The Antichrist Spreads His Horns Throughout the World


Spokesman confirms Sadr’s Europe tour plans, Egypt visit
by Mohamed Mostafa Aug 26, 2017, 12:00 pm
Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) A spokesperson has confirmed reports of an intended tour by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Europe, including a meeting with Pope Francis of Vatican.
Jaafar Mosawi, a spokesperson of the Sadrist Movement, said Saturday that Sadr will visit Vatican responding to an official invitation, and had also received an invitation from Egypt.
Mosawi told Baghdad Today that Sadr will embark on the Vatican visit within the coming few days.
Sadr seeks openness to the countries that want Iraq’s best and abstain from interfering in its domestic affairs,” he stated.
On Friday, London-based al-Hayat said Sadr is preparing for a tour including France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Vatican, and would hold meetings with senior officials at those countries.
The purpose of the visit, as the paper put it, will not differ from that of his recent Arab region tour, focusing on Iraq’s openness to other countries and encouragement of investments in the war-torn country, especially in the reconstruction of terrorism-hit areas.
Al-Sadr headed United Arab Emirates earlier this month, having received an official invitation for a visit. He met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
The announced visit has stirred more debates among observers about Sadr’s unexpected diplomatic orientations as he came back days earlier from Saudi Arabia, the arch regional rival of Iran, presumably the biggest patron of Shia political elites and political movements in the Middle East.
While political commentators viewed Sadr’s visits to Iran’s longtime regional rivals a remarkable attempt to break away with the Iran-dominated Iraqi politics, others saw they were a balancing political act designed to get advantage from Sunni Saudi Arabia’s regional weight while staying on good terms with Shia Iran. Some also say Sadr was seeking to embolden his image as a nationalist figure whose orientations can transcend sectarian calculations.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia visits come after apparent rapprochements between Baghdad and Sunni-ruled governments in the region. Besides Sadr, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Riyadh in June, and was followed by Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji a month later. In February, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Iraq, where he voiced support for Iraq against terrorism.

The Antichrist Turns Against Iran

 
Shia rabble-rouser turns against Iran
Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent
August 26 2017, 12:01am, The Times
Moqtada al-Sadr, for long the West’s public enemy No 1 in Iraq, is now leading attempts to fend off Iranian domination of the Middle East.
A decade ago his Mahdi Army, drawn from the country’s Shia majority, was ambushing and killing American and British soldiers across southern Iraq while he sought refuge in Iran.
The Shia leader recently visited Saudi Arabia, the Sunni Arab world’s dominant power, and the UAE, and is about to visit Egypt. Saudi Arabia announced this month that it was reopening its land border with Iraq for the first time since the Gulf War in 1990, and that this was merely the start of a rapprochement by which it hopes to offer more direct flights, the opening of a consulate   in the holy Shia city of Najaf, and billions of dollars of investment.
The Saudis have even offered to build hospitals in Baghdad and in the oil-rich, Shia-majority city of Basra.
The shift in Mr Sadr’s position has drawn accusations of treachery from Iran. An editorial by Tasnim, a private news agency based in Tehran, asked how he could visit Riyadh when Saudi Arabia was bombing Yemen and attacking its own Shia minority.
“It is obvious that Riyadh is now seeking to change the status of its relations with Baghdad to effectively reduce the influence of Iran,” it added.
At the height of the Iraqi insurgency hardly a mention of Mr Sadr’s name went unaccompanied by the description “fiery Shia cleric”. A son and son-in-law of ayatollahs killed during the rule of Saddam Hussein, he is not a senior religious official but has inherited a role as favoured leader of Iraq’s long-oppressed Shia working classes.
His Mahdi Army was eventually crushed between 2006 and 2008 by US forces working with Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq at the time but, as is often the case in these parts, the alliance was a shaky one. Mr Maliki pivoted ever more towards Iran, alienating Iraq’s Sunni minority just as the Americans were trying to win their trust before their 2011 pull-out — culminating in the Islamic State takeover of large parts of the country in 2014.
Mr Sadr, who always said his opposition to America was nationalist rather than religious, has since come to see Iranian domination as the greatest threat to his goal of an Iraqi “Islamic democracy”. As a result, while Mr Sadr and Mr Maliki pursue their feud, they have swapped geopolitical sides. The West, Saudi Arabia and their allies are all determined to stop Mr Maliki, who was forced out in 2014, from returning to office in elections next year.
Kirk Sowell, a Middle East risk analyst, said that Mr Sadr’s reconciliation with Saudi Arabia arose from his appeal to “Islamist nationalism”. He said: “He’s realised that in order to balance Iran, he must lower the sectarian temperature, otherwise the Iran-aligned factions will run away with the next election.”
Mr Sadr has led demonstrations against Haider al-Abadi, the pro-West prime minister who is from the same Shia-dominated party as Mr Maliki but is deeply opposed by him. The protests, which focus on government corruption, are also veiled attacks on Mr Maliki, who appointed many of the officials accused of enriching themselves.
The reopening of the Saudi border came after a meeting between Mr Sadr and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; something that would have once seemed impossible.
Cynics say that every other foreign policy venture undertaken by the crown prince in the past two years has backfired, from the war in Yemen to the blockade of Qatar, and that Saudi Arabia will not re-establish influence until it forges better relations with Iran — rather than trying to undermine it.
Mr Sadr said in an interview with a Saudi-backed newspaper: “There are plans to secure peace and reject sectarianism in the region. It is necessary to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold.”
A lot depends on whether Mr Sadr remains popular and whether his instinct that Iraqis will put their national identity above their Shia one is enough to turn them against Iran.
Mr Sowell said that anti-Iran sentiment in Iraq was outweighed by hostility to Saudi Arabia, seen by many as having backed Isis. “Sadr is taking a risk here,” he said. “If he fails, it could hurt him.”

