plays to the widespread anti-Americanism among the general population. Going up against the world’s foremost military power could also help them demonstrate strength to domestic constituents and each other.
In the near term, if Sadr feels he is being pushed into a corner by Tehran or Baghdad, taking violent action against U.S. forces may give him an easy way to gain attention and bolster his claims that he is the only true Iraqi “nationalist” willing to oppose foreign “occupiers.” Such attacks could also be used to demonstrate the impotence of the Abadi government and sow divisions between Baghdad and Washington.

SPLINTER CELLS

For over a decade, splinter groups and individual defectors have continually plagued Sadr’s ranks. Indeed, the potential for more such splinters to form — including some that claim to carry Sadr’s banner — makes it uniquely difficult to assess threats arising from the cleric’s camp.
While autonomous cells within SAS and LYM could cause their own problems, groups sponsored by Tehran seem to pose the greatest challenge. As tensions rise, such groups could take action against American forces and then blame the attacks on Sadr. In that scenario, he might have to face the repercussions of the attacks, which could in turn spur him to adopt an even more hostile position toward the United States.
Following Sadr’s restructuring of JAM in 2008 and the creation of LYM, he often (correctly) asserted that splinter groups, not his own fighters, were the ones targeting U.S. forces. Some of these groups were disparate cells linked to the then-developing Iranian proxy AAH, while others were localized JAM factions that disagreed with halting their armed activities.
When SAS was announced in mid-2014, Sadr stated that it would be the only militia to represent his name and cause. Yet LYM was allowed to continue, showing that Sadr still had to deal with powerful and at times autonomous elements within his militia apparatuses. Accordingly, the cleric has often used a tactic he honed during JAM’s heyday: freezing his militias and monitoring which factions adhere to his orders. In February-March 2015, for example, he froze both SAS and LYM, claiming it was a gesture to encourage political interactions rather than violence between different Iraqi parties. In November 2015, he ordered a freeze on SAS elements in Diyala, claiming they were engaged in criminal activities. And this May, he called for his cadres to withdraw their armed presence from sections of Baghdad hit by Islamic State bombings. While this was likely meant to show the government that it needed him and demonstrate its impotence in protecting the capital, particularly those neighborhoods guarded by Iranian-backed forces, it may also have been another loyalty test for Sadr’s forces.
Whatever the case, more splinters emerged following the Islamic State’s 2014 advance in Iraq, this time with multiple new formalized groups declaring their presence. When the Iranian proxy Kataib al-Imam Ali (the Imam Ali Battalions, or KIA) was announced in late June of that year, former JAM commander Shebl al-Zaidi recorded video of himself and his fighters holding the severed heads of what they claimed were their Islamic State enemies. He then stated that KIA was aligned with SAS and was an integral element of JAM. Three months later, Sadr countered these claims and the attempted smearing of his campaign in a public address, declaring that his militias had a more cleaned-up reputation. Yet as of late 2015, some KIA-linked elements were still putting up martyrdom posters for fallen commanders that featured photos of Sadr.
Other splinter groups fighting in Syria have similarly claimed loyalty to Sadr even though he publicly opposed any armed Shiite intervention next door. On closer inspection, it is clear that these groups are no longer loyal to him — for many of them, Syria still serves as a good tool for recruiting fighters and further weakening his control.
Another major Sadrist splinter commander, Ahmed Hajji al-Saadi, announced on social media in 2014 that he was operating with SAS in Iraq — a curious assertion given his close relations with numerous Iranian-backed Shiite jihadist organizations and his claim to fame as cofounder of Syria’s first major transnational Shiite jihadist group, Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA). The LAFA offshoot Liwa al-Imam al-Hussein has also claimed to be Sadrist despite its open loyalties to Bashar al-Assad and Tehran. Other Iran-backed groups fighting in Iraq and Syria, such as Qaeda Quwat Abu Fadl al-Abbas and the newer Jaish al-Muwamal (Army of the Hopeful), have banked on their respective JAM and SAS legacies to recruit and craft militant networks.

KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON SADR 

To help prevent or prepare for potential troubles with Sadr and his splinters, U.S. policymakers should consider renewing their focus on the shifting moves made within his often opaque camp. This includes assessing which figures and networks Iran is using to foster more splinter groups. In the event American personnel are attacked again, such information could be beneficial in planning an appropriate, targeted response.
While Washington has remained publicly silent about Saraya al-Salam’s kidnapping of American contractors in January, seemingly preferring to work behind the scenes, it may not have the luxury of doing so in the future. If Sadr is truly embarking on a path of further conflict, U.S. forces will need to respond in a measured way — not only to discourage escalation, but also to send a strong signal of American power and resolve.
Phillip Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the Washington Institute report The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects.

The unifying power of the Antichrist

A battered nation, tagged as one of the most volatile countries in the world is not new to war – violence – antagonism – failure or divisive power blocs and has been desperately beseeching a much peaceful countenance even though a ‘façade’, which seems to having being eluding the nation for long. Amidst all this gloom in October, 2016, a meeting between Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraqi Shiite cleric, and several other major Shiite military leaders in the nation yielding atypical statements of unity is a distant light of a hopeful balance at least. Though this bringing together of the Shiite leaders is for the upcoming 2017 elections, and with each participant uniting and supporting the cause for its own ulterior motive is still a better scenario for the beleaguered country.
Shiite rivalries within the country have too been a matter of concern with the already fractioned country growing further apart. But this unusual reunion has caused the Iraqi’s and the world thinking as to how long will this union prosper and to what outcome. The ambiguity lies mostly because of the prominent leader Al-Sadr being a part of the ‘united we stand together’ stance, as has been a divisive figure throughout drastically turning from a rabid warlord to his new avatar of an Iraqi Gandhi. Sadr has vehemently opposed apart from other things foreign – foreign occupation in the region and foreign military influences which finds its supporters among the crowds of the country and surprisingly has other Shiite leaders resonating to similar tunes, bringing the leaders closer on grounds of such issues. Even if they are not at par with each other on levels within, the Shiite rival factions need to present themselves as a much more cohesive unit to make gains from the sceptical voters of Iraq, who are tired of the increasing corruption and blatant politics in the nation.
This is exactly what the October meeting of the Shiite leaders aim to do with its extravagant demonstrations of harmony and camaraderie at the press conference held soon after the meeting. At Al-Sadr’s the press conference saw the likes of other prominent Shiite leaders from – Popular Mobilization Forces – Hadi al-Amiri from Iran backed Badr organisation – Qais al-Khazali, commander of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, all singing praises about each other and their new found understanding, stating it to be at “its highest level”. Such demonstrative show of emotions hint towards both a strong political pragmatism of the leaders also of a greater and a grander plan.
However, Al-Sadr’s stance against any foreign occupation or aid from Turkey has been constantly questioned with the cleric accepting military aid from Iran, where he did his clerical studies when required, is highly problematic. What is worse that Iran can very quietly increase its influence in the region with Al-Sadr given his massive following and influence. To make matters worse in the held press conference all leaders together again presented a chorus decrying any sort of foreign occupation and abiding by Baghdad’s leadership on the matter, with no opposition to Al-Sadr’s double-dealing. However, for the new found unity among these Shiite leaders it’s still a long-long journey to cover before reaching a solid unbreakable ground.
As lay dormant among them lingering enmities which are to erupt soon destroying the façade created, of all the one most apparent being the one between the former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki – an ally of many of the Shiite leaders and Al-Sadr. Both have on occasions condemned each other. Al-Sadr on many occasions has called the former Prime Minister corrupt but his present moves to secure ministerial posts prove him no better. However, for now it seems they are all ‘united’ as ‘one’ and are working together for the municipal election nearby , at least ending the war between one faction among many in the beleaguered nation.
Photo Credit : Shutterstock

The Immense Influence of the Antichrist (Revelation 13)

