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.
Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.
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Antichrist Meets with the Sunnis (Revelation 13)

UAE pushes for better ties with cleric Sadr amid efforts to contain Iran
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates signaled its desire to strengthen ties with Iraq during weekend talks with influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as part of efforts by Sunni nations of the Middle East to halt Iran’s growing regional influence.
Sadr met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of the UAE armed forces on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, according to a senior aide of the cleric.
Sadr also discussed ways of improving understanding between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam, at a meeting on Monday with a prominent Sunni cleric in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is among Sunni nations which feel threatened by Iran’s increased power in the region, often projected through allied Shi’ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon.
“The two sides emphasized the importance to act in true Islamic spirit and reject violence and extremist thought,” Sadr’s office in Baghdad said in a statement on his website on Monday, reporting on his meeting with Emirati cleric Ahmed al-Kubaisi.
Closer ties with Sadr, who commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq, would help Sunni states loosen Tehran’s grip over Iraq’s Shi’ite community and contain its influence.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing the major gas-exporting Gulf state of financing terrorism, meddling in the affairs of Arab countries and cozying up to their arch-rival Iran.
Sadr is one of few Iraqi Shi’ite leaders to keep some distance from Iran. In April, he became the first Iraqi Shi’ite leader to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, marking his difference with Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias backing the Syrian government.
“Experience has taught us to always call for what brings Arabs and Muslims together, and to reject the advocates of division,” the Abu Dhabi crown prince told Sadr, according to report on the Emirati state-run news agency WAM.
The Iraqi cleric’s trip to Abu Dhabi comes two weeks after a visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman..
Sadr’s office said his meeting with Mohammed bin Salman at the end of July resulted in an agreement to study possible investments in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq.
The Saudis will consider the possibility of opening a consulate in Iraq’s holy Shi’ite city of Najaf, it said.
Sadr also announced a Saudi decision to donate $10 million to help Iraqis displaced by the war on Islamic State in Iraq, to be paid to the Iraqi government.
Baghdad and Riyadh had announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties, as part of an attempt to heal troubled relations between the Arab neighbors.
Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad in 2015 following a 25-year break, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a rare visit to Baghdad in February.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Richard Balmforth

The Sunni Horn is Destroyed (Daniel 8)

Khamenei’s representative says Islamic state’s Baghdadi ‘definitely dead’: IRNA
A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has made what would be his first public appearance at a mosque in the centre of Iraq’s second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet on July 5, 2014, in this still image taken from video. REUTERS/Social Meda Website via Reuters TV
Iran’s state news agency quoted a representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday as saying Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was “definitely dead”.
“Terrorist Baghdadi is definitely dead,” IRNA quoted cleric Ali Shirazi, representative to the Quds Force, as saying, without elaborating. IRNA later updated the news item, omitting the quote on Baghdadi’s death.
The Quds Force is in charge of operations outside Iran’s borders by the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iranian Foreign Ministry officials were not available to comment on the report of Baghdadi’s death.
The secretive Islamic State leader has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he declared a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, after his fighters seized large areas of northern Iraq.
Russia said on June 17 its forces might have killed Baghdadi in an air strike in Syria. Washington said on Thursday it had no information to corroborate such reports. Iraqi officials have also been skeptical in recent weeks.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Andrew Roche)

The Sunni and Shia Horns

The head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, one of the architects of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, has warned the US to stop upsetting the regional balance of power by siding with Saudi Arabia.
Writing in the Guardian, Ali Akbar Salehi said “lavish arms purchases” by regional actors – a reference to the Saudi purchase of $100bn of US arms during Donald Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh – would be seen as provocative in Tehran and that it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to remain “indifferent”.