The Antichrist’s New Nationalist Iraq


Iraq’s post-Daesh political landscape
Ibrahim Al-Malashi
The US is no longer the most eligible suitor in Iraq’s power games. The US is becoming isolated, and local leaders are increasingly courting regional players to secure patronage ahead of elections next year.
Two significant visits this summer have shown how Iraqi power brokers are preparing for Iraq’s elections in April 2018.
First, former Iraqi prime minister and current vice-president, Nuri Maliki paid a visit to Moscow, meeting Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Second, the Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr—who holds no official position in the Iraqi government—visited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
The significance of these events is that they indicate the nodes of power that are vying for control in the aftermath of the liberation of Mosul. These power brokers are seeking foreign patronage to bolster their positions domestically, yet are also indicative of regional and international powers vying for influence in Iraq, as ISIS’s (Daesh) power wanes.
As ISIS is defeated, an Iranian-US battle for influence over the Iraqi state will ensue. The visits to Russia and Saudi Arabia respectively, serve as messages to the US and Iran that the influence they gained in Iraq – by combatting the Islamic State – can, and will, be contested by Iraq’s political elite.
Iraq’s domestic politics
Maliki’s meeting with Putin was surprising given that the former is one of Iraq’s three vice presidents, which are primarily ceremonial roles. Maliki stepped down in the summer of 2014 after the ISIS capture of Mosul, partly due to pressure from the US, who sought out a more conciliatory politician, Haidar al-Abbadi, to assume the premiership. Maliki resigned, but has been planning for his political come back since then. If Maliki blames the US for unseating him, his visit with Putin communicates to Washington that he enjoys the support of another power broker in the region.
Moqtada Sadr has also been planning a political comeback since 2008, when his militia, the Mahdi Army was defeated in street battles by the Iraqi military with American support. Sadr’s tactic has been to embrace the street protests that erupted in 2015 over government corruption.
As the de-facto spokesperson of this movement, he used the protests to criticize Iran’s influence in Iraq’s domestic politics. Sadr further challenged Iranian influence in Iraq in 2017 by calling for the demobilization of the Iraqi Shia militias, many of which serve as Iranian proxies.
Because Sadr has been hesitant to embrace Iranian patronage, the Islamic Republic, he believes, will seek to deprive him of asserting his own presence on the Iraqi political landscape. By distancing himself from Iran, Sadr has sought to rebrand himself as an Iraqi nationalist, and both the protests and trip to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, serve as a message to Tehran that Sadr can carve out his own political agency.
Both Maliki and Sadr are Iraqi Shia power brokers. Yet their divergent actions demonstrate that there is no united Iraqi Shi’a political bloc to speak of. Furthermore, incumbent prime minister Haider al-Abbadi, himself a Shia, has attempted to foster a sense of Iraqi nationalism and unity, since the national victory in Mosul in July. The month of August has foreshadowed how the Iraqi Shia political elites are already jockeying for position as the 2018 elections approach.
Russia’s Middle East Geopolitics
In the early stages of the fight against ISIS, the Iraqi state mulled bringing in greater Russian involvement into the fight in 2015. Under the Obama administration, US pressure sought to prevent Iraq from doing this. Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration might be ambivalent about Russia projecting its influence in Iraq, having practically ceded Syria to Moscow’s orbit as well.
Russia’s embrace of Maliki has to be put in context of how Moscow is assessing both American and Iranian power in Iraq after the liberation of Mosul.
Russia has witnessed the American approach to combatting ISIS in Iraq, in addition to Syria. The US prefers standoff warfare – aerial bombardment, with only a limited number of ground troops. In a post-ISIS Iraq, the only leverage the United States has on the ground is its 5,000 strong military advisory mission, and future prospects of American arms sales.
By investing in building up Iraq’s land forces, Iran was able to carve a land corridor for its ground forces up to the Iraqi-Syrian border, through Syria, finally culminating in Lebanon –providing a contiguous conduit for Tehran’s proxy on the Mediterranean, Hezbollah.
Russia, by deploying its military forces to Syria, was instrumental in enabling Iran to create this new geography.
Iran’s ability to invest in creating power on the ground will keep Baghdad firmly within Tehran’s influence. The US could wean Iraq away from Iran with the promises of arms sales, but Maliki’s trip to Russia, where he signed a contract on behalf of Iraq to purchase Russian T-90 tanks, demonstrates, first, that Iraq does have options beyond complete dependence on the US for national security. Second, while al-Abbadi has a good working relationship with the US, Maliki’s trip indicates that if he were elected, he would reorient Iraq towards a Russian-Iranian axis.
This episode demonstrates a continuous trend of how Iraq, and the region in general, has been penetrated by extra-regional powers, such as the US and Russia, and regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But rather seeing Iraq as a country that is acted upon by foreign powers, the actions of the Iraqi politicians demonstrates a willing embrace of this system, as long as it enhances their domestic power.

