Antichrist’s men defy government, expand networks and pressure

Iraqi militias defy government, expand networks and pressure

Militias in Iraq are increasing their activities in response to the government’s efforts to rein them in.

Ali Mamouri

The social pressure on the outlawed militias within the PMU has been extensive since the eruption of the protests in Iraq in October 2019. The militias have since formed pressure groups to silence any critical voices against them.

Following the protests, the militias have started several groups on social networks such as Telegram and WhatsApp, recruiting supporters and promoting their agendas against the United States and its allies in Iraq, and also against the current government headed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as the militias view him as an American and his government as a pro-US agent.

Following the attack on the KDP headquarters, the Iraqi security forces arrested some of the attackers. However, Rab Allah has threatened Kadhimi with the burning of the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in Baghdad’s Mansour area if their people are not released. The intelligence service is headed by the prime minister directly.

Kadhimi is expected to release those arrested under the militias pressure, as happened following the counterterrorism raid on the Kataib Hezbollah base in southern Baghdad in June.

However, the Iraqi political forces and international community have voiced serious criticism. The Iraqi president, prime minister, parliament speaker, Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraqioun Movement leader Ammar al-Hakim and the Kurdistan Regional Government, among many other Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups and leaders, condemned the incident and called upon the government to take action against the militias and affiliated groups.

The United States and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq condemned the incident in separate statements, too.

Following the assassination in January of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani and his right-hand man in Iraq Abu Mahdi Muhandis, who had an extensive influence among the militias, the militias’ network in Iraq has been affected badly.

In order to repair the damage, it seems that Kataib Hezbollah is taking the lead among the militias, reorganizing them by forming several new groups and connecting them through a number of social networking platforms.

The new militias formed after the killing of Soleimani — such as Ashab al-Kahf and Osba al-Thaerin — are affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah, and could even be new names for the exact same group.

In addition, the social pressure groups affiliated with the militias all appear connected to Kataib Hezbollah.

At the same time as these latest developments, the assassinations and abductions of activists, journalists and others opposing the militias are continuing. Most recently, on Oct. 17, eight members of a Sunni family near Balad, in Salahuddin province to the north of Baghdad, were killed.

A high-ranking official in the province told Al-Monitor that Asaib Ahl al-Haq was responsible for the murders. “These people were abducted by Asaib Ahl al-Haq members in the early morning and their bodies were found in the area a few hours later,” the official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. A day prior, a shooting had taken place in the area aimed at an Asaib Ahl al-Haq patrol. So, it seems that the massacre is a retaliatory reaction. 

A day after the killings, on Oct. 18, Kadhimi visited the area promising to bring justice to the victims.

With the US elections approaching, it seems that the militias’ activities are increasing. Chaos in Iraq could provide a useful pressure tactic that Iran could use in any upcoming negotiations with the United States, which would certainly include Iran’s activities in the region and in Iraq in particular.

Ex-Official Remarks on Normalizing Ties with Israel Spurs the Antichrist

Ex-Official Remarks on Normalizing Ties with Israel Spurs Controversy in Iraq

Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi 

Iraq’s former deputy prime minister and well-known politician Bahaa al-Araji made contentious remarks that sparked widespread controversy over the chances of Iraq normalizing ties with Israel. 

Najaf, the center of Shiite political power in Iraq, would play a major role in the normalization of ties with Israel, Araji said. 

In an interview with a local television channel funded by Iran, Araji, who is also a former member of the Sadrist Movement, said that “Iraq is very prepared to normalize relations with Israel, and the conditions are well-suited.” 

“It is possible that the normalization decision will come from the Najaf governorate, not from the capital, Baghdad,” he said, referring to the Shiite religious authorities. 

Araji was one of the most prominent leaders of the Sadrist Movement, an Iraqi national movement led by Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. 

Despite Shiite authorities in Najaf not responding to Araji’s statements, Sadr spokesman Saleh Muhammad Al-Iraqi used his Facebook page to deliver a serious threat. 

“The enemy of Najaf … if he does not get disciplined, we will punish him,” al-Iraqi said in a post directed at Araji. 

Normalizing ties with Israel has long divided Iraqis into three main groups: supporters, oppositionists and those who do not consider the matter a pressing issue because of the geographical distance between Baghdad and Tel Aviv. 

The third group sees that Iraq suffers from division, corruption, violence and mismanagement and is not ready to address the question of normalizing ties with Tel Aviv. 

The Iraqi government, under Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has elected to ignore other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel. 

Asked about the UAE and Israel normalizing ties, Kadhimi told the Washington Post that it was a UAE decision and that Iraq must not interfere. 

Mithal al-Alusi , the leader of the Iraqi Ummah Party, on the other hand, outspokenly calls for pushing Iraq towards normalizing ties with Israel.

In 2004, after making a public visit to Israel, Alusi was expelled from the Iraqi National Congress. He was indicted by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq for “having contacts with enemy states.”

A year later, Alusi’s car was ambushed by armed assailants in the Hayy Al-Jamia neighborhood of Baghdad. His two sons Ayman, 29, and Jamal, 24, were killed in the attack, as well as one of his bodyguards.