Salehi, an MIT graduate scientist who has also served as foreign minister, was the second most senior Iranian negotiator, dealing with technical aspects, during nearly two years of talks between Tehran and six of the world’s major powers that led to the final nuclear accord in Vienna in July 2015.
Although Trump has promised to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran”, he has not so far taken any concrete steps to scrap it. Last month, two days before Iran’s presidential election, his administration announced that it was continuing to waive nuclear-related sanctions under the agreement despite Washington toughening up its overall Iran policy.
Salehi said it was possible to rescue the deal’s engagement if it was met with reciprocal gestures. “Often following hard-won engagement, some western nations, whether distracted by short-sighted political motivations or the lucrative inducements of regional actors, walk away and allow the whole situation to return to the status quo ante,” wrote Salehi, who is also a vice-president of Iran.
Salehi warned of “chaotic behaviour” and “further tension and conflict” if the other side disregarded Iran’s security concerns, failed to adhere to its commitments and insisted on what he called alternative facts including ideas such as the “clash of civilisations”, “Sunni-Shia conflict”, “Persian-Arab enmity” and the “Arab-Israeli axis against Iran”.
His article comes at a time of simmering tensions in the Middle East, where relations between Tehran and Riyadh, which are on opposite sides of many regional conflicts such as the wars in Syria and Yemen, have deteriorated.
Trump’s first post-election foreign trip to Riyadh tilted the regional balance, and contributed in part to the diplomatic isolation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies, who have accused the tiny emirate of funding terrorists and appeasing Iran. Meanwhile, in Syria, Iran-backed militias and a coalition of forces led by Washington have collided a number of times in recent weeks while fighting Islamic State.
“Stoking Iranophobia” or failure to deliver on promises under the deal would jeopardise engagement, Salehi wrote. “We would all end up back at square one,” he cautioned. “Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment in the region, reaching a new state of equilibrium might simply be beyond reach for the foreseeable future.”
Salehi urged the outside world to take heed of the results of last month’s Iranian presidential election and the message Iranians sent, but he said “engagement is simply not a one-way street and we cannot go it alone”.

Iran Is Correct: We Created ISIS


Iran blames US for creating ISIS amid worsening Middle East tensions

The End of the Saudi Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Image result for sunni vs shiaSaudi rulers will perish: Khamenei
ANI | Tehran [Iran] May 28, 2017 03:10 PM IST
On the occasion of the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said that “Saudi rulers are going to perish”.
He further added that the Saudi rulers “are too harsh on Muslims, yet kind to the disbelievers. They are giving special handouts to the US. To whom does all this wealth belong? This is the Saudi people’s wealth, which they give away to disbelievers and their people’s enemies.”
“Among the Muslim world, a group of worthless, inept and villainous people are ruling over a community of the Muslim nation, namely the Saudi government. The fools actually think they can gain the friendship of Islam’s enemies by providing them with money and assistance. There is no friendship there; as they say themselves, they are ‘milking them’ like cattle. They oppress their own people in this manner, and oppress the people of Yemen and Bahrain in other ways. But they are going to perish.”IRNA news agency quoted Iran’s supreme leader as saying.
After re-elected for a second term, Iran’s reformist president, Hassan Rouhani asserted that unity and consensus is the solution against the terrorism.
The era of interfering in other countries’ affairs, waging wars and funding terrorism is over and fighting terrorism is the only way ahead, he added.
Iran’s leader also reminded his audience on the experience of the Iranian nation’s victory over the eight-year imposed war; adding that the Iranian nation triumphed during the eight-year war as the ‘underdog.’
Referring to the afflictions of the Islamic world and disputes imposed on the Muslim states, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on leaders of the Islamic world to undertake further responsibility regarding unity of the Islamic nations.