The Antichrist and the Saudis


Moqtada Al-Sadr And Saudi Arabia— The New Allies
Featured image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (R) meets with Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah, on July 30. (Saudi Royal Court)
The prominent Iraqi Shia cleric and influential political leader Moqtada Al-Sadr visited Saudi Arabia on July 30 for the first time after 11 years. Al-Sadr, who is categorized amongst the hardliners in Iraq, met the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohamed bin Salman Al-Saud. According to official statements and reports, Saudi Arabia invited Al-Sadr— and the latter, accepted the invitation. It is not a coincidence that Al-Sadr visited the kingdom while Saudi forces have besieged the Shia town of Awamiya for more than three months killing and displacing hundreds while demolishing homes, buildings and infrastructures, turning the place to a war zone.
Al-Sadr in Saudi Arabia
On his arrival, Al-Sadr was greeted by Arab Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan. He was former ambassador to Iraq—whose statements deteriorated the fragile relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Instead of maintaining diplomacy in a country stirred up by sectarian tensions, Al-Sabhan appeared in a televised interview claiming that sectarianism and tribalism were behind the Iraqi government’s arming volunteer forces fighting against ISIL. He sought to diminish the influence of Shia politicians in Iraq and held strong views against Popular Mobilization Forces fighting against ISIL. Last year, Al-Sabhan wrote:
“There are Iranian terrorists near Fallujah [in Iraq]. This is a clear evidence that they want to burn Iraqis with the fires of abhorrent sectarianism, and of their intent to change the demography.”
There was no concrete evidence of Iranian militants anywhere near Fallujah where Iraqi army and mobilization forces’ volunteers were at the frontiers fighting against ISIL. However, Al-Sabhan’s statements played on the emotions of Arab nationalists who are alarmed by Iranian influence in Iraq. He also instigated sectarianism and fear by leaving people of Fallujah terrified of the Iraqi forces aiming to liberate them from ISIL. Last year in August, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry officially asked its Saudi counterparts to replace Al-Sabhan.
“The presence of Al-Sabhan is an obstacle to the development of relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” said Ahmad Jamal, foreign ministry’s spokesperson, in televised comments.
Al-Sabhan was the right person in the right place when receiving Al-Sadr. He received and greeted the only Shia cleric armed with a militia in Iraq. Winning Al-Sadr to their side, Saudi Arabia would give a message to the West that Iranian influence would be diminished if armed Al-Sadr loyalists would turn against Iran and its allies. While Al-Sadr’s movement includes Saraya Al-Salam (Al-Sadr’s militia) on the ground, it is also represented by politicians and members of parliament. Upon his return to Iraq, Al-Sadr called to dissolve the Popular Mobilization Forces— a wish that was always expressed by Saudi Arabia through its former ambassador Al-Sabhan. It is ironic that Al-Sadr seeks to dissolve armed forces endorsed by the Iraqi government, while maintaining his militias.
To his political movement, loyalists and militiamen, Al-Sadr is the unquestionable religious icon. Responding to backlash, Al-Sadr’s supporters told Iraqi media organizations and outraged human rights activists that their leader was going to persuade the Saudi government to halt their attacks on Awamiya and stop the war on Yemen. Upon his return to Iraq, Al-Sadr didn’t mention any talks regarding the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Awamiya or Yemen.
Al-Sadr’s office released a statement identifying what the cleric and Saudi officials talked about during meetings. “His Imminence discussed ways to strengthen the relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Iraq,” according to Al-Sadr’s office statement following the rare visit. The office announced that both Al-Sadr and the Crown Prince share the same views on a number of issues. The visit and meetings produced a number of outcomes that were mentioned in the statement.
The meeting with the Crown Prince
Regardless of the outcomes and the shared views, Bin Salman received Al-Sadr in, what appeared to be in the photo, a small room. Unlike other official meetings, the Crown Prince didn’t wear his cloak or what’s known in Arabic as Basht. Upon meeting world leaders, prominent politicians and influential clerics, a prince is expected to be at his finest appearance— wearing Basht is part of that. Failing to do so would be disrespectful to the guest. Not wearing a Basht intentionally and inviting the guest to a room for the talks rather than the luxurious reception would be interpreted as a deliberate act of disrespect in the tribal traditions of the Arabs. On the other hand, Al-Sadr was well dressed for the meeting. This leaves me wondering if Mohamed bin Salman’s gestures with Al-Sadr were deliberate. If that was the case, he didn’t treat Al-Sadr as an equal leader to him, but rather Saudi Arabia’s man in the region. Another interpretation could be that Mohamed bin Salman and Al-Sadr decided to be close to each other building the bonds of brotherly friendship, and thus, there was no need for him to maintain the Arab traditions of receiving the foreign guest.
The outcomes of the visit, meetings and talks were numerous. According to Al-Sadr’s office, Saudi Arabia would offer another $10 million to “help the displaced through the Iraqi government.” Both parties also agreed on the importance of Saudi investments in Iraq and facilitating the “development” of the south and the centre. The southern and central regions of Iraq are of Shia majority.
Escalating conflicts and human rights violations
Al-Sadr’s supporters claimed that their leader would reach to an outcome that would help deescalate the bloody conflict in Yemen and help Shia minority in Awamiya in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. However, the humanitarian crisis in Awamiya has worsened since Al-Sadr’s visit. According to media reports, residents in Awamiya are running out of drinking water and electricity has been cut off. While several were killed in Awamiya besiege, 14 men have recently been sentenced to death for participating in demonstrations.
Unrest, Saudi forces attacks and raids on Awamiyahave been common since the January 2016 execution of local Shia cleric and leader Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr. Saudi forces shot unarmed Al-Nimr in his car and arrested him in 2012. Suffering from serious injuries, Al-Nimr was subjected to unfair trial and faced execution in the form of beheading. From 2012 until his execution in 2016, Al-Nimr was in solitary confinement most of the time.
Beheading an influential respected Shia religious leader in Awamiya drove many of the adherents of the faith to protest in the streets in several parts of the region— including Baghdad where most of Al-Sadr supporters are active. Last year, they also participated in the demonstrations and denounced the Saudi monarchy holding banners saying “death to Al-Saud.”
Al-Sadr’s message changed, but Saudi Arabia’s discrimination against its Shia minority in Awamiya is unlikely to change. Meeting with Al-Sadr will not only change his movement’s message towards Saudi Arabia from hostility to friendliness, but aims to whitewash Saudi authorities in the eyes of its international critics. Receiving a prominent Shia cleric gives the impression that the ongoing attacks on Shia minority in Saudi Arabia is not based on systematic discrimination, but on the authorities claims of maintaining national security.
The consulate in Najaf
Najaf is one of the holiest cities for all Shias. It’s the home for the Shia’s first disciple and the cousin of the Prophet, Imam Ali. It’s the city where the most prestigious Shia religious schools have been established since hundreds of years ago. All of the adherents of the Shia faith, with its several schools of thought, regard the city as the heart of their spirituality. Millions of pilgrims visit the shrine of Imam Ali from all over the world.
After the meeting with Mohamed Bin Salman and other Saudi officials, Al-Sadr’s office stated that there would be a Saudi consulate in Najaf. Although looking at the suggestion superficially the intention seems to be to strengthen the Saudi relations with Iraqi government, there is more to that. It’s not a coincidence that Najaf was chosen. This would give Saudi Arabia the opportunity to crackdown on Shia opposition in the gulf countries while using religious authorities like Al-Sadr on their side. Al-Sadr left to Iraq, and Saudi bulldozers flattened Awamiya, terrorizing people and forcing hundreds to flee.
The Holy City of Najaf is also the spiritual destiny of Yemeni’s Houthis who practice Zaidi faith— a branch of Shia Islam. Yemen has been torn apart by civil war, in which Saudi Arabia is one of its most powerful sides. Saudi led airstrikes and attacks continue to deepen the deteriorating humanitarian crisis that has become the worst in recent history. According to UNICEF’s report on February 21, 4,000 civilians have died as a direct result of the conflict, including 1,332 children. Reports confirm that at least 100,000 have been killed through famine and worst outbreak of cholera, while 70 percent of the population relies on humanitarian aid. In addition to the war crimes, Saudi Arabia is also accused of obstructing the delivery of fuel to UN planes that are used to bring aid. Western governments face a backlash for selling arms to Saudi Arabia that have been used to commit serious human rights violations.
Whether in Iraq, Yemen or Awamiya, Al-Sadr’s visit has its ripples that will create destructive tides in the region. Saudi Arabia has won a Shia leader, whose supporters are going to use Arab nationalist sentiments to turn adherents of the faith against each other using claims of Iran’s influence in the region.