Tom Rogan
January 4, 2017 7:23 PM
All things are ready, if our minds be so.
— Shakespeare, Henry V
Iraq’s battle for Mosul is not going well.
Hundreds of Iraq’s most elite military personnel have been killed in action and thousands more wounded. Daesh — also known as the Islamic State, or ISIS — retains control over Mosul’s center and its western and northern suburbs. Speaking Wednesday, a U.S. military spokesman acknowledged that operations are “slow going.”
That won’t change any time soon. In the coming days, as Iraqi units approach Mosul’s central Tigris River crossings, Daesh will intensify the vehicle-borne suicide attacks it has employed to deadly effect. The death cult wants to hold out as long as it can in Mosul. Doing so, it rightly believes, will hurt the Iraqi government. Of course, unless Iraqi forces withdraw, they will eventually defeat Daesh. The problem, however, is that politics is the ultimate prize here.
And the longer this fight drags on, the more damage Iraqi and U.S. strategic interests will suffer. That’s because, as casualties mount and doubts over the progress of the liberation grow, Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi faces rising political pressure. And that pressure comes not only from Daesh.
Enter Iran.
Iran’s foreign strategists are the world’s bloodhounds for political weakness. And seeing the human blood in Mosul, they smell political blood in Baghdad. Despising Prime Minister Abadi for his efforts to establish some semblance of multi-sectarian stability in Iraq, Iran wants to weaken him and eventually replace him with a supplicant goon — namely, former Iraqi prime minister and now Iranian puppet Nouri al-Maliki. And Iran is making progress toward that end. Late last year, it scored a major win when the Iraqi parliament legalized the Shia-militia-dominated, Iranian-orchestrated Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). PMF’s leaders, primarily Hadi al-Amiri of the Badr Organization, claim they are patriots supporting Iraqi forces in defeating Daesh. In reality, Mr. Amiri and Co. are puppets for Iranian regional hegemony.
To be clear: The PMF is not a national Iraqi alliance but a proxy for Iran’s Shia-revolutionary sectarian agenda. Iran wants the PMF to be for Iran in Iraq what the Lebanese Hezbollah is for Iran in Lebanon: an armed veto against sovereign democracy and a means to neutralize Iranian political adversaries. And in the last few weeks, Iran and Amiri have been upping the pressure on Abadi. They want Abadi to yield more power.
President Obama bears some responsibility here. Back in October, I explained that the U.S. had capabilities — whether effective intelligence support, accurate airstrikes, or many other enablers of military power — that Iraq needed in Mosul. These capabilities are crucial to boosting Iraqi combat effectiveness to help secure a quick victory. Unfortunately, President Obama refused to allow U.S. military advisers to enter Mosul with frontline Iraqi units. Instead, as American military spokespersons openly admit, U.S and allied ground forces are operating behind the front lines. That restriction limits their ability to support front-line Iraqi units. And on the battlefield, in mounting Iraqi casualties and slow progress, it shows.
Still, there is hope, albeit in an unlikely form. Enter Iraqi Shia-nationalist-populist cleric Muqtadaal-Sadr. Once a thorn in America’s side, Sadr has recently assumed a more constructive role in Iraqi politics. Jockeying for influence, he has decided that supporting Abadi is his best bet. And at least for the moment, Sadr is throwing his support to Abadi instead of to Maliki, Abadi’s main rival for the prime minister’s office. For months, Maliki has been working to undercut Abadi’s administration. He’s Iran’s political prong to Amiri’s sword. Don’t get me wrong: Sadr is no friend of America. But he does represent the power of democratic politics to shape positive coalitions.

The Antichrist and the Clueless West

It is somewhat weird that no major media outlet prepared any special report about the fact that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was executed exactly 10 years ago, on December 30, 2006. His death was both cheered and mourned by millions, resulting mainly from either political blindness or religious frenzy. The Shia cheered, the Sunni mourned and the West tried to rejoice and look optimistic despite the growing number of American soldiers killed in Iraq.
Following the invasion of Baghdad, the whereabouts of Saddam became unknown. There were rumors about him finding refuge at the Russian embassy, more bizarre rumors about him fleeing to Russia and some military experts insisted on the story that he was in Iraq, controlling the insurgency and guerilla war that spread throughout the country after the American invasion.
In the end everybody turned out to be wrong: he was found hiding, but clearly not in a condition or position to supervise insurgency; hiding in a hole not far from Tikrit, armed with a pistol, an AK-47 and 750 thousand US dollars.
His death resulted in no positive change regarding the situation in Iraq which continued to worsen. The country fell apart, suicide bombings, beheadings and mass executions occurred on a daily basis, the government basically had no control on a number of areas where many religious and insurgent terrorist groups were operating and the most well-known terrorist group, ISIS, came out of the ashes of the former Iraqi army and other radical militant Sunni organizations.

After all, the bad dictator is defeated, so the people should be happy, elect a new government and live happily ever after, isn’t it that simple?
The West was clueless since the whole situation was unexpected; we all remember the citizens of Baghdad cheering the American troops and celebrating during the destruction of Saddam’s famous statue. Nobody thought that Iraq, a land with one of the biggest proven oil reserves in the whole world, would soon become a place thrown into a bloody civil war. After all, the bad dictator is defeated, so the people should be happy, elect a new government and live happily ever after, isn’t it that simple?
No, it isn’t and this is what the West still doesn’t understand. The fabricated states based on the pre-World War I colonial borders are in deep trouble especially where there is a mixed Shia and Sunni population. Iraq has become a failed state, so has Syria and the situation might seem to improve for a while, but without dealing with the root cause, no matter how many bombs are dropped on Homs and Aleppo, there will not be peace. The only thing today that unites Islam is the content of the last words of Saddam Hussein; just before his death he shouted: “Allahu Akbar” and “Palestine is Arab”.
The Shia-Sunni divide is deeper than ever and the insurgency erupting in Iraq following the American invasion was the first sign of the so-called Arab Spring, which is not about democracy and human rights but instead about refusal and rejection. Islamists are not willing to accept anything other than their own beliefs, not even the other branches within Islam. They, of course, reject Western values, but this is something that it is considered not polite to admit so nothing is about to change. And the UN, a powerless and impotent organization preoccupied with putting the blame on Israel for everything, will continue to be a useless joke.
The West learned nothing since the execution of Saddam despite the fact that, unlike 10 years ago, today terrorism is clearly present in Europe and will continue to worsen.

Antichrist’s Men Are Released From Prison (Rev 13:18)


Iraq’s parliament passes controversial amnesty bill

Rudaw

The new law which has split the parliament along sectarian lines and polarised the country will give partial or full amnesty to nearly 36,000 prisoners who have been in prison, some since 2004 without proper court procedures.

BAGHDAD, Iraq– Iraq’s parliament on Thursday adopted a law that offers amnesty to thousands of anti-government protestors who are currently in jails across the country, many on charges of terrorism.

The new law which has split the parliament along sectarian lines and polarised the country will give partial or full amnesty to nearly 36,000 prisoners who have been in prison, some since 2004 without proper court procedures.

The bill will also give amnesty to around 5,000 Shiite followers of the Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr who were detained during former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki as part of crack down on Sadr’s paramilitary army in late 2000.

But the bulk of the prisoners who will be affected by the general amnesty are Sunni protesters who will be released virtually due to lack of solid evidence.

“There will be a number of different committees which will revise the cases of these inmates who have been unjustly treated by the system and help them to have a fair trail again,” said head of the Sunni faction Ahmed Mesari who also expressed delight for the new law.

Mesari said nearly 18,000 of the inmates have not been tried by a court which now will be assisted by the parliament’s committees.

Some lawmakers slammed the general amnesty and described it as a “covert support” for the insurgency in the country.

“This was a great mistake. Passing the law was an injustice towards our martyrs and it will support the systemic violence in the country,” said Shiite lawmaker Hesen Salim.

The Hypocrisy of the Antichrist


Support for Iraqi rejection of anti-LGBT attacks
Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch has endorsed Iraqi Shiite clergyman Muqtada al-Sadr’s call for an end to violence against sexual minorities, reported last month on this blog. HRW issued this press release:
(Beirut, August 18, 2016) – State and non-state actors in Iraq should heed the prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s July 2016 statement banning violence against those who do not conform to gender norms, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since early 2009, Human Rights Watch has documented kidnappings, executions, and torture by militia groups, including al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, of gay men and men perceived to be gay. The killings have continued unabated.