Iraq Will Soon Be Handed Over To The Antichrist (Revelation 13)

Zvi Bar’el
25.02.2017 | 01:59
The battle for western Mosul is intended not only to liberate the city from the clutches of the Islamic State group, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared recently. It is also the battle that could be the turning point in ISIS’ status in Iraq and the entire region.
When Mosul is completely freed, after 2.5 years of ISIS control, the organization will have to make a strategic decision, perhaps the most important in its brief history: Should it regroup in the areas it controls in northeastern Syria? Or should it start scattering its forces into other Arab countries and revert to Al-Qaida’s modus operandi – a method that relies on a structure of branches and cells, and drops the strategy of occupying territories?
According to the most recent estimates in Iraq, it seems that ISIS forces in Mosul number no more than 2,500 fighters (compared with earlier estimates that ranged from 5,000 to 7,000). The earlier estimates may have been erroneous due to intelligence difficulties. But it is more reasonable to assume that Islamic State has already thinned out its forces and transferred some to Syria.
At the same time, many fighters – mostly Iraqis – have dropped out of the organization; they have simply taken off their uniforms, hidden their weapons and become ordinary citizens.
Despite the lower ISIS numbers, the expectation is that the war in western Mosul will last for many weeks, if not months.
This is a difficult urban arena: Some 750,000 civilians live in crowded conditions, in narrow lanes amid dozens of neighborhoods. These make it difficult to wage an air or artillery war, and hamper the ability of armored vehicles to maneuver.
The Iraqi strategy, coordinated with the U.S. Army, is built on sending in many infantry soldiers and pushing ISIS into neighborhoods where it is easier to attack it from the air.
If the usual desired ratio between attacking and attacked forces is 5:1, in Mosul the Iraqi army is aiming for a ratio of 20:1. So, even if the number of Islamic State fighters stands at 2,000, the Iraqi force could number between 40,000 and 50,000 soldiers.
The Iraqi army, which is working together with local militias, does not have any great difficulty in achieving this numerical advantage, and the air cover at its disposal will be nearly unlimited. However, what remains to be seen is the nature of the fight ISIS will put up.
In eastern Mosul – which was liberated last month – the level of resistance was relatively muted. Even so, it still took three months of fighting to liberate that part of the city. From reports on civilian websites, it appears that the organization is well prepped for the second part of the battle: It has reportedly set up high concrete roadblocks; laid mines in hundreds of locations; placed sniper positions along essential routes; and stockpiled shoulder–launched anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft machine guns.
The major concern is about the use of civilians as human shields, which could lead to an unprecedented number of dead. However, there is also the possibility that ISIS will not fight to the last bullet, and will instead withdraw its forces in early stages of the fighting.
To allow for this possibility, the Iraqi army has started using intensive psychological warfare, including radio and television broadcasts, distributing photos of slain ISIS fighters lying in the streets, and disseminating information about the magnitude of the deployment expected to enter the city.
In the meantime, it is not clear which of the options the Islamic State leadership will choose.
The actual war inside the city has yet to begin. However, on its northern and southern outskirts, the Iraqi army has successfully taken some important strategic positions. According to statements by high-ranking Iraqi commanders, the army is expected to enter the city within a week.
But as the end of the military campaign draws nearer, concerns are increasing about happens the day afterward.
The inhabitants of the western part of the city are extremely frightened by events in the eastern part, in which there were many cases of soldiers abusing civilians. There are also reports of accounts being settled with people suspected of having collaborated with Islamic State. Many civilians are trying to flee from western Mosul, but are afraid to return to the eastern part because of unbridled rampaging by militia members and even soldiers from elite units.
In Sadr’s 29-point plan, he stresses the need to preserve the unity of the state; to bring about a national reconciliation between all religious and ethnic groups; and make law and order subject to the authority of the state, not local militias. He also demands that all foreign forces leave after the war ends – not only the Americans, but also the Iranians and others. He also calls for establishing international bodies to supervise the rehabilitation of the city and raise the tremendous amounts of money needed for this.
This fascinating document even proposes putting together delegations of heads of tribes, which will move from southern Iraq to Mosul in order to bring the different groups closer together. Sadr is demanding that the Shi’ite militias (which operate under the auspices of Iran) are absorbed into the regular Iraqi army, in order to prevent a situation in which there are a number of different armies operating in the region.
If the retaking of Mosul will, to a large extent, determine the fate of Islamic State, the way the city operates after the war will determine Iraq’s political future. Thus far, apart from Sadr’s document, no orderly plan has been formulated that clarifies the arrangements for rehabilitation, sources of funding and, above all, the division of control within the city.
In comparison to Syria, where at least one world power – Russia – is able to dictate at least the structure of government, dealing with these questions in Iraq will fall exclusively on the shoulders of the government. And although it is showing unity and determination in the war against ISIS, it has yet to succeed in enlisting the trust of the Sunnis.