The Antichrist Tries to Unify Islam (Revelation 13)


It Would Be A Wise Move If Iraq Mediates Between Saudi Arabia And Iran

Andrew Korybko
Conflicting reports have recently claimed that Saudi Arabia called upon Iraq to mediate between itself and Iran. The Saudi News Agency, however, cited a source a few days after this news emerged who vehemently denied its veracity, but it’s important to nonetheless examine why this scenario is not only believable, but would also be very wise if it turns out to be true sometime in the future.
Influential Shiite cleric and militiaman Muqtada al-Sadr just got back from a visit to the Kingdom which had tongues wagging all across the Mideast, with commentators unable to figure out why someone who would stereotypically satisfy all of the characteristics of a Saudi opponent was feted as a high-level guest of honor by the royal family. I wrote about this in my analysis for The Duran titled “Is Iraq’s Al-Sadr Going Saudi?”, which postulated that one of the reasons behind the trip may have been that the centrally positioned country between Saudi Arabia and Iran was priming itself for mediating between its two Great Power neighbors, with one of its most symbolically important non-state actors, al-Sadr, crucially taking the lead in carrying this out.
It’s unclear at this moment what capacity – if any – al-Sadr could play in any possible mediation efforts sometime down the line, but nevertheless, the geostrategic logic behind having the pivotal middle ground country between Saudi Arabia and Iran mediate between them still holds, as it’s Iraq more so than any other state in the region which holds the key to retaining the balance of power between these two rivals in the interior of the Mideast. Moreover, Iran and Saudi Arabia both have contiguous sectarian interests in Iraq as regards the Shiite and Sunni communities, respectively, and they’re both concerned about what will happen in the aftermath of Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence vote next month. The Kurds’ secession would leave the bitterly divided Shiite and Sunni communities together in an unstable rump state without the balancing factor that their northern countrymen previously provided in keeping the country at least nominally united. Another Iraqi Civil War between these two remaining groups isn’t in Iran or Saudi Arabia’s interests, but they might be drawn into this conflict unintentionally by the uncontrollable strategic momentum and security dilemma between each other.
Iran would rather concentrate on safeguarding its interests in post-Daesh Syria, dealing with the rising Kurdish terrorist threat along its border region, and improving its economy. Likewise, the Saudis need to concentrate on their new Cold War with Qatar, drawing down their participation in the disastrous War on Yemen, and initiating long-overdue socio-economic changes through the ambitious Vision 2030 program and weathering any potential political risks which may arise as a result between the ruling family and the Wahhabi clerics. In order to see to these much more pressing tasks, Iran and Saudi Arabia must find a temporary compromise in their Mideast-wide rivalry, as well as preserve the post-Kurdish territorial integrity and stability of a rump state Iraq, which is why it makes sense for Baghdad to take the lead in de-escalating tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, as this could hopefully – if it ever happens – find a way for both Great Powers to cooperate in keeping Iraq together as the most visibly tangible sign of any forthcoming détente.