“Finally, the head of one of the groups whose members have carried out serious abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Iraq is condemning these heinous attacks,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope this will change behavior in successors to the Mahdi Army and other ranks, and spur the government to hold accountable those who commit these crimes.”

A Human Rights Watch report found that in early 2009, Iraqi militia members began a wide-reaching campaign of extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, and torture of men suspected of homosexual conduct, or of not conforming to masculine gender norms, and that Iraq authorities did nothing to stop the killings. The killings began in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, a Mahdi Army stronghold, and were then replicated by members of militia groups in many cities across Iraq. Mahdi Army spokesmen promoted fear about the “third sex” and the “feminization” of Iraqi men, as well as suggesting that militia action was the remedy.

In 2012, militia members opened a second wave of attacks on people categorized as part of the “emo” subculture, styles that critics associated with heavy metal music, and rap. In early February 2012, signs and fliers appeared in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Sadr City, Hayy al-Habibiyya, and Hayy al-‘Amil that threatened people by name with “the wrath of god” unless they cut their hair short, concealed their tattoos, maintained “complete manhood,” and stopped wearing so-called “satanic clothing.” Similar posters appeared in other neighborhoods, also listing names.

In the following weeks, Human Rights Watch received reports of several dozen youths killed as part of the campaign. While it was unclear who was behind the campaign, at the time al-Sadr called the targets of the campaign “crazy fools” and a “lesion on the Muslim community” in an online statement, but also maintained that they should be dealt with “within the law.”

In a 2015 report, the Iraqi group Iraqueer and the US-based organization OutRight Action International (formerly the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission) documented the kidnapping and murders of gay men by members of Iraqi militia groups, including the Brigades of Wrath (Saraya al-Ghadhab) and League of the Righteous (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq) between 2009 and 2015. The groups condemned the Iraqi government for “stand[ing] by and allow[ing] murderous hate violence to occur, fully aware of what is happening.”

The government responded by establishing an LGBT committee in late 2012 to address abuses against the LGBT community. However, LGBT activists in Baghdad have told Human Rights Watch that this committee has taken few tangible steps to protect LGBT people. In addition, a member of the committee said, two of the original nine members vanished in 2015 in what he believed was related to their role on the committee. The committee has had no news of them since. Other members have left the committee without explanation, he said, leaving only four remaining.

With the rise of the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, gay men, transgender women, and gender non-conforming people are at even greater risk. The group has executed a number of people accused of sodomy or perceived to be gay.

While Iraq’s Penal Code does not directly criminalize same-sex intimacy, article 394 criminalizes extra-marital sexual relations. That provision effectively criminalizes all same-sex relations, since the law does not provide for same-sex marriage.

Al-Sadr’s July 7 2016, statement expresses his view that same-sex relationships and cross-dressing are not acceptable, but that gender non-conforming people – whom al-Sadr claims are suffering from “psychological problems” – nevertheless deserve the right to live. “[You] must disassociate from them [but] not attack them, as it increases their aversion and you must guide them using acceptable and rational means,” the statement read.

Despite the lack of full tolerance in al-Sadr’s statement, his call to end violence against LGBT people is an important step, Human Rights Watch said. He should ensure that those in the ranks of the militia under his command, the Peace Brigades (Saraya al–Salam), obey the order and should hold accountable commanders who do not.

Iraq’s government should take its own measures to ensure that attacks on LGBT people are punished, and the LGBT committee should actively monitor and report on human rights abuses against LGBT people and advise the government on concrete steps to protect LGBT people from violence and discrimination. Iraq’s legislature should quickly decriminalize extra-marital sexual relations.
“While al-Sadr is still a long way from fully embracing human rights for LGBT people, his statement shows that he understands the importance of stopping abuses against them,” Stork said. “The statement represents an important change in the right direction, and should be followed by concrete actions to protect LGBT people from violence.”