The Antichrist Will Unify The Nations (Revelation 13)

Muqtada al-Sadr: The unlikely answer to Iraq’s sectarian problem

If Iraq is to become a stable state then it must overcome sectarianism – but few of the old guard appear to have learnt this lesson
The cleric has been dubbed a “firebrand” in countless newspaper columns, and has held an almost constant presence in the Iraqi political discourse since the fall of the Baath regime in 2003.
Saraya al-Salamthe militias he heads, formerly known as the Mahdi army, were accused of running sectarian death squads and elements from within helped plunge the country into a vicious civil war.
They also boldly took on the forces of the US-led coalition in Sadr city. But now, with half of Mosul liberated and the end of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq in sight, Sadr appears to be emerging as a voice of reason and coexistence.
In an interview last week with Turkish TV station TRT, Sadr advocated outreach to those who had followed IS in Mosul, and to the disaffected Sunnis across Iraq.
He said: “I’m holding up a light looking for the moderates because they are scared to show up. There are still moderates among the people but they are scared, but we have to give them a chance to show up and give their ideas.”

Sunni outreach

This is not the first time Sadr has advocated cross-sectarian action. In 2013 he expressed solidarity with Sunni protests in Anbar province against the Shia-led government, labelling the demonstration’s “Iraq’s Arab Spring”. A year later, in 2014, his parliamentary bloc banded together with Sunnis as part of an effort to oust prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Sadr also used the interview to warn against the Shia militias which currently number upwards of 100,000 in Iraq and despite being instrumental in the fight against Islamic State, have the potential to act as spoilers in post-IS Iraq.
Muqtada al-Sadr at joint Sunni-Shia Friday prayers in Baghdad in January 2013 (AFP) 
He warned that “there are some governmental, civil and political fears that the armed groups might take over. Whether they are good or bad ones, their policies will be based on weapons.” And he urged them to stay out of fights abroad, such as Syria and even Yemen, stating that these interventions had already bought Iraq “many troubles”.
Perhaps his most important development has been as a counter to beleaguered Al-Maliki, who has been scheming a return to power in recent months.
In his TRT interview, he described Maliki’s mindset as “militant” and suggested he was consistently spoiling for his next fight, saying: “If Mosul was stable, would Maliki sit and do nothing? No, he will come up with another battle. Car bombings, explosions something else, the new ISIS – a new enemy.”

Nationalism over the establishment

There is much personal animosity between Maliki and Sadr – but the latter’s public rebukes often stem as much from his staunch nationalism as they do any personal dislike. Maliki, and the militias he is closely connected to – notably the Badr organisation, are the embodiment of Iranian influence in Iraq.
If Iraq is to become a stable and prosperous state after the defeat of IS, then it is a given that sectarianism must be overcome. But few of the country’s “old guard” appear to have learnt this lesson after several decades of war and strife.
Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr at a protest calling for government reforms in Baghdad in September 2016 (AFP) 
He is hoping new faces will emerge from every part of the country to lead it away from the corrupt political establishment – something that is believed to cost the treasury as much as $4bn a year.
But an important question remains: is this merely rhetoric or a genuine attempt at outreach?
Power players in Iraq have a distinguished history of saying what needs to be said to win votes in Iraq.
Michael Knights, a Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes Sadr’s track record demonstrates its authenticity. He suggests “it fits into a long-term pattern that reaches back to 2004 in Fallujah when his men fought alongside the Sunnis.”
‘Muqtada is not the establishment, but he is an ally of the Shia political and religious mainstream for now, against Maliki’
– Michael Knights, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Knights also believes that much of the sectarian violence the Mahdi army was involved in, was orchestrated by Iranian-backed elements of the militias such as Qais Khazali who now leads the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia”. He adds: “Muqtada is a nationalist, unlike Badr, Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.”
Recent days have seen Sadr make his trademark fiery statements calling for a ban on Americans in Iraq following Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and for a shutdown of the US embassy in Baghdad.
These will likely continue, if for no other reason than to shore up his base in the face of growing Iranian influence in Iraq.
– Gareth Browne is a journalist with an interest in current affairs, politics and the Middle East. His work has been featured in VICE, The Daily Mirror and Gulf News. @brownegareth
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Iraqi Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in the holy Shia city of Najaf on 30 April 2016(AFP)