The Antichrist is the Only Hope for Iraq (Daniel 8:8)


By Ranj Alaaldin for Brookings Doha Center
Muqtada al-Sadr has long been something of an enigma. Over the past several weeks, the firebrand Shiite cleric, who heads Iraq’s most powerful socio-political movement, has been warmly welcomed in the region’s leading Gulf states, which have largely shunned Iraq’s Shiite majority and then returned to Iraq to mobilize opposition against corruption, stagnation, and authoritarianism within the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
Due to his unparalleled capacity to mobilize the masses, his father’s legacy, and growing discontent in Iraq, al-Sadr may indeed be the best hope the country has of reducing Iran’s influence in Iraq and enhancing government accountability in the foreseeable future. But it will not be without its challenges.

SADR’S ENIGMATIC ROLE

Sadr came to prominence in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as a fierce opponent of the American occupation. During this period, his organization’s militia wing, known then as the Mahdi Army, engaged in a guerilla campaign against U.S. troops as well as, on occasion, his domestic rivals. He also deployed the vast Sadrist network that his father established in the 1990s to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the state, providing protection and social services to the destitute Shiite underclass.
Today, Sadr has positioned himself as a counterweight against Iranian influence in Iraq and a champion of reform, but his organization bears responsibility for much of Iraq’s troubles. The Mahdi Army played a central role in fueling Iraq’s devastating sectarian conflict, fought U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces, and engaged in criminal activities. Early on, Sadr benefitted from Iranian support and he later spent three years in self-imposed exile there, burnishing his religious credentials.
While I was on a recent research visit to Baghdad, a representative of the Sadrist movement explained that the Mahdi Army’s early strategy was a product of the breakdown of the state and the turmoil that followed the U.S. invasion. Indeed, in addition to combating Arab Sunni insurgent groups, the Mahdi Army has also had to outflank its rivals within the Shiite political class, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Badr Brigade (the former armed wing of ISCI that has since splintered from the organization), as well as the Islamic Dawa Party.
Sadr’s Mahdi Army helped spawn an array of Iran-aligned militias that have recently won widespread acclaim in countering the so-called Islamic State. These groups now spearhead the powerful Popular Mobilization Force (Hashd al-Shaabi), which has been institutionalized into the Iraqi state and functions parallel to a much weaker Iraqi military. These militias have secured Iran unparalleled influence in Iraq.
Sadr himself returned to Iraq in 2011 as a more refined, media-savvy operator—no doubt as a result of training and support he received while in Iran. A year before his return to Iraq, the Sadrists won nearly 40 seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections and acquired seven ministries, the deputy-speaker of parliament post, as well as a collection of governorships in the south of the country. By 2011, the Mahdi Army was also refashioned into a social services organization, an effort by Sadr to repair its tarnished reputation, which had resulted from its involvement in the civil war, sectarian atrocities, and criminal conduct. The organization, however, retained the ability to function as a militia and mobilize thousands of men into armed conflict if necessary.

WHAT MAKES AL-SADR DIFFERENT

Two advantages distinguish al-Sadr from his rivals: the legacy of his father, Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, and the mobilizing capacity of the Sadrist movement. These factors may enable him to forestall Iran’s creeping domination of Iraq and propel Iraq’s political class toward reform.
While his militia rivals are renowned for their battlefield success against ISIS, Muqtada has emerged as the voice of Iraq’s largest demographic, its Shiite underclass—much like his father. The senior Sadr established a powerful social base during the 1990s, when Iraq’s Shiites suffered from repression by the Baath regime and United Nations sanctions. His message of defiance against Saddam Hussein led to Sadr’s 1999 assassination and his subsequent elevation as a symbol of Shiite resistance.
That legacy of legitimacy underpins the Sadrist network and its resistance to Iranian interference in Iraq’s affairs, save for the brief period of self-imposed exile for the cleric. As a result of its autonomy and ability to self-sustain through its dominance of the so-called informal economy, control of or influence within government ministries since 2003 (which have allowed the organization to use state resources as a form of patronage), and criminal activities, the movement has emerged as something of an exception in a country where clerics, politicians, and militias are widely perceived as clients of regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states. During my interviews, officials in Baghdad described the Peace Brigade as the “rebellious militias” because of their rejection of Iranian interference as well as their refusal to submit to Iraqi state control. Combined with the vast, grassroots network the organization enjoys and its ability to mobilize tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands—in addition to the legacy of Sadeq al-Sadr and the movement’s longstanding hostility to Iranian interference—these could be harnessed to both reduce the space in which Iran and its allies can operate, as well as even force the political class to take the matter of reform more seriously.