Antichrist issues decree against anti-LGBT violence


Prominent Iraqi cleric issues decree against anti-LGBT violence

August 19, 2016 at 12:10 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers

A prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric has banned his followers from committing violence against LGBT people.

“[You] must disassociate from them [but] not attack them, as it increases their aversion,” said Muqtada al-Sadr in a decree he issued from the city of Najaf on July 7, according to a press release that Human Rights Watch issued on Thursday. “You must guide them using acceptable and rational means.”

Human Rights Watch said in it’s press release that al-Sadr expressed his opposition to same-sex relationships and cross-dressing. The prominent cleric also said that gender non-conforming Iraqis are suffering from “psychological problems.”

Decree could have ‘real impact’ in Iraq, Middle East Members of the Mahdi army, a Shiite militia that al-Sadr runs, have been accused of kidnapping, torturing and executing LGBT Iraqis over the last decade.

A report that OutRight Action International and three other advocacy groups released last fall indicates members of al-Sadr’s militia kidnapped an 18-year-old lesbian woman in Baghdad in 2008.
The report says the militants brought her to “a place that was covered in blood” in which other lesbians and gay men were located. It also notes that members of al-Sadr’s militia burned the woman’s left thigh and killed a gay man.

Human Rights Watch notes in its press release that the Mahdi army began killing gay men in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood in early 2009. The report that OutRight Action International and the other advocacy groups released last fall indicates al-Sadr was among those who encouraged these executions.

The report also notes militants in 2012 placed leaflets throughout Sadr City that contained the names of men who they thought were gay or “emo,” which is slang for “emotional.” The flyers reportedly told teenagers and young adults who listened to rock music, dressed in black, wore tight clothes and styled their hair that they could be killed if they did not “change their ways.”

“People perceived to be gay, lesbian, transgender or effeminate are particularly vulnerable,” reads the report.

Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International note that Iraqi authorities have either not responded to anti-LGBT violence or has been complicit in it.

“Finally, the head of one of the groups whose members have carried out serious abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Iraq is condemning these heinous attacks,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in his organization’s press release about al-Sadr’s decree. “We hope this will change behavior in successors to the Mahdi army and other ranks, and spur the government to hold accountable those who commit these crimes.”
Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, told the Washington Blade on Thursday that al-Sadr’s comments “can have a very real impact in Iraq and in the region more widely.”

“We hope his comments will open the doors to a broader debate among Shiite religious leaders on the treatment of LGBTIQ people in Islam and to recognizing that violence targeting this minority group is unacceptable,” said Stern.

Ayaz Hassan, a human rights activist from Sulaymaniyah, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, agreed.
“Even though it might look very small comparing to what is happening in Western countries . . . it is a very positive step towards change in our society,” he told the Blade on Thursday. “It also encourages other religious leaders and his followers to go with the same way or at least think about the issue before judging on it.”

Gay Iraqi man: Al-Sadr ‘contradicts himself’

The so-called Islamic State, which is a Sunni militant group, has publicly executed dozens of men in Iraq and Syria who have been accused of committing sodomy. OutRight Action International and MADRE, a global women’s advocacy organization, concluded in a 2014 report that LGBT Iraqis who live under ISIS control are likely “at imminent risk of death.”

A State Department official told the Blade on Thursday that U.S. officials had not seen al-Sadr’s decree.

“The United States places great importance on the protection and promotion of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons around the world,” said the official.

A gay Iraqi man who lives in D.C. told the Blade on Thursday that he is doubtful al-Sadr’s statement will have a positive impact.

“Muqtada al-Sadr contradicts himself,” said the man, who asked the Blade not to publish his name. “He still thinks homosexual relationships or being transgender is unacceptable. He is asking his followers to end violence on homosexuals in Iraq, but at the same time, he refers to gays as psychologically troubled humans (who are) suffering. He calls for the ostracizing of gays socially and to lead them to path of faith through conversion therapy.”

“It is hard to establish gay rights in a country that barely has sexual freedoms and human rights and that follows sharia Islamic law,” he added. “Reality and cynicism look alike sometimes, but I hope to see improvements in gay rights in Iraq and the Middle East.”