The Antichrist Unifies Iraq

The fight for Mosul is far from finished, but Iraqi politicians are already well into planning what will come next for their country. Though organizational and funding challenges could push Iraq’s scheduled 2017 parliamentary elections off into the next year, the country’s political parties have begun to assemble their blocs. The incipient coalition-building efforts have been unusually peaceable, unwittingly keeping with the loose framework that Ammar al-Hakim, head of Iraq’s comprehensive Shiite coalition, the National Alliance bloc, laid out in October. Known as the “historic settlement,” the plan provides a loose framework to reconcile Iraq’s various religious sects and political factions once the country is rid of the Islamic State, emphasizing compromise and renouncing violence. However optimistic the historic settlement may seem, Iraq’s competing parties are apparently heeding it, and they have so far limited themselves to verbal battles rather than enlisting the help of militias. Still, recent conflicts among Shiite and Kurdish political parties hint at the rivalries that will come to light as election season approaches.
Iraq has much at stake in the next round of legislative elections, regardless of when it takes place. For one thing, the Iraqi people, weary after years of violence and upheaval, have pinned their hopes on the next vote to help usher in a new era for the country. For another, the elections will be a measure of Iraq’s progress in restoring order after the bitter battle against the Islamic State. Legislative elections have long functioned as an indicator of the country’s stability. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, Shiites and minority communities, including Kurds, were sidelined from the electoral process, which was neither free nor fair. After Saddam’s administration fell in 2003, turnout among the Sunni population dropped — to just 2 percent in Anbar province during the 2005 vote — as competing militias and al Qaeda attacked Sunni voters in an effort to discredit the elections. Though conditions improved in the 2010 and 2014 elections, neither vote was free of sectarian violence. Facing the momentous task of rebuilding the war-torn country, Iraq’s government knows that the success of the next elections will be essential to prove its stability to the international community. To that end, al-Hakim has taken his pacific plan on a tour of the Middle East to try to convince Iraq’s regional allies of the country’s future prospects and win financial support for the costly reconstruction process ahead.
The Shifting National Alliance
But already, Iraqi parties’ differences are starting to show. Though the National Alliance is still Iraq’s main Shiite coalition, its constituent parties are competing for dominance within the bloc. Vice President Nouri al-Maliki recently discovered that his party, State of Law, is losing ground in areas where it used to command the most power. During a recent tour of Maysan, Basra and Dhi Qar provinces in southern Iraq, the former prime minister and founder of State of Law faced angry protesters, evidence of al-Maliki’s waning influence in the area. In the 2014 elections, by contrast, State of Law handily won in these provinces, securing between 32 and 40 percent of the vote in each location. Al-Maliki’s hostile reception is none too surprising, even in his former electoral strongholds. After all, he is best known today for presiding over Iraq during the Islamic State’s incursion into the country; before that, many Iraqis associated him with corruption and empowering Shiites at the expense of the country’s minority populations.
Nevertheless, he is still a powerful figure in Iraq’s political system, and his influence is far-reaching. Al-Maliki used his clout in the judicial system to regain his position as vice president after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s anti-corruption campaigns swept him from office in 2015. Along with State of Law, which still dominates Iraq’s 328-seat parliament with 92 seats, al-Maliki also heads the Reform Front party, albeit unofficially. Earlier in the year, that party spearheaded efforts to unseat prominent ministers from Iraq’s government.
For other Shiite parties in the bloc — especially those led by Muqtada al-Sadr — State of Law’s loss could be their gain. As al-Maliki’s reputation has suffered in recent years, al-Sadr, whose supporters booed the vice president during his trip to southern Iraq, has steadily amassed influence despite his controversial past. Although the Shiite parties stand to benefit from banding together to pass legislation, they will have a hard time uniting their respective constituent pools given the deep mistrust between them.
Deepening Divides in Iraqi Kurdistan
A similar factional rivalry threatens to limit Kurdish parties’ gains in the upcoming elections. Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is finding itself increasingly at odds with the autonomous region’s other political groups. Its main rival party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, for instance, has taken Baghdad’s side in a dispute over the Kurdistan Regional Government’s oil profit-sharing agreement with Iraq. In addition, a leader from the Gorran party recently criticized the KDP for its treatment of the peshmerga, provoking a backlash from the ruling party. As the rifts between the Kurdish parties widen, Arbil’s internal divisions are becoming more stark than its differences with Baghdad.
In the runup to Iraq’s next round of elections, rivalries will continue to emerge between the country’s political parties, and alliances will keep shifting. But political infighting is a dramatic departure from sectarian violence — and for the Iraqi people, a welcome one. The coalition-building process, along with the preparations for the legislative vote, will help determine whether Iraq will continue reconciling its differences politically or will fall back into its pattern of sectarian conflicts.

Antichrist Tries To Unify The Muslim Nations

Daily News Egypt
Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric, politician, and militia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr has asked Egypt and Saudi Arabia to protect holy places from extremists, in a statement issued on Saturday evening on the occasion of the prophet Muhammed’s birthday.
“We, in Iraq, provide heavy protection of holy places in various cities across the state. It is a great honour for us to carry out this mission,” he said, referring to holy sites in Najaf and Karbala cities.
In the statement on his Facebook page, he implored Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran to strive for Islamic unity—something that he personally supports and seeks.
Relations between Sunni and Shia Muslim-majority countries tend to be fraught with tensions, despite attempts, and sometimes empty words, by politicians to placate hostilities. Whichever sect is the minority in a country is often treated like second-class citizens.
One of the most renowned religious destinations for Shia Muslims in Egypt, which has a Sunni majority, is Al-Hussein Mosque. The state has restricted Shia residents from coming to this mosque as they please and has closed it on religious occasions affiliated to their sect, citing security concerns.
Al-Sadr called on the Egyptian government to protect this mosque, open it to visitors, and eliminate extremists from the area. He also reached out to Al-Azhar University with the idea of engaging in religious dialogue between scholars from various Islamic sects and branches.
The cleric’s statement carried clear significance to the ongoing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran—the latter is backing the Houthis in Yemen while Saudi is supporting the government in the bloody conflict.
He made a bold suggestion that, rather than fighting the Houthis, Saudi Arabia should send its forces in Yemen to launch war on Israel and liberate Al-Aqsa Mosque from Israeli occupation.
Al-Sadr then asked the Saudi government to protect the prophet’s grave in Medina from the “terrorist ideologies that are dominant in the country”, saying that these tendencies are “abnormal”. He offered his contribution and cooperation to protecting the gravesite.
In April 2013, during former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s reign, the ministries of foreign affairs and civil aviation set regulations restricting the activities of Iranian tourists in Egypt. They were limited to set touristic sites such as the ancient city of Luxor and Red Sea resort areas like Sharm El-Sheikh.
During this time the religious arm of the Al-Nour political party, the Salafi Call, warned of a “Shia tide” in Egypt and called for a ban on any contact with Shia Muslims.
Even after the ouster of Morsi, Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa refused to allow Shia Muslims to celebrate Ashura inside mosques, calling on authorities to implement this decision.