SHAKING UP IRAQI POLITICS

The extent to which al-Sadr will emerge as Iraq’s best hope of forestalling Iran’s ascendancy and reducing the space in which Iran-aligned factions and groups function will depend on whether Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani continues to resist calls for him to play a greater role in politics and governance in Iraq. Al-Sadr has long aimed to compete with Sistani for power and influence, in the way his father did in the 1990s. During this period, the senior Sadr attacked Sistani and the power and privilege of what he called the “elitist” religious establishment (or marja’iyya), a disconnect that also shaped the Sadrist movement’s relations with the exiled Shiite opposition that now dominates the Iraqi government.
Al-Sadr has not yet acquired the religious and scholarly credentials that could allow him to compete with Sistani (the leading Grand Ayatollah) but he may not need to once Sistani passes. Traditionally, succession has taken anything from months to years and is shaped by a collective decisionmaking process that involves the most senior of members within the Najafi clerical establishment, in addition to the input and influence of Sistani’s own network of international representatives and institutions.
However, after Sistani, there may no longer be a predominant and preeminent wielder of religious authority. The political and clerical environment is today far more atomized than it once was. Weakened institutions and the multiple, rival centers of power that have emerged within the Shiite community over the past decade could have a far-reaching impact on the politics of authority in Najaf. For Sadr, that could provide an opportunity to fill the gap that Sistani’s passing will likely bring, while also challenging Iran-aligned groups within Najaf and elsewhere to ensure Najaf’s historical resistance to the wilayati-faqih doctrine that underpins Iran’s system of Islamic rule.
For now, Sadr’s current assertiveness should be seen as a reaction to the ascendancy of his rivals and the coming elections in Iraq, where the competition for power has been intensified by the emergence of battle-hardened, popular militia groups with influential sponsors in Baghdad and the region. Sadr’s recent trips to the Gulf could be part of a long-term strategy that aims to diversify the movement’s alignments in the region, but also domestically in Iraq where it may seek to attract votes and supporters beyond its usual support base. While this may be some time away, given the movement’s past, Sadr will emerge from these engagements as an ambitious, proactive player that could give the political system in Iraq with a much-needed shake-up.
In the long run, Sadr and his organization are ill-equipped to engage in the business of governance; they lack the capacity to translate mobilization into public policy and ultimately are part of the problems that plague Iraq. Through the sheer pressure of mobilizing the masses, the Sadrist movement could, nevertheless, engineer the space that allows for a culture of accountability to emerge, which Iraq’s reformist actors could then capitalize on, with the necessary support from the region and the international community.
Indeed, Sadr will have to muster the necessary support from Iraq’s reformists, including a civil society that has played an important role in galvanizing people onto the streets. It also requires working with Western-aligned actors like Prime Minister Abadi, who in response to Sadrist protests has attacked Sadr and challenged his reform rhetoric on the basis that his own cronies and supporters are responsible for corruption and instability. This will be crucial to ensure the Sadrists’ demands are not dismissed as disingenuous and a power-grab by the cleric, while also preventing another intra-Shiite conflict.
Could and should the United States engage the Sadrists in a similar fashion to its Gulf allies? That moment should be some way away: Right now, it would only embolden America’s enemies in Iraq and the region and would be strongly rejected by the Sadrists. However, while the Sadrist movement has a violent history with the United States it is, nevertheless, receptive to engaging with others in the West. The Sadrists have the potential to be a counterweight to Iran-aligned actors, but lack strategic nous and good governance capabilities. More broadly, at some point the United States and the international community will have to make some hard decisions about a group that could be edging closer toward accepting international norms and basic human rights and that could be leveraged to resist malevolent actors attempting to shape the future of Iraq and the region.

This is the Antichrist’s New Iraq (Daniel 8:8)

Image result for moqtada al sadrANALYSIS: Is this the beginning of a new era for Iraq without Iran?

By Heshmat Alavi
The military phase of the fight against ISIS is winding down after the liberation of Mosul, and the battle for the nearby town of Tal Afar is predicted to end soon. This has provided an opportunity for Iraq to begin distancing itself from the influence gained by Iran following the disastrous 2003 war, and returning to its true Arabic heritage.
Iraq was known as a melting pot where Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens lived alongside and in mixed societies for centuries. Prior to Iran gaining its disastrous sway across Mesopotamia, this was a land where the majority of Shiites lived and prospered with their Sunni, Christian, Yazidi and all other religious minority brothers.
Has not the time arrived for Iraq to regain its true position as part of the Arab world, and rid its soil of the meddling of Iran’s clerics?

Long-awaited developments

Iraqi officials have embarked on a new campaign of visiting Saudi Arabia and other Arab Sunni states, signaling long-welcomed changes. The influential Sadrist leader Muqtada was seen in the final days of July meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
Only days later Sadr paid a visit to the United Arab Emirates, another critic of Iran’s policies, where he was welcomed as an Iraqi leader by a slate of leading politicians and clerics.
Sadr’s visit rendered a variety of measures by Riyadh, including launching a Saudi Consulate in Sadr’s hometown of Najaf, one of the two holiest Shiite cities in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, known as Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, his distance from Tehran’s viewpoints and calling for Iraq to practice openness in establishing relations, did not block such a proposition.
Iran’s support for the Shiite proxy militias, through arms, logistics and finances, parallel to advisors dispatched by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Lebanese Hezbollah, have resulted in the humanitarian catastrophe Yemen finds itself today.
Sadr is also planning a visit to Egypt, adding to the list of senior Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, oil and transportation who are set to visit Saudi Arabia. Despite investing in Iraq for the past 14 years, Iran has been deprived of visits of such high stature.

No future

Iran’s proxies, while taking the credit for much of the fight against ISIS on the ground, have been accused of law violations and refusing to obey the state of Iraq. Iraqi authorities affiliated to Iran have a very poor report card of being involved in corruption and sacrificing Iraqi national interest in Tehran’s favor.
This became a major issue during the second term of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who some have even described as Iran’s “puppet.” Maliki is known to have close relations with Tehran and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.
To make matters even worse, the recent departure of Majid al-Nasrawi, governor of the oil-rich city of Basra located at the southern tip of Iraq, has recently left for Iran. His departure followed being accused of numerous corruption offences by a government transparency committee. Choosing Iran as a destination has left further impression of him fleeing to a safe haven, and Tehran having a hand in Iraqi corruption.