Antichrist threatens an Iraqi politician who wants peace with Israel

Muqtada al-Sadr threatens an Iraqi politician who most likely issued a…

eg24.news2

The leader of the Sadrist movement in Iraq threatened, Muqtada al-SadrFormer Deputy Prime Minister and well-known Iraqi politician, Bahaa Al-Araji, after he spoke about the possibility of Iraq normalizing its relations with Israel, and that a decision of this kind might be issued from Najaf, the seat of the Shiite reference.

Al-Araji said in a television interview, yesterday, Wednesday, that “Iraq is very prepared to normalize relations with Israel, and the conditions are well-suited.”

He added that “it is possible that the normalization decision will come from the Najaf governorate, not from the capital, Baghdad,” referring to the Shiite religious authorities.

After that, Al-Sadr threatened Bahaa Al-Araji from a Facebook page, saying: “The noble enemy of Najaf … if he does not be disciplined, we will punish him.”

The threat appeared on the page “Saleh Muhammad Al-Iraqi”, which Al-Sadr had announced officially affiliated with him.

This Facebook page played a big role during the popular protests, as Al-Sadr ordered his followers to start demonstrations or withdraw from them.

The publication sparked a great deal of interaction through thousands of comments, in which some writers believed that “Al-Araji’s threat indicated the absence of law in the country,” while others accused Al-Araji of “corruption and deviation.”

Al-Araji is a former leader in the Muqtada al-Sadr movement, and he held several positions in the government, most notably the Deputy Prime Minister, in Haider al-Abadi’s government, 2014-2018.

These were the details of the news Muqtada al-Sadr threatens an Iraqi politician who most likely issued a… for this day. We hope that we have succeeded by giving you the full details and information. To follow all our news, you can subscribe to the alerts system or to one of our different systems to provide you with all that is new.

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Antichrist’s men announce conditional ceasefire against US troops

Iraqi militias announce conditional ceasefire against US troops

Damaged military vehicles in the aftermath of US air strikes at a militarised zone in the Jurf Al Sakhr area in Iraq’s Babylon province controlled by Kataib Hezbollah. AFP

Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq will stop launching rockets at US troops and personnel if the government presents a timetable for a full withdrawal of American troops, an official said on Sunday.

“The factions presented a conditional ceasefire,” Mohammed Mohi, spokesman for the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group, told Reuters.

“It includes all factions of the [anti-US] resistance, including those who have been targeting US forces.”

The militias did not give the government a deadline to implement the decision, Mr Mohi said.

But they said: “If America insists on staying and doesn’t respect the Parliament’s decision, then the factions will use all the weapons at their disposal.”

Attacks on US forces and diplomats with Katyusha rockets had been merely a “message that you’re not welcome in the country” and that worse attacks could follow, Mr Mohi said.

The US has maintained a troop presence in Iraq for 17 years, since almost 150,000 US troops were sent to remove dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

At its peak, the US had 170,000 troops in Iraq, Congressional Research Service figures show.

An image provided by the US Department of Defence shows target sites to be hit in air strikes in Iraq on March 13, 2020. US Department of Defence via AP

In 2011, president Barack Obama withdrew most US troops from the country, only to send thousands three years later to fight ISIS.

As of January this year, 5,000 soldiers remained.

US troops have faced several attacks in Iraq during the past year. It blamed them on Iran-backed militias.

Most recently, an explosion on Sunday was aimed at an international coalition convoy between the southern cities of Samawah and Diwaniyah, local news reports said.

No injuries or damage were reported.

Washington has reportedly warned Baghdad that it would close its embassy in the capital until the government reined in armed groups supported by Iran.

One of the challenges is the internal divisions within the militias and the Popular Mobilisation Units, an umbrella group of paramilitaries, said Renad Mansour, senior research fellow and Iraq expert for London’s Chatham House.

“There have been efforts behind the scenes to centralise these groups or at least the command structure, and that’s been one of the biggest challenges,” Mr Mansour told The National.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi and other politicians have faced pressure to stop attacks on US personnel, so the proposed ceasefire is most likely part of those efforts, he said.

For years, Iraq has been caught in a tug-of-war between its two main allies, Iran and the US – arch-rivals whose relations have crumbled since Washington pulled out of a nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran in 2018.

Tension between Tehran and Washington rose after a US strike killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis in Baghdad in January.

Since then, the Iraqi government has faced domestic pressure to have foreign troops to leave the country.

Parliament voted in January for the departure of forces, a bill that was followed by a slow withdrawal of US and other coalition troops.

The militia official said Parliament must implement the resolution on which it voted this year.

Populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who is followed by millions of Shiites in the country, proposed a joint committee with the government, Parliament and security forces to look at halting attacks on diplomats.

“Given the seriousness of the security situation that threatens the country’s present and future, we find it is an urgent interest to form a committee of security, military and parliamentary nature,” said Mr Al Sadr, who led the Mahdi army that fought foreign troops in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Updated: October 12, 2020 12:11 PM

‘A threat from within’: Iraq and the rise of the Antichrist’s men: Revelation 13

‘A threat from within’: Iraq and the rise of its militias

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Last modified on Thu 8 Oct 2020 14.34 EDT

The dust had barely settled on the fall of Iraq’s second city when the call came. It was June 2014 and Islamic State had just captured Mosul, the prize in a fight for control of a country already scarred by more than a decade of war.

Just four days after the city’s capture, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq, issued a fatwa urging Iraqis to volunteer in the fight against the militants. Tens of thousands of mostly young men from the poor Shia south and Baghdad suburbs flocked to recruiting centres, military camps and militia headquarters.

Iraqi men marching to a recruiting centre in west Baghdad in June 2014. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/The Guardian

One such gathering took place in a sprawling compound in eastern Baghdad, where a large crowd of young men packed into a lecture hall. Excited to volunteer for the fight against Isis, they came with plastic shopping bags stuffed with clothes and little else. Many of the prospective fighters wore brightly coloured bermuda shorts, their mood as carefree and as boisterous as if they were going on a picnic.

Some were wearing green bandanas with the logo of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, formed in 2006 by the military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and closely associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Iraqi men marching to a recruiting centre in west Baghdad, June 2014. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/The Guardian

The walls around them were lined with pictures of militiamen who fell in the civil war in neighbouring Syria. Muhandis would go on to become the key leader of the Shia militia umbrella organisation the Popular Mobilisation Forces, known as the Hashed al-Shaabi, or the Hashed.

In January this year he was killed in the same US drone strike that took out Iran’s top military commander, General Qassem Suleimani. By the time of his death the militias under his command, acting at the behest of Iran, were at the heart of the Iraqi establishment. In killing him, the US disrupted a fiendishly complicated set of power relations. It is on Iraqi soil, and not in Iran, that many fear the impact of the strike will be felt in the long term.

Shia militia commanders on the frontlines against Isis near Falluja, August 2015. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/The Guardian

“Previously, we chose only people who were committed to protecting the [Shia] sect and observed their religious commitments, who prayed and fasted, but now we are accepting anyone,” said the militia chief’s “recruiting officer” in 2014 . A tall, broad-shouldered man with a thin beard and short-cropped hair, he walked among the rows of enthusiastic young men, jotting down names on a yellow notepad.

Only a few weeks earlier he had been commanding a unit of fighters in Aleppo against Isis, signalling the ever-shifting pace of Iraq’s military and political landscape. “We fought the Americans, and we are fighting Daesh [Isis] in Syria,” he said. “Our experience will make them strong. We will give them the best training anyone can give here. Even army soldiers are joining us – they want to get rid of the corruption that caused the defeat of the army.”

Iraqi Shia recruits in a training centre in the east of Baghdad in August 2014. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/The Guardian

The young recruits were joined by veteran Shia fighters such as Abu Hashem, who fought against Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and 1990s under the command of Muhandis. The day Mosul fell, Muhandis called his veteran fighters to come to meet him.

“To be honest, after the fall of Mosul we didn’t go to war because of Sistani’s fatwa,” said Abu Hashem, a white-haired senior intelligence officer in the Hashed. Instead, he said, it was Muhandis who had spurred the older fighters into action. “We met him in his house in the Green Zone and he told us that the Iraqi state had fallen,” Abu Hashem said.

“There is no state,” Abu Hashem recalled Muhandis saying. “I am the state now.”

***

The extent of Muhandis’ influence over the various and bickering factions that comprised the Hashed is clear from accounts of how he marshalled fighters in the counter-campaign to drive Isis out of Iraq and how he was able to draw on Tehran’s resources to do so.

Iraqi Shia recruits in a training centre in the east of Baghdad in August 2014. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/The Guardian

After Abu Hashem and his comrades arrived ready to take up arms in that summer of 2014, Muhandis ordered them to head to the Taji military base north of Baghdad to set up a new force. Their first task was to protect the Shia shrines in Samara and stop the advance of Isis militants to Baghdad.

“When we arrived at the base, we found complete chaos,” Abu Hashem said. “Thousands of young volunteers had gathered there, and no one knew what to do with them.” They were joined by demoralised and broken soldiers, whose units had collapsed, and who had abandoned their armour and weapons in the retreat.

“Those of us who knew how to drive a tank took over abandoned army tanks and started forming new tank battalions and teaching the young volunteers. Others set up a radio and communications network. I had spent my life in intelligence, so I was assigned to run the security and the intelligence apparatus.”

Many of the veteran fighters were men in their 50s and 60s, but their younger relatives joined them too. “Each one brought two or three sons. A lot of the young had come with their older fathers or uncles,” Abu Hashem said.

When Muhandis arrived, the organisation was there for him on the ground. According to Abu Hashem and other commanders, Iranian flights soon started delivering weapons to the newly opened airport in Najaf.

“One of the ministers in the government at that time used to be head of logistics in the [Shia political party and military group] Badr Corps. He sat on the floor in a white dishdasha, picked up phones and arranged for shipments of pickup trucks, munitions and weapons, then distributed them among the different factions.”

With weapons, cars and men came Iranian advisers. They dispersed across the country in a wide geographic arch from Diyala in the east to the western border with Syria. Their voices could be heard on the military radio directing mortar fire in Falluja, installing thermal cameras in a small besieged village in the west of Mosul and accompanying the advance of an Iraqi special forces brigade in Tikrit.

Members of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, on the frontlines against Isis, in Diala province to the east of Baghdad, in July 2014. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/The Guardian

“The reality is, without the Iranians we wouldn’t be able to do anything,” Abu Hashem said. “If the Iranian advisers weren’t there, the battalions wouldn’t attack. Their presence gave the men confidence in the early days.

“Suleimani had a halo around his head, and he became the symbol that everyone was devoted to. And [Muhandis] was negotiating these multiple factions that were unruly and difficult to control. He was like a music conductor.”

***

The Hashed was never a single fighting force but a heterogenous umbrella for multiple militias and paramilitary units. Some were well organised, battle hardened and had a clear hierarchy; others consisted of a few dozen men hired by a local warlord or tribal sheikh.

The factions can be roughly divided into three categories. First there are the military wings of the parties that dominated Iraqi politics since 2003 and played a significant role during the civil war. The remnants of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, since renamed as the Peace Battalion, is the most well-known.

Second are the smaller, more radical groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. They refer to themselves as the “loyalist factions”, closely follow Iranian leadership religiously and politically, and their fighters came of age in the civil war in Syria. Following the defeat of Isis in 2017, this group of loyalist factions sent aligned MPs to Iraq’s parliament, and they have become in effect a militia with their own political wing.

Lastly are the factions formed by the clergy in the influential shrine cities of Kerbala and Najaf or by tribes, who have no clear political agenda beyond the preservation of their founders’ interests.

“When we formed the Hashed, we tried to replicate the experience of the Basij [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard], but we failed in one thing, and that is the multiplicity of factions,” Abu Hashem said. “Some of the battalions have just a few dozen men, but they insist on fighting under their flag and refuse to accept the command of others.”

Divisions within the Hashed over command, strategy and the division of its loot, as well as which religious authority its factions followed – Sistani in Iraq or Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – had long been rife, but Muhandis had some key advantages in his leadership. Since his death, the pro-Sistani factions have detached themselves from the Hashed leadership, which they now perceive as unacceptably aligned with Iranian interests rather than their own.

“When [Muhandis] wanted a certain faction to do something, during the fighting, he had to convince, urge, kiss them on the shoulders, and dangle many rewards before they did his biddings,” said a member of the Hashed shura council, a consultancy council that includes all the senior commanders of the Hashed.

“[Muhandis] had no faction of his own, and this was why he could run the Hashed and everyone listened to him, no one could outbid him. He had been in the Shia struggle for 30 years doing this job,” he said.

Under his watch, the Hashed grew to a formidable force, playing an essential role in the defeat of Isis. By the end of 2019 it was fielding tens of thousands of men, with tanks, artillery and an intelligence network, along with a sophisticated propaganda arm and extensive commercial interests.

“Muhandis turned a bunch of militiamen into an establishment, he created all these militias – he is the cook. He institutionalised them and enrolled them in politics, appointed them ministers, made them wear suits, and helped them realise the potential of being a stakeholder in the state and think of their political future after they were just a bunch of gunmen,” said the Shura council member.

From a governance point of view, Muhandis’s “cooking” had profound consequences for Iraq.

“The fact is that you have some military factions that receive their salaries from the Iraqi state but don’t follow the military chain of command of the commander in chief,” said an Iraq analyst, who requested anonymity.

“They act according to their alliances with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and serve the larger Iranian strategy in the region, and their own commercial interests. They constitute a threat to the state of Iraq from within.”

***

In the months leading up to Muhandis’ death, its fighters were on the back foot, denounced in a series of mass demonstrations by protesters who had grown weary of their immense power in all echelons of Iraqi life – and with it, the wealth the militias had acquired through often corrupt means.

But the US strike not only triggered a battle for control, it also revived the group with a new sense of purpose.

Members of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, on the frontlines against Isis, in Diala province to the east of Baghdad, in July 2014. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad/The Guardian

The deaths of two of the region’s most influential commanders enabled the Hashed to regain the initiative with key displays of force: tens of thousands of men marched on the streets in demonstrations condemning the US attack, and a week-long funeral was held for Muhandis.

More ominously, the pro-Iranian militias stepped up killings and kidnappings of activists, started firing rockets at the US embassy in the Green Zone and at military camps, and targeted supply convoys with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). So emboldened have the various factions become in 2020 that Iraqis speak of their country effectively being two parallel states – one with a weak government at its helm and the other at the mercy of militias.

The killing of the two commanders helped shift the narrative, observers said, from one of “the people v a kleptocratic regime” to one in which, according to a close friend of Muhandis, “everything was an American plot to weaken Iran and its allies, first by mass demonstrations, assassinations and eventually military confrontations”.

Then in April a new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, was named, ending a five-month stalemate that followed the resignation of the former prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi. An urbane former intelligence chief, Kadhimi is the first prime minister since 2005 not to belong to any of the Islamist parties.

The challenges facing him are formidable, from an economy in tatters due to the collapse in oil prices and endemic corruption to a failed healthcare system unable to deal with the coronavirus, and continuing anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad and other cities.

But the premier’s most fearsome task is trying to negotiate a new path for the country between a belligerent US and a defiant Iran, whose influence on Iraqi politics and security remains profound. Any future confrontation or war between the two countries is bound to take place on Iraqi soil.

“The assassinations of Suleimani and Muhandis broke the rules of the game that allowed both Iran and the US to exist together in Iraq and support each other’s factions during the fighting, not just because they faced the same enemy but because these were the rules that allowed Suleimani to travel across Iraq while the Americans were maintaining bases nearby,” said another source close to Muhandis and to the political leadership. “In a second all these rules were destroyed, and now they need to set up new rules.”

The shura council member said: “Everyone was looking at Iran, what it would do [and] how it would retaliate, but the reaction is here in Iraq. These factions have weapons, and they are well trained and violent, any one of them can take action either to avenge the killing of Muhandis and Suleimani or to show the leadership in Iran that he is their new man in Iraq. Any of these factions can start a war.”

And yet at the same time, nine months on from the US airstrike, the different factions are more divided than ever, even as they have been emboldened and given new purpose by his death.

“The killing of Suleimani disrupted the flow of the decision process for these factions, and they don’t act according to a general strategy,” the government official said.

He said Kadhimi believed that any direct confrontation with the factions was dangerous and could have serious political and security repercussions, with no guaranteed positive outcome.

He pointed to a raid in June on a militia cell in south Baghdad as an example. A unit from the counter-terrorism force raided a farmhouse and detained a group of Iraqi and Lebanese militiamen, accusing them of planning to fire a barrage of Katyusha rockets at the heavily fortified Green Zone. The same night, hundreds of members of the militia gathered on the streets in a show of force, while others moved on the strategic targets in the Green Zone. The next day the men were released.

“They sent a strong message to the prime minister, by coming close to his house, and he found himself alone,” the government official said. “The units he requested from the minister of defence never arrived. In a way the factions exposed their cards, showing the major positions they hold within the Green Zone and how will they react in any future confrontation.”

Kadhimi’s strategy, according to the official, is based on strengthening the army by advancing young officers, expanding the power of the counter-terrorism force and exploiting the rift between the pro-Sistani forces and the loyalist factions.

A senior Iraqi army officer said: “I sometimes think that the only solution to this crisis, of two states and two armies is a military solution. First we close Baghdad, issue an ultimatum for Hashed units to either join regular forces or we fight you.

“It will cause a bloodbath, but better to have two weeks of war than to keep postponing the confrontation.”

Iraq: Antichrist calls on supporters to crackdown on anti-government protests

Iraq: Sadr calls on supporters to crackdown on anti-government protests

The Nationala

Thank you for your reading and interest in the news Iraq: Sadr calls on supporters to crackdown on anti-government protests and now with details

Hind Al Soulia – Riyadh – Iraqi populist cleric Muqtada Al Sadr threatened on Wednesday to mobilise his supporters to crackdown on future protests after dozens of people clashed with security forces in the southern holy city of Karbala.

Dozens of anti-government protesters were injured during the annual Shiite pilgrimage of Arbaeen late Tuesday while carrying pictures of victims of last year’s demonstrations and chanting against the government and Iranian interference.

“Those [who protested] clearly sympathise with ISIS and the Baath regime and are against religion,” Mr Al Sadr said in a tweet.

The cleric, who had previously been an open supporter of the demonstrations, threatened protesters that he would mobilise his followers to prevent future protests from occurring.

Clashes between security forces and protesters took place between two important holy shrines in the city on Tuesday. They was triggered when a group of pilgrims from other parts of southern Iraq entered the visitation area separating the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines. They held banners with pictures of protesters killed in mass demonstrations last year and chanted anti-government slogans.

The Shiite pilgrimage marks the end of 40 days of mourning for Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammed’s grandson.

Armed groups with ties to Iraq’s top Shiite Cleric Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who are in charge of guarding the shrines, attempted to keep the group from intermingling with other pilgrims.

Protesters were beaten with sticks after police were dispatched to the area. Among the injured were 30 demonstrators and less than a dozen pilgrims, including women. Some of the militiamen guarding the shrines were also injured.

“The attacks that occurred are a clear violation of human rights, those protesting should have not been harmed, they are only protesting for their basic rights,” Hassan Ahmed, an activist from Baghdad, told The National.

An Iraqi volunteer, Sattar Al Souaidi, serves food to Shiite Muslim pilgrims as they walk to the holy city of Kerbala ahead of the ritual of Arbaeen. Reuters

Iraqi Shiite Muslim pilgrims pray and others eat at a tent set up by volunteers to provide a place for pilgrims to rest as they walk to Kerbala, ahead of the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen. Reuters

Iraqi Shiite Muslim pilgrims sits at a train in the southern city of Basra as they walk to Kerbala, ahead of the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen. AFP

Iraqi Shiite women wear masks and rest as they make their way to Kerbala ahead of the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen. Reuters

An Iraqi Shiite Muslim pilgrim, Mohammed Al Mohammedawi, prays and others eat at a tent set up by volunteers to provide a place for pilgrims to rest. Reuters

Iraqi Shiite Muslim pilgrims walk to Kerbala, ahead of the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen. Reuters

Iraqi volunteers grill chicken to be served to Shiite Muslim pilgrims as they walk to Kerbala, ahead of the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen. Reuters

Iraqi volunteers prepare food for Shiite Muslim pilgrims as they walk to Kerbala, ahead of the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen. Reuters

Security forces, government and religious authorities must do more to ensure that citizens are protected, he said.

“Authorities must be aware that the pilgrimage to Karbala this year has a different tone to it, it’s more political, which reflects different ideologies among the Iraqi youth,” Mr Ahmed said.

Security forces held “infiltrators” responsible for the attacks that occurred.

“During the pilgrimage in Karbala, a number of demonstrators from different governorates gathered yesterday afternoon in Karbala and headed towards the Qibla Gate and tried to enter through a closed road,” a statement by security forces said.

The protesters “attacked security forces with stones” which then triggered the violence, it said.

The pilgrimage is a key part of religious and social public rights of Iraqis Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, said.

“The citizen must adhere to the instructions laid down by the authorities supervising the pilgrimage. Security officials must also understand the difficult conditions in which people are in such as fear of catching coronavirus,” Mr Al Bayati said.

It comes as Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi ordered the launch of a committee to investigate security breaches in the country.

For months US diplomats and troops across the country have been targeted in dozens of missile attacks blamed by Washington on pro-Iranian armed factions.

Several rockets landed in a residential area near Baghdad’s Green Zone overnight but did not explode early Monday raising concerns about the safety of Iraqi civilians.

A Katyusha rocket attack struck a residential home killing six people – all of them women and children – last Monday.

The committee will “obtain any information it requires from any party to carry out its investigations,” a statement by the prime minister’s office said.

“The findings of the committee will contribute to enhancing the authority of the state. Only the Iraqi state has the authority to decide on matters of war and peace,” it said.

New protests erupted on October 1 in Baghdad to mark a year since mass anti-government protests engulfed the capital and the predominately Shiite south. A year ago, tens of thousands of Iraqi youth marched to decry rampant corruption and demanded early elections, better services and jobs. More than 550 people, mostly protesters, died by gunfire from Iraqi security forces who used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Updated: October 7, 2020 04:20 PM

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‘Do not wage war against your people’: Antichrist to militias

‘Do not wage war against your people’: Sadr to militias

Zhelwan Z. Wali

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr drives a car as he joins anti-government demonstrations in Najaf on October 29, 2019. Photo: AFP

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to Twitter on Wednesday to condemn civilian deaths in a recent rocket attack in Baghdad.

“Do not wage war against your people and nation, and do not bombard them and kill them for no reason,” Sadr wrote.

“Brothers, do not shift your gun barrel, which was pointed at our enemy, now at the chest of our brothers and people,” he said.

Three women and two children were killed on Monday after a Katyusha rocket hit a home near Baghdad International Airport.

Sadr’s tweet came moments after a roadside bomb hit a civilian vehicle at Baghdad International Airport according to the Iraqi Security Media Cell. No one was hurt. 

The cleric warned on  Monday that Iraq will plunge into “civil war”, or witness an internal Shiite conflict should “suspicious parties” continue attacks in the country.

Sadr has led the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) militia, part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), since 2014 and has pushed for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

“I am not of those people who is afraid of threats and menaces… but some foreign forces want revenge upon our Iraq and its security, integrity and sovereignty,” Sadr added.

The US has told Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi that it will close its Baghdad embassy and withdraw all troops if attacks on foreign actors continue. 

“I was the first who opposed the existence of the American forces which are occupying Iraqi territory, and I am the son of the one who chanted in the grand mosque of Kufa ‘no, no to the USA’,” Sadr wrote.
 
Convoys driven by Iraqis and contracted by the US-led coalition have come under almost daily attacks in recent months at the hands of pro-Iranian Shiite militias. Baghdad airport is also frequently targeted, as it hosts a coalition base.

The US Embassy and Iraqi military bases hosting coalition troops have been repeatedly targeted since the US assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in January.

It is believed that the Iran-backed Islamic Front for Resistance inside Iraq (al-Muqawama) is responsible for the attacks. Its aim is to force US troops to withdraw from the country and units of the group have claimed responsibility for similar attacks.

Diplomatic missions have also come under attack. A British diplomatic vehicle hit an IED in Baghdad earlier this month and a blast at an English-language institute in Najaf’s city centre on September 18 caused substantial material damage.

The attack on the British embassy vehicle was condemned by Sadr and the commander of Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, Abu Ali al-Askari.

Diplomatic targets are more often hit by missiles within Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to foreign diplomatic offices and Iraqi government buildings. Two Katyusha rockets fired at the American embassy in mid-September were intercepted by a US air defense system. Three mortars landed in the area last week.

Kadhimi on Tuesday slammed armed groups who target diplomatic missions in Baghdad.

“There are ongoing mortar attacks to destabilize the situation, the latest was of which was an attack which resulted in the killing of five innocent civilians including a woman and children,” he said.

“The European Union’s mission in Iraq is also thinking of leaving, and this is because of insecurity in the Green Zone,” Kadhimi said, agreeing that continued threats to them make them unable to “continue work in Iraq.”

“They are not blaming the Iraqi government for that, but lack of security in Iraq,” he added.

“Closure of the embassies in Iraq means closing down the economic, cultural and military cooperation at a time that we are facing huge challenges,” the premier decried.

Numerous foreign missions met with Kadhimi on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing attacks. 

“We underlined our support for Iraq and its people, our respect for Iraqi sovereignty and our desire to see a stable and secure Iraq” read an official statement, expressing “deep concern” at the rise “in the number and sophistication of attacks against diplomatic premises in Iraq.”

Civil war in Iraq if attacks don’t stop: Antichrist

Civil war in Iraq if attacks don’t stop: Sadr

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned late Monday that Iraq may shift into  “civil war” or witness an internal Shiite conflict if “suspicious parties” continue attacks in the country.

“There are suspicious parties fueling the situation and endangering peaceful security in Iraq,” Sadr tweeted.

Sadr called on all sides to act “wisely” and show love for Iraq “before undertaking any step that would drag the country into civil war or a Shiite vs Shiite clash.”

Sadr has led the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) militia, part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), since 2014 and has pushed for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

His tweet comes after a Katyusha rocket hit a home near Baghdad International Airport on Monday night, killing three children and two women, as injuring two others, according to a statement by Iraqi joint operation command.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has ordered investigations into security forces responsible for security in the area, according to state media.

The US has told Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi that it will close its Baghdad embassy and withdraw all troops if attacks on foreign actors continue, the Washington Post reported.

Convoys driven by Iraqis and contracted by the US-led coalition have come under almost daily attacks in recent months at the hands of pro-Iranian Shiite militias. Baghdad airport is also frequently targeted, as it hosts a coalition base.

The US Embassy and Iraqi military bases hosting coalition troops have been repeatedly targeted since the US assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in January.

It is believed that the Iran-backed Islamic Front for Resistance inside Iraq (al-Muqawama) is responsible for the attacks. Its aim is to force US troops to withdraw from the country and units of the group have claimed responsibility for similar attacks.

Diplomatic missions have also come under attack. A British diplomatic vehicle hit an IED in Baghdad earlier this month and a blast at an English-language institute in Najaf’s city centre on September 18 caused substantial material damage.

The attack on the British embassy vehicle was condemned by Sadr and the commander of Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, Abu Ali al-Askari.

Diplomatic targets are more often hit by missiles within Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to foreign diplomatic offices and Iraqi government buildings. Two Katyusha rockets fired at the American embassy in mid-September were intercepted by a US air defense system. Three mortars landed in the area last week.

Antichrist Tells US to Evacuate Iraq

Moqtada al-Sadr, the Donald Trump of Iraq

Threat to evacuate U.S. diplomats from Iraq raises fear of war

By John Davison

6 MIN READ

BAGHDAD, Sept 28 (Reuters) – Washington has made preparations to withdraw diplomats from Iraq after warning Baghdad it could shut its embassy, two Iraqi officials and two Western diplomats said, a step Iraqis fear could turn their country into a battle zone.

Any move by the United States to scale down its diplomatic presence in a country where it has up to 5,000 troops would be widely seen in the region as an escalation of its confrontation with Iran, which Washington blames for missile and bomb attacks.

That in turn would open the possibility of military action, with just weeks to go before an election in which President Donald Trump has campaigned on a hard line towards Tehran and its proxies.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to close the embassy in a phone call a week ago to President Barham Salih, two Iraqi government sources said. The conversation was initially reported by an Iraqi news website.

By Sunday, Washington had begun preparations to withdraw diplomatic staff if such a decision is taken, those sources and the two Western diplomats said.

The concern among the Iraqis is that pulling out diplomats would be followed quickly by military action against forces Washington blamed for attacks.

Populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who commands a following of millions of Iraqis, issued a statement last week pleading for groups to avoid an escalation that would turn Iraq into a battleground.

One of the Western diplomats said the U.S. administration did not “want to be limited in their options” to weaken Iran or pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Asked whether he expected Washington to respond with economic or military measures, the diplomat replied: “Strikes.”

The U.S. State Department, asked about plans to withdraw from Iraq, said: “We never comment on the Secretary’s private diplomatic conversations with foreign leaders … Iran-backed groups launching rockets at our Embassy are a danger not only to us but to the Government of Iraq.”

PERENNIAL RISK

In a region polarised between allies of Iran and the United States, Iraq is the rare exception: a country that has close ties with both. But that has left it open to a perennial risk of becoming a battle ground in a proxy war.

That risk was hammered home in January this year, when Washington killed Iran’s most important military commander, Qassem Soleimani, with a drone strike at Baghdad airport. Iran responded with missiles fired at U.S. bases in Iraq.

Since then, a new prime minister has taken power in Iraq, supported by the United States, while Tehran still maintains close links to powerful Shi’ite armed movements.

Rockets regularly fly across the Tigris towards the heavily fortified U.S. diplomatic compound, constructed to be the biggest U.S. embassy in the world in central Baghdad’s so-called Green Zone during the U.S. occupation after a 2003 invasion.

In recent weeks rocket attacks near the embassy have increased and roadside bombs targeted convoys carrying equipment to the U.S.-led military coalition. One roadside attack hit a British convoy in Baghdad, the first of its kind against Western diplomats in Iraq for years.

Two Iraqi intelligence sources suggested plans to withdraw American diplomats were not yet in motion, and would depend on whether Iraqi security forces were able to do a better job of halting attacks. They said they had received orders to prevent attacks on U.S. sites, and had been told that U.S. evacuations would begin only if that effort failed.

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Iraqis are concerned about the impact of November’s presidential election on the Trump administration’s decision-making.

While Trump has boasted of his hard line against Iran, he has also long promised to withdraw U.S. troops from engagements in the Middle East. The United States is already drawing down its force sent to help defeat Islamic State fighters in Iraq from 2014-2017.

Some Iraqi officials dismissed Pompeo’s threat to pull out diplomats as bluster, designed to scare armed groups into stopping attacks. But they said it could backfire by provoking the militias instead, if they sense an opportunity to push Washington to retreat.

“The American threat to close their embassy is merely a pressure tactic, but is a double-edged sword,” said Gati Rikabi, a member of Iraq’s parliamentary security committee.

He and another committee member said U.S. moves were designed to scare Iraqi leaders into supporting Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has tried to check the power of Iran-aligned militia groups, with scant success.

HAWKS ON BOTH SIDES

The militias are under public pressure to rein in supporters who might provoke Washington. Since last year, public opinion in Iraq has turned sharply against political groups seen as fomenting violence on behalf of Iran.

Publicly, the powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite militia groups which control large factions in parliament have tried to distance themselves from attacks on Western targets.

U.S. officials say they think the Shi’ite militias or their Iranian backers have created splinter offshoots to carry out such attacks, allowing the main organisations to evade blame.

A senior figure in a Shi’ite Muslim political party said he thought Trump might want to pull out diplomats to keep them out of harm’s way and avoid an embarrassing pre-election incident.

Militia attacks were not necessarily under Tehran’s control, he said, noting that Iran’s foreign ministry had publicly called for a halt to attacks on diplomatic missions in Iraq.

“Iran wants to boot the Americans out, but not at any cost. It doesn’t want instability on its Western border,” the Shi’ite leader said. “Just like there are hawks in the U.S., there are hawks in Iran who have contact with the groups carrying out attacks, who aren’t necessarily following state policy.” (Reporting by John Davison, additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed Editing by Peter Graff)

Antichrist urges opposes end to attacks on foreign troops

Iraqi Parliament, Moqtada Al-Sadr urges opposes end to attacks on foreign troops

Anadolu10:32 PM | September 27, 2020

A key committee of Iraq’s parliament has called for a halt on attacks on foreign missions and US forces in the country.

“Iraq is facing serious challenges which require the adoption of clear and courageous stances before the [Iraqi] people,” Mohammad Redha al-Haidar, chair of the Security and Defense Committee, told a press conference on Saturday.

He said attacks on diplomatic missions and Iraqi institutions “put Iraq’s reputation in jeopardy and weaken the country’s posture on the international stage.”

Al-Haidar called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to form a committee from security apparatuses to probe attacks against foreign missions in the country.

On Friday, Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for an investigation into repeated attacks on foreign missions in Iraq and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The call came after two Shia groups, Iraqi Hezbollah and al-Nujaba, threatened to launch more attacks against US forces in Iraq.

‘US-Greece relations at ‘All-Time High’ amidst tensions with Turkey,’ claims Pompeo in Athens visit

In recent weeks, several attacks targeted the US Embassy in Iraq, US forces, and other troops involved in the International Coalition against Deash/ISIS terror group in Iraq.

Al-Sadr says Iraq won’t become ‘foreign colony’

Firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said on Sunday that Iraq will not become a foreign colony.

“We will not allow Iraq to become a foreign colony…,” he said in a tweet. “[Iraq] will be a strong and sovereign state.”

On Friday, al-Sadr called for an investigation into repeated attacks on foreign missions in Iraq and bringing perpetrators to justice.

The call came after two Shia groups, Iraqi Hezbollah and al-Nujaba, threatened to launch more attacks against US forces in Iraq.

In recent weeks, several attacks targeted the US Embassy in Iraq, US forces, and other troops involved in the International Coalition against Deash/ISIS terror group in Iraq.