Rebuilding cities

As Sadr and other Iraqi officials continue their meetings with senior Arab officials of the region, there are also major talks under way between Baghdad and Riyadh to establish a new alliance that would provide Saudi Arabia a leading role in rebuilding war-torn cities across Iraq.
On August 14th the Cabinet of Saudi Arabia announced a coordination committee to spearhead a variety of health care and humanitarian projects, including building hospitals in Baghdad and Basra, and providing fellowships to Iraqi students in Saudi universities. Opening border crossings and establishing free trade areas between the two countries is also on the agenda.
Riyadh should lead the Arab world in tipping the balance of power against Tehran’s interests in Iraq. The truth is Iran has not carried out any major economic project in Iraq from 2003 onward, due to the fact that the mullahs do not seek the prosperity of their western neighbor.
Saudi Arabia and the Arab world should provide the support Iraq needs after suffering from Iran’s menacing influence that has brought nothing but death and destruction. Evicting Iran from Iraq must come parallel to efforts of ending its presence in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
The main obstacle before the Arab world in establishing a coalition against Iran’s clerics is this regime’s meddling and the IRGC presence across the region. With Iran evicted from Iraq, the void should be filled by economic support by the Arab world for Iraq.
And with the US Congress adopting a bill against the IRGC, Riyadh must take the lead to have all IRGC members, proxies and Iran-related elements expelled from the region. Only such a policy will allow the Middle East to one day experience tranquility and peaceful coexistence

Antichrist is Unifying the People (Revelation 13)


Erbil delegation to visit Najaf for meeting with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
Rudaw
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Kurdistan Region’s delegation tasked with holding official talks on the independence referendum is scheduled to meet with influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf, some 170 kilometers south of Baghdad.
Sadr called on Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in July to “postpone” and eventually “cancel” the Kurdistan referendum on independence planned for September 25.
“Iraq is one and is for all,” Sadr said in a written statement at the time.
The visiting delegation is expected to return to Baghdad on Sunday to resume what has been described as “important” and “decisive” talks with the ruling Shiite National Alliance which also includes Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Dawa party.
Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, also a former PM, is the head of the Dawa Party.
Sadr’s Movement has 34 seats in the Iraqi parliament. It is a member of the Shiite National Alliance but has suspended its membership due to political differences with other members of the Alliance, in particular Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.
Sadr was recently visited the United Arab Emirates, after a similar visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MoB as he is known, a staunch opponent of Iranian influence in Iraq and the region.
The cleric Sadr is behind the weekly protests against the Iraqi government as well as the Kurdish-headed Iraqi election commission. His angry supporters even stormed the Iraqi parliament building in April, the first such incident to occur since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The delegation visited Baghdad on Monday and has since met with many Iraqi officials, including PM Abadi, VP Maliki, Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri, and the Shiite National Alliance. The Iraqi officials have said that any step taken by the Kurdistan Region including the referendum should have constitutional backing, with Maliki suggesting that the constitution may have to be amended in order to allow the vote.
They also met with more than a dozen embassies in the Iraqi capital including those from the United States, Iran, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Russia.
Baghdad has called the referendum unconstitutional and unilateral, and said it will not recognize the result. The Kurdistan Region says Iraq pushed Erbil into calling for the referendum by violating at least 50 articles of the Iraqi constitution, including Article 140 that concerns disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, and the budget-share which was cut in early-2014.
The visiting Kurdistani negotiating team maintains that they are sticking to holding the referendum on its stated time in September.
However, a Kurdish source with knowledge of the negotiations and who asked not to be named, told Rudaw that there is “a small chance” that the Kurdistan Region would agree to postpone the referendum until after the Iraqi elections if Baghdad guarantees to give the go-ahead for the referendum at a later date.
The guarantee should come “in writing” and be observed by the United Nations and the United States, the source explained.
The source said the delegation showed a softer line since the Iraqi ruling Shiite National Alliance expressed their willingness to solve all outstanding issues that pushed Erbil to call the referendum.

Antichrist Has Unified the Islamic Horns (Revelation 13)


Saudi, Iraqi leaders ‘draw closer’ after Sadr meeting
Al Jazeera
The motivation for Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shia Muslim scholar, to meet the Saudi crown prince last month was an attempt to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq, seek a leadership role and tone down sectarianism between the two countries, analysts say.
Sadr, who is openly hostile to the United States, was hosted on July 30 by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The reason behind the gathering in Jeddah centred on a shared interest in countering Iranian influence in Iraq, Baghdad-based analyst Ahmed Younis said.
Saudi-Iran row: Iraq offers to mediate
Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a bold shift of his policy to deliver a message to regional, influential Sunni states that not all Shia groups carry the label ‘Made in Iran’.”
For Sadr, who has a large following among the poor in Baghdad and southern Iraqi cities, it was part of efforts to bolster his Arab and nationalist image ahead of elections where he faces Shia rivals close to Iran.
“This is both a tactical and strategic move by Sadr. He wants to play the Saudis off against the Iranians, shake down both sides for money and diplomatic cover,” said Ali Khedery, who was a special assistant to five US ambassadors in Iraq.
Ultimately, Sadr seeks a leadership role in Iraq that would allow him to shape events without becoming embroiled in daily administration, which could erode his popularity, diplomats and analysts say.
Days after the Jeddah meeting, Sadr met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who has also taken an assertive line against Iran, the dominant foreign power in Iraq since the 2003 US invasion ended Sunni minority rule.
Iran has since increased its regional influence, with its forces and allied fighters spearheading the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levane (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and holding sway in Baghdad.
For Saudi Arabia, less Iranian influence in Iraq would be a big win in a rivalry that underpins conflict across the Middle East.
“There are plans to secure peace and reject sectarianism in the region,” Sadr told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper last week, saying that it was “necessary to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold”.
When asked what Saudi Arabia hoped to achieve with Sadr’s recent visit to the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi official at the Saudi embassy in Washington said: “Saudi Arabia hopes to encourage Iraqis to work together to build a strong resilient and independent state. With that in mind, it will reach out to any party who could contribute to achieving that goal”.
Limited Influence
A politician close to Sadr said the Jeddah meeting was aimed at building confidence and toning down sectarian rhetoric between the two countries.
The rapprochement is “a careful testing of the waters with the Abadi government and some of the Shia centres of influence like Sadr and the interior minister,” said Ali Shihabi, executive director of the Washington-based Arabia Foundation.
Another sign of rapprochement is an agreement to increase direct flights to a daily basis.
Iraqi Airways hopes to reopen offices in Saudi airports to help Iraqis travel to the kingdom, especially for pilgrimages, Iraq’s transport ministry said.
As OPEC producers, the two countries cooperated in November to support oil prices. Their energy ministers discussed bilateral cooperation and investment last week.
Iranian reaction to the meetings has however been minimal.
“Iraqi personalities and officials do not need our permission to travel outside of Iraq or to report to us,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said last week, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

The Realpolitik of the Antichrist (Revelation 13)


Iraqi Shiite cleric’s Saudi, UAE trips show Gulf realpolitik
Brunswick News
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, notorious for his followers’ deadly attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq over a decade ago and thought at times to have ties to Iran, has two new stamps in his passport — from the two fiercest Sunni critics of Tehran in the Gulf.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s trips to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates come as the two nations want to limit Iran’s influence in the wider Middle East, especially with Iranian-backed Shiite militias leading the fight against the Islamic State group on Iraqi battlefields.
Meanwhile, the chameleonic cleric hopes to cement his own standing ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections next year, part of his makeover from a militia warlord whose fighters battled American forces to an Iraqi nationalist who can fill Baghdad’s streets with his protesting followers.
How far any possible alliance between al-Sadr and the Gulf Arab countries could go remains to be seen, though photos of the black-turbaned Shiite cleric meeting with Sunni rulers already has stirred speculation in Iran.
“Why has Muqtada al-Sadr sold himself to the Al Saud?” the hard-line Iranian newspaper Keyhan bluntly asked after his visit, referring to Saudi Arabia’s royal family. The paper also warned that if al-Sadr continued on this path, “his popularity will fall and he will become an isolated person.”
Such harsh criticism from Iran would have been unthinkable in the years immediately following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
While Sunni Muslims represent the world’s principal branch of Islam, Shiites are the majority in Iraq. Neighboring Iran has had a government overseen by Shiite clerics since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government massacred Shiites after the 1991 Gulf War and continued imprisoning, torturing and executing others up to his overthrow.
Al-Sadr, the son of a prominent Shiite cleric assassinated in a 1999 attack believed to be organized by Saddam, quickly organized Shiite dispossessed under Saddam against the American occupation.
“The little serpent has left and the great serpent has come,” al-Sadr told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program in 2003.
Saddam loyalists and Shiite extremists alike would soon fight an insurgency against the American forces. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia fought American forces throughout much of 2004 in Baghdad and other cities.
Al-Sadr’s forces are believed to have later taken part in the sectarian killings between Shiites and Sunnis that plagued Iraq for several years after the bombing of one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. Al-Sadr left for Qom, a holy Shiite city in Iran, for religious studies around the time that his forces accepted a cease-fire in the 2008 battle of Basra, in southern Iraq.
Since that time much has changed.
Al-Sadr’s followers have taken part in Iraqi military offensives against the Islamic State group in Tikrit and other cities. He has organized rallies against government corruption, including breaching the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, the highly secure area housing government offices and many foreign embassies.
On July 30, al-Sadr traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the next in line to the throne. The state-run Saudi Press Agency published a photograph of King Salman’s son smiling next to the cleric, only saying the two “reviewed the Saudi-Iraqi relations and a number of issues of mutual interest.”
In the UAE, al-Sadr met on Sunday with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan, Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, and other officials.
“Experience has taught us to always call for what brings Arabs and Muslims together, and to reject the advocates of division,” Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement carried on the state-run WAM news agency.
Anwar Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, tweeted after the meeting that it was part of an effort to “build bridges” between the Gulf Arab nations and Iraq.
“Our ambition is to see a prosperous, stable Arab Iraq,” Gargash wrote. “The challenge is great and the prize is bigger.”
Using “Arab” to describe Iraq is no accident for the UAE, which opposed the 2003 American invasion. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia want to limit Shiite-ruled Iran’s power in Iraq.
“There are serious questions about how to help encourage Iraqi stability and minimize Iranian influence in the country,” said Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a former U.S. intelligence official who now is a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Building ties with someone like al-Sadr is part of the Saudis’ and Emiratis’ answer to this.”
One of the biggest question marks ahead for Iraq is what happens after the war against the Islamic State group.
Shiite militias advised by members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard have proved to be among the most effective ground forces in the fight against IS. Disarming or incorporating the groups into existing security forces likely would be a major challenge for the national government.
Al-Sadr, already a respected Shiite cleric with a massive base of followers, demanded in March that Shiite militias disband, saying only Iraqi national forces should hold territory in the country. Though many among the militias disagree, saying they have proven their credentials in battle against IS, al-Sadr’s stand could provide Baghdad with the cover it needs to do so.
“This would be, of course, music to the Gulf countries’ ears,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.
For al-Sadr, whose loyalists represent one of the biggest blocs in Iraq’s parliament, his foreign trips burnish his credentials as an Iraqi leader. However, it remains unclear what he wants — and whether any tilt toward the Sunni Gulf countries truly would represent a total break with Iran for the Iraqi nationalist.
“It shows he has options,” Haddad said.
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Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.
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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz .