Iraqi Horn’s battle against ISIS grinds on

A UN report last year estimated that around 10,000 IS fighters remained active across Iraq and Syria

Iraq’s battle against IS cells grinds on in the desert

AFP – TuesdayFollowReactComments|4

Bullet holes riddle the concrete watchtower of a remote Iraqi army outpost north of Baghdad, a sign of the Islamic State group’s night-time attack that killed 11 soldiers.

The small riverside base is ringed by sand berms, a shallow moat and coils of razor wire, and three soldiers in mismatched uniforms are busy strengthening it with cement and cinder blocks.

It has been almost three years since the extremist Sunni group lost its self-proclaimed “caliphate” stretching across much of Iraq and Syria after long and gruelling battles.© AHMAD AL-RUBAYEThis remote military base in Diyala province was attacked by Islamic State group jihadists last week, killing 11 soldiers

But IS fighters remain active in a low-level insurgency and have recently stepped up their hit-and-run attacks against anyone in uniform, or anyone else who dares to stand up to them.

“They hide in holes dug into the ground or in abandoned houses,” said a senior Iraqi army officer during a visit Monday to the dusty outpost in the eastern province of Diyala.© AHMAD AL-RUBAYEA UN report last year estimated that around 10,000 IS fighters remained active across Iraq and Syria

This is also where they hide their explosives and weapons,” he told AFP during the trip, asking not to be identified.

The unenviable task of Iraq’s security forces is to hunt IS cells in a vast territory that stretches from Baghdad to Kirkuk, nearly 250 kilometres (about 150 miles) to the north, straddling three provinces.

At this outpost, one of a string of bases along the banks of the Adhaim river, IS fighters struck in a bitterly cold night, last Friday at 2:30 am, killing the 11 soldiers.

The ambush came as, across the border in Syria, more than 100 IS fighters launched their biggest attack in years, on a prison in the northeastern city of Hasakeh, attempting to free fellow fighters.© AHMAD AL-RUBAYEThe attack on the base was the jihadists’ deadliest operation in the country so far this year

The fierce battle there has raged on, with the death toll topping 160 on Tuesday, as US-backed Kurdish forces surrounded the prison, while IS fighters remained holed up inside with thousands of detainees.© AHMAD AL-RUBAYEThe anti-IS battle has become more perilous since Iraq has lost the direct support of a US-led international anti-jihadist coalition, especially air support

– Bloody cat-and-mouse game –

In Iraq, troops and police have been sweeping the area along the Adhaim river since the attack last week, in the latest chapter of a bloody cat-and-mouse game with the jihadists.© AHMAD AL-RUBAYEIraq’s army is fighting IS militants who remain active in a low-level insurgency and have recently stepped up their hit-and-run attacks

“We have been in this area for four days,” said Captain Azhar al-Juburi of the Federal Police Rapid Response Force as he returned from a patrol.

“We haven’t had any direct confrontation, but we have arrested terrorists.”

The local soldiers were not allowed to speak with visiting press, but the senior army officer explained that the jihadists “took advantage of the bad weather and the early hour to attack”.

It was “the first time that IS has attacked us directly”, he said. “They did not have the means until now. They were limited to planting improvised explosive devices and sniper fire.”

Diyala’s provincial governor Muthanna al-Tamimi had another explanation, blaming “the negligence of the soldiers”.

“The base is fortified,” he said after the attack. “There is a thermal camera, night vision goggles and a concrete watchtower.”

– ‘IS reorganising troops’ –

Whatever the case, said Iraqi analyst Imad Allou, the attack does underscore that IS “is trying to reorganise its troops and activities in Iraq”.

A UN report last year estimated that around 10,000 IS fighters remained active across Iraq and Syria.

The ongoing IS presence in Syria is largely in desert hideouts in the east of the country, where the Kurds maintain a semi-autonomous administration that borders Iraq.

In Iraq, IS is most active in the north but has also claimed bomb attacks on civilian targets elsewhere, including a blast last July on a market in Sadr city, a Shiite suburb of Baghdad, that killed dozens.

The anti-IS battle has become all the more perilous since Iraq has lost the direct support of a US-led international anti-jihadist coalition, especially air support.

Its 3,500 troops, including 2,500 Americans, put an end to their combat mission last year to limit themselves to advising and training their Iraqi counterparts.

Does this worry the Iraqi senior officer?

“We have our own air force, and we rely on it,” he said. “As for the rest, it is not me who decides.”

gde/fz

Barzani, Antichrist emphasize coordination between political parties in a phone call

From left: Muqtada al-Sadr and Masoud Barzani. File photo/handout

Barzani, Sadr emphasise coordination between political parties in a phone call

Karwan Faidhi Dri@KarwanFaidhiDri

From left: Muqtada al-Sadr and Masoud Barzani. File photo/handout

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), spoke on the phone with Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist bloc, on Tuesday, discussing the latest developments in Iraq, with both emphasising coordination between political entities, according to a statement from Barzani’s office. 

Barzani and Sadr “discussed the political situation and the latest developments” as well as “emphasising the need for coordination and approaching of entities in order to serve the interests of Iraq,” read the statement without providing more information.

Iraq held snap parliamentary elections on October 10. Sadr is the main winner of the vote after his bloc gained 73, and the KDP won 31 seats, becoming the largest Kurdish bloc in Baghdad. 

The new members of the parliament were sworn in and they elected a new leadership for the legislature on January 9 but the Federal Court suspended the work of both deputy speakers and the speaker following a lawsuit against the election process. 

However, the court decided on Tuesday that the election process was lawful and rejected the lawsuit.

Sadr, Barzani and Mohammed al-Halbousi – former and current speaker of the parliament – have formed an alliance for the formation of a new government.

The country has to elect a new president by February 8. The position has been held by Kurds for nearly two decades. The KDP and its rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have fielded different candidates for the position, harming their relations. 

The new president will task a candidate from the largest alliance to form a new cabinet. 

Antichrist rejects mediation for consensus government

January 25, 2022 at 11:19 am | Published in: IraqMiddle EastNewsIraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr holds a press conference in Najaf, Iraq on November 18, 2021. [Karar Essa - Anadolu Agency]Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr holds a press conference in Najaf, Iraq on November 18, 2021. [Karar Essa – Anadolu Agency]January 25, 2022 at 11:19 am

Iraq: Al-Sadr rejects mediation for consensus government

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The eponymous leader of Iraq’s Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, has rejected a mediation offer by the Commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Esmail Qaani, and Mohammad Hussein Kawtharani, the representative of Hezbollah in Baghdad, in the efforts to form a consensus government.

“Kawtharani has left Najaf without meeting Al-Sadr,” said an official in the Sadrist movement who asked not to be named. “However, there were meetings with representatives of the movement.”

Efforts made by some “friends” to bring views closer are commendable, the official added. “They should not be at the expense of the national project, though, which is a national majority government.”

The official said that it is “unreasonable to repeat the same mistake for the fifth time in a row,” a reference to Al-Sadr’s refusal to form a consensus government that brings together all the winning political groups in parliament.

Qaani’s mediation “did not solve the most prominent knot in the dispute, which is the Sadrist movement’s right to form the government in the way it sees, as the first winner in the election and the holder of the largest number of seats among the Shia political forces.”

Muqtada Al-Sadr insists on forming a national majority government. He has stressed that pressure will not deter him from this.

Analysis: What does the Antichrist want?

What does Muqtada Al-Sadr want

Analysis: What does Muqtada Al-Sadr want?

Full of energy and certitude, Al-Sadr is out to remake Iraq’s political order in his image.

Iraq faces a pressing roster of crises, including government dysfunction, factional tensions, unabated terrorism, and Covid-19 infections that are spiralling dramatically upwards.

But prominent Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has emerged as Iraq’s most powerful leader, says he aims for his beleaguered country to end its prolonged misery and halt its tumble into chaos.

To that end, Al-Sadr is proposing sweeping changes to the way the country has been run since the US-led invasion in 2003. But first of all, Al-Sadr needs to be in charge.

Al-Sadr’s party was the largest vote-winner in the Iraqi parliamentary elections in October. The party, Saaroon, won 73 seats in the 329-seat parliament, more than any other and up from 54 in 2018. It beat an alliance of Iran-aligned militias led by the Fatah Coalition.

The election victory has given Al-Sadr major influence in the formation of Iraq’s next government, and he is relying on that to extend his hold over the country for as long as he deems fit.

Beyond that, no one really knows how he plans to steer the country through its multiple crises.

Al-Sadr, 47, hails from one of the most prestigious Shia religious families in Iraq and is widely seen as one of the most influential Shia political leaders to have emerged from the shadows of the US-led invasion.

For nearly two decades, Al-Sadr has outmanoeuvred other Shia leaders by manoeuvering himself into a position of power and individual prestige within the community. He has reinvented himself not just as the leader of a Shia faction, but effectively as a king-maker.

Al-Sadr has helped form Iraq’s successive governments, controlled one of the biggest political blocs in parliament, led a massive movement, and commanded a powerful militia. His power is undeniable, thanks to his grassroots party that is influential in working-class neighbourhoods across Iraq’s Shia-populated provinces.

Even more strikingly, Al-Sadr has installed allegiance to the legacy of his late father Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq Al-Sadr as the movement’s way of thinking. This has given him a platform to exercise more power and greater legitimacy among many Iraqi Shia.

Over the years, Al-Sadr’s political strategy has witnessed a sea change that has seen him shift from being a militant Shia cleric who advocates communalism to becoming a populist political leader who champions non-sectarianism in order to help forge a national-unity platform that can reform Iraq’s fundamentally flawed political system.

Since his Saaroon bloc came first in the country’s 2018 elections, winning 52 seats in parliament, the Sadrist Movement has come to control the Iraqi government. Through appointees in top posts, Al-Sadr has been able to clear government departments of unaffiliated bureaucrats and bring Sadrists in their place.

Through this carefully planned strategy to infiltrate the state apparatus, his followers have been taking up top jobs within local administrations and key ministries such as defence, the interior, communications, oil, electricity and transport.

In addition to being able to dominate Iraq’s huge civil service, Al-Sadr’s supporters now exert control over the country’s financial resources through the state budget and their own economic influence.

They wield enormous power in Iraq’s three state-owned banks and even in Iraq’s Central Bank.

Al-Sadr’s journey towards being Iraq’s paramount Shia leader was highlighted in the October parliamentary elections. Since he was declared the winner of most seats in the new assembly, he has refused to form a coalition with other Shia blocs as has been the norm after the polls since the US-led invasion.

Instead, Al-Sadr has been pushing for a “national majority” government that would put his Sadrist faction at the helm of an administration that would bring in Sunni Muslim and Kurdish representatives.

The formula would disfranchise nearly a dozen Shia political groups and their affiliated militias and give Al-Sadr overall authority.

Apart from his declared intention to uproot rival militias and rhetoric about fighting corruption and transcending sectarianism, neither Al-Sadr nor his top aides seem to have a desire to go into details about their strategy.

What Al-Sadr is working fervently to achieve is a dream project that flows from his intention to consolidate his power base among the Iraqi Shia and then to move to tighten his grip on the country as a whole in ways big and small.

To understand what is happening in Iraq following Al-Sadr’s bid to impose his model of leadership and ultimately to make it familiar to the region and the world, it helps to understand what Al-Sadr himself thinks, believes, and acts upon.

As Al-Sadr has started to signal his supremacy in Iraq’s politics, he has also adopted a more aggressive posture on the national stage, drawing new borders to circumscribe existing Shia power struggles and thus make Iraq well placed for further conflicts.

There is nothing that can explain Al-Sadr’s strategy better than his insistence on controlling the next government and running the country’s affairs. His worst nightmare is that his Shia foes will maintain their political power and have militias that may fight him over influence and authority in the country.

Therefore, Al-Sadr’s two imperatives are to exclude politically affiliated officials from government departments and to stuff them with his own cronies and to get rid of dozens of Shia militias and replace them with his own powerful Jaish Al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army, a paramilitary organisation.

The death of Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shia clergyman, could create a tremendous opportunity for Al-Sadr’s leadership.

Al-Sadr is not a mujtahid, or scholar of theology, making him ineligible to join those vying for Al-Sistani’s succession, but his influence might still be more than that enjoyed by many of the presumed contenders.

In December, Al-Sadr issued guidelines for his supporters in Iraq to follow fatwas, or legal rulings, issued by his late father, who was assassinated in 1999. The instructions are important because they underline Al-Sadr’s intention to keep power over the Hawza, or Shia school of theology in the city of Najaf, within his family line.

Meanwhile, the world is watching Al-Sadr’s rise with keen interest. Some of Iraq’s neighbours and world powers have geopolitical grievances, particularly about Iran’s influence and the role of its proxies in Iraq.

World and regional powers have been sending signals of support to Al-Sadr, whom they believe could stand up to Iran and the Iran-backed Shia groups in Iraq.

In recent weeks, the Western media, which used to describe Al-Sadr as a hardliner and a radical, has started to promote him as a moderate politician and the “face of reform in Iraq” in an apparent attempt to accept him as Iraq’s next leader.

The New York Times has even dubbed Al-Sadr as an “unlikely US ally.”

Al-Sadr may have grand ambitions and the self-confidence to match, but he has yet to show how he will deliver. He has no clear strategy for rebuilding the Iraqi state and nation or for consolidating its democratic and federal system as stipulated in its post-invasion constitution.

Al-Sadr remains a controversial figure, and to many of his critics he is out to remake Iraq’s order in his image. For all the bold headlines and focus from the media and the Iraq expert community about Al-Sadr transforming himself into a statesman, he is still a Shia clergyman with a strictly religious agenda that stokes sectarian politics.

When newly elected lawmakers from Al-Sadr’s parliamentary group arrived at the inaugural session of the new parliament in Baghdad last week, they donned the white shrouds that Muslims use to wrap their dead bearing inscriptions of Jaish Al-Mahdi on their backs.

The scene was reminiscent of numerous episodes of the rise to power of others, most strikingly the ascent of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 that began the newly established Islamic Republic in Iran.

Iraq’s tripartite alliance of the Antichrist

Supporters of Iraq’s Shiite cleric and leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, display his image in Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Photo: AFP

Iraq’s tripartite alliance is pressing, Framework is threatening

In Qais al-Khazali’s televised interview with BBC Persian on January 18, the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq discussed the internal debate among the Coordination Framework; the alliance of Shiite factions continuing to object to the results of Iraq’s most recent election, while politicians and parties scramble to form the country’s next government.

“Either we all choose the path of boycotting the political process, or the opposition, and most political forces, are likely to choose to boycott the political process,” the senior member of the Fatih Alliance said. “I do not say that the situation will pass easily,” he added, warning that there were no guarantees against friction, and “that the next government will not be able to succeed in its work and will not be able to provide services or provide job opportunities.”

In contrast, the Sadrist Movement are pushing the formation of a majority government with its partners in a 162 member-strong tripartite alliance known as Homeland Rescue (Enqath Watan), which includes the Sadrists, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Sunnis, with the door open for others to join. The leader of the Sadrist bloc, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is evidently refusing to give up what he considers to be his electoral entitlement.

Alliance of the strongest

The three political forces that consider themselves to be the most powerful in the political arena marked out by the informal sectarian system of muhasasa have established this alliance to lead the way in a more cohesive, and potentially effective, move.

Sadr leads the tripartite alliance. As a key instigator of the majority government project, he wants to break away from the political consensus that has produced governments since 2006. Sadr derives his strength from the size of his bloc of 75 members (the Sadrist Movement won 73 seats, and have been joined by a member from Diyala, and a member from the party formed by Wasit Governor Mohammed al-Mayahi), and also from his complete control over the bloc’s direction.


Sadr is running negotiations and planning to form the next government with his partners while keeping the door open for other Shiite forces to join him, helping to cross the comfortable majority barrier.

The KDP enjoys the strength of a 31-member bloc, and hopes to enhance its political strength by attaining the Iraqi presidency, deputy prime minister, and several ministries, in addition to its current positions of parliamentary deputy speaker, as well as the presidency and premiership within the Kurdistan Region. The party and its leader, Masoud Barzani, have played a significant role in uniting the Sunni parties which has, in turn, enhanced the KDP’s political influence, and could well be parallel to the influence of Sadr in the political arena.

The leader of the Taqadum Alliance, Mohammad al-Halbousi, for his part, was able to form a strong bloc before the election and achieved a landslide victory, winning 37 seats from the Sunni component; the first time that more than half of the Sunni representatives have belonged to one bloc. His strength was further enhanced by striking an alliance with his rival, the al-Azm alliance leader Khamis al-Khanjar. Furthermore, in a first-time achievement by any Sunni politician since 2003, Halbousi won the speakership of parliament for a second term when the new parliamentarians convened earlier this month.

The tripartite alliance will become the nucleus of forming the next government. Some observers believe that a government formed of the strongest performing factions will be best equipped to carry out the reforms demanded by the Iraqi people. Unlike previous national consensus governments, a majority government – and its opposition – would mean one less likely to evade responsibility. In addition, these blocs could pass the required legislation and take meaningful decisions to determine the course of governance over the coming years.

Critics argue that a government formed along these lines would face other problems, most notably deriving from the lack of participation of influential political forces, with military backing, and the presence of a strong opposition that has been hitherto absent in Iraqi politics.

Dialogue of the deaf

Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Fatih Alliance, visited Najaf and met Sadr alone in al-Hanana on January 15. He tried hard to persuade Sadr to form a consensus government in which everyone would participate. Despite this, Sadr has refused the participation of Framework forces as it intersects with his project to form a national majority government. As a compromise, Sadr offered the Fatih Alliance four ministries in return for their participation, on the condition that he selects the prime minister without their objection. Amiri rejected the offer.

Observers suggest that the political blocs within the Coordination Framework fear that Sadr will exploit his numerical superiority and dominance on the political scene to weaken his political opponents by not providing them with the opportunity to reorganize their ranks.

Amiri also visited Erbil, where he met with KDP leaders, trying to convince them that consensus would be the best option for Iraqi and Kurdish-Shiite relations. He cautioned them with a theme that the Coordination Framework shares, telling them that if Shiite differences disappear, then the Shiites would become the majority. By then, they could not be blamed for monopolizing positions or passing decisions, and might leave the Kurds vulnerable. He returned to Baghdad without reaching any agreement with the KDP.

The KDP and PUK at odds with each other

The two Kurdish parties of the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have tried to unify their negotiations with Baghdad, and agreed to form a joint committee. An informed source in the PUK explained that the committee met four times and drafted a document agreed upon by the two parties to present to the political forces in Baghdad.

The joint committee began their visit to Baghdad on January 7, and their first appointment was with the Sadrist Movement’s political body. The source added that the PUK was surprised by the existence of a separate paper agreed upon between the KDP and the Sadrist Movement; they knew nothing about it, and only saw the details hours before the meeting. The visit of the joint delegation to the political forces was limited to heterogeneous protocol meetings that did not lead to any significant results. The KDP signed a unilateral agreement with the Sadrists, leaving the PUK behind.

A power-sharing agreement between the two sides since 2006 has meant that the PUK holds the presidency of Iraq in exchange for the KDP holding the presidency of the Kurdistan Region. Disagreements between the two sides deepened when the KDP nominatedHoshyar Zebari as a candidate for Iraq’s president on January 12.

Commentators believe that Zebari’s nomination is clear evidence that the KDP intends to seriously obtain the presidency and that this position falls within the party’s scheme to dominate the political scene in the region and Iraq alike in the future.

Leaving the PUK outside of the federal government and taking away its influence over the presidency would undoubtedly complicate the political scene. The PUK shares power within the KRG, controlling the regions of Sulaimani, Halabja, and Garmian, and it has extensive political influence in Kirkuk. Its fighting forces control the contact lines with the Islamic State (ISIS), from the Iranian border in Diyala to the Hamrin Mountains.

The soft role of America and Iran

Contrary to the usual practice during the government formation process in Iraq, the Iranians and Americans have been absent from the scene, especially compared to the role they both played in the 2018 process. The role of Iran and the United States has become limited to monitoring political developments from a distance without direct intervention.

In the BBC Persian interview, al-Khazali also noted that, “the management of the relevant institutions in Iran in dealing with the Iraqi file has changed greatly after the martyrdom of Haj Qasem Soleimani,” explaining that the Iranians have promised to not interfere. “We do not have a decision, but the decision is what the Iraqis decide,” he recounted.

Commentators argue that Iran has already defined its strategic interests in Iraq and works to achieve these interests with Iraqi political actors without having to choose or favor one party. They follow political developments closely and have follow-ups with the political blocs, and one of their priorities is to unify the Shiite position and prevent its fragmentation.

What is noticeable here is the lack of Iranian mediation between the political blocs and their emphasis that they stand at the same distance from all parties, including the Sadrist Movement. It is worth noting that Quds Force commander Ismail Qaani has been in Baghdad since January 16, and has not yet met with the Sadrist leader. He did not even request to meet him despite his visit to Najaf; evidence that the Iranian side is watching and not directly interfering.

Similarly, the Americans are not on the scene. Unlike what the country has previously witnessed, there have been no high-level delegation visits. The American representation is left to the US ambassador and his diplomatic team, who closely monitor the situation while observing what is happening in the political arena without direct intervention.

The non-interference of the US and Iran does not necessarily mean the granting of their approval for what is happening in the political arena. Still, they are allowing Iraqi political forces to organize their understanding away from their influence, which gives a positive impression to all parties.

Dialogue of understanding – or breaking of will

The political scene has become complicated with the approach of the governing constitutional dates. There are no signs on the horizon to resolve the differences between the political blocs; the road is uneven, and it is tinged with anxiety. Iraqis are living in dire conditions amid a series of crises that continue to threaten the country. The tripartite alliance does not show flexibility by changing its positions, as it still adheres to the approved negotiation strategy, and it has no intention of reaching a consensus with all partners.

In the recent past, initiatives launched by some influential political figures were enough to bring the parties together to compromise on solutions, achieve understanding and consensus, and ultimately defuse crises. This does not seem as likely now. As for trying to satisfy them by sharing the spoils of electoral victory, observers consider the position of the winning forces to be constitutional and reflect the origin and spirit of democracy.

However, they also believe that the reality of Iraq does not tolerate the sudden exclusion of influential political forces. In the end, all parties should make reasonable concessions to ensure overcoming the obstruction of the current situation to meet the country’s needs and guarantee the achievement of common objectives to serve the present and future of Iraq.

Farhad Alaaldin is the chairman of the Iraqi Advisory Council. He was the political adviser to former Iraqi President Fuad Masum, the former chief of staff to the KRG prime minister from 2009 to 2011, and former senior adviser to the KRG prime minister from 2011 to 2012.

Antichrist’s men will make final call on government formation

Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP). Photo: Rudaw

Sadrists will make final call on government formation: official

18-01-2022

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has negotiated with all political blocs equally regarding the formation of the Iraqi government, but the final call of who partakes in the cabinet remains a call of the Sadrists, the legislature’s newly-elected deputy speaker told Rudaw on Monday.

The KDP, one of the main winners of October’s early elections, has been engaged in intense talks with Iraqi and Kurdish parties following the vote and ahead of the government formation.

KDP’s Shakhawan Abdullah, who was elected as the second deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament earlier this month, said that the Sadrists veto against the State of Law Coaliton and Qais al-Khazali, a senior member of the Fateh Coalition and leader of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, partaking in the new Iraqi government does not affect how the KDP negotiates with parties.

“That is a Shiite matter, as the KDP we have spoken to all parties the same way. What KDP has emphasized is that the government formation should not be delayed,” Abdullah told Rudaw’s Bestoon Khalid in an interview, adding that “who becomes part of the government and who does not is in the hands of the largest bloc which is the Sadrist bloc.”

Parties all over Iraq are in negotiations about who will form the country’s next government. This year, unlike before, the head of the Sadrist bloc, Muqtada al-Sadr, has repeatedly called for the formation of a majority government, which means securing a ruling majority that would appoint a premier and cabinet from within its ranks.

Sadr already proved that his idea of a majority works after the first parliamentary session where the parliamentary speaker and his two deputies were elected without the presence of Sadr’s main Shiite rivals, the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Shiite factions that continue to object to the election results.

In the session, the Sadrist bloc, KDP, and Sunni Taqadum Coalition stood together and voted for each other’s candidates securing the positions of parliament speaker and his deputies, which came as a result of multiple meetings, according to Abdullah.

“People say this is an oral agreement, but this is the result of a number of meetings between these three sides. An agreement has been signed, and there are common grounds between us,” Abdullah said.

Iraq has for years had a national consensus government in which most parties were included and government members would be responsible for their leaders first then the prime minister. This form of governance has allowed Iran to outsize its influence in Iraq.

According to Article 54 of the 2005 Iraqi constitution, when the election results are confirmed, it sets in motion a process for the winning parties to form a government. Within 15 days of the ratification of the results, the president calls on the parliament to meet, chaired by its eldest member, and elect a speaker and two deputies by an absolute majority during its first session, which is set out by Article 55.

The president then tasks the largest bloc in the parliament with forming the government, naming a prime minister within 15 days of the election of the president. The prime minister-elect then has 30 days to name a cabinet.

Violence Mounts in Iraq the Antichrist Attempts To Form a Government

Violence Mounts in Iraq as Sadrists Attempt To Form a Government

Iraq’s new leadership, dominated by the “Sadrist Movement” electoral alliance, faced its first major security challenge as a wave of sectarian violence swept through Baghdad this past week. This surge in violence will pose a challenge to the Sadrist Movement as it attempts to form a majority government following its victory in Iraq’s October 2021 elections.

On Thursday afternoon, a rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy inside Baghdad’s “Green Zone” injured several civilians, including a child. The following day, hand grenades were thrown at the headquarters of the Sunni Taqaddum party, which is led by Iraq’s parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi, and the offices of prominent Sunni politician Khamis al-Khanjar. Finally, on Sunday, two banks associated with politicians from the country’s Kurdistan autonomous region were attacked in central Baghdad, resulting in two injuries.

No group within Iraq has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. The attacks mark the most recent bout of unrest since the country’s new parliament was sworn into office earlier this month.

The new parliament’s first session, which took place on January 8, quickly descended into violence after Halbousi, an ally of Shia kingmaker Muqtada al-Sadr, was reelected to his speakership. Halbousi was confirmed by votes from the Sadrist Movement and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). However, he was strongly opposed by Sadr’s opponents, including the “Fatah Alliance,” a coalition of Iranian-linked Shia parties, and the Shia “State of Law Coalition,” led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Ongoing negotiations to pick a new president should be completed within thirty days, as specified in Iraq’s constitution.

Sadr, who is one of the most powerful men in Iraq despite not holding any elected office, has openly criticized the country’s fractious political system in the past. He has been particularly critical of the muhasasa system, which implements de facto sectarian quotas for political office. One of the system’s key stipulations states that the country’s prime minister should always be a Shia, the speaker of parliament should be a Sunni, and the largely ceremonial president should be a Kurd.

The muhasasa system has come under firefrom Iraqi protesters in recent years, and its abolishment was a major goal of the united opposition protests that began in October 2019. The protests resulted in the resignation of former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who was regarded by many demonstrators as overly sympathetic to Iranian interests.

Sadr, who has cultivated a reputation as an Iraqi nationalist opposed to foreign influence from both Iran and the United States, is expected to play a major role in potential reforms to the country’s electoral system in the coming years. He has proposed the elimination of sectarian quotas in favor of a “national majority government.” Such a government would presumably include his Sunni and Kurdish allies and exclude his other Shia opponents.

“Today, there is no place for sectarianism or ethnic division, but a national majority government where the Shia defend the rights of minorities, the Sunnis and Kurds,” Sadr tweeted prior to the first parliamentary session.

However, experts have warned that sidelining the opposition could result in further violence, as groups unable to win elections might turn to violence to secure their political goals.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.

Antichrist faces growing violence as political rift deepens

Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks after preliminary results of Iraq's parliamentary election
As the leader of the biggest bloc, Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has the upper hand in forming a new government [File: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters]

Iraq faces growing violence as political rift deepens

Atacks this week underscore the challenges to forming a government away from ethno-sectarian power-sharing arrangement.

By Shawn YuanPublished On 18 Jan 202218 Jan 2022

Baghdad, Iraq – The threat of worsening violence looms over Baghdad again this week, underscoring the challenges faced by influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of parliament’s biggest bloc, in his stated efforts to form a majority government following October’s contested election.

In the latest in a number of attacks to hit the Iraqi capital in just a matter of days, twin explosions late on Sunday targeted two banks associated with Kurdish politicians in central Baghdad’s Karrada district, leaving two people wounded.

It came two days after a hand grenade was thrown at the headquarters of the Taqaddum party, which is led by parliament’s Speaker Mohammed Halbousi. Hours later, a similar attack hit the office of Khamis al-Khanjar, another Sunni politician.

And on January 13, a rocket attack targeting the US embassy in the highly fortified Green Zone wounded several civilians, including a child and a woman.

An Iraqi man checks the scene of an explosion outside the Kurdish Cihan Bank in the Karrada district of Iraq

There has been no claim of responsibility for any of these attacks, which came days after the newly elected parliament’s first session on January 9, during which chaos reigned and physical altercations broke out. The dramatic meeting, which saw Halbousi reelected thanks to support from the Sadrist Movement and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – despite strong objection by al-Sadr’s opponents – inaugurated what is expected to be a long period of political wrangling to pick a new president and prime minister.

Analysts say the escalation tests the limits of al-Sadr’s bid to create a government that would, to a certain extent, steer away from the ethno-sectarian power-sharing arrangement established after the United States-led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Known as muhasasa, the system distributes power and state resources between Iraq’s three main religious and ethnic groups – Shia, Sunni and Kurdish – but has been reviled by protesters who in recent years took to the streets to demand a complete overhaul of the country’s political system.

Since his strong election showing in October, al-Sadr has frequently reiterated his commitment to form a “national majority government”, essentially sidelining the Shia Coordination Framework that includes figures such as former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, one of Sadr’s old foes, and the Fatah alliance, the political bloc that houses the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces and which suffered a devastating loss in the elections.

“A majority government can certainly be a responsible and effective government with clear tasks, expectations and responsibilities,” said Kamaran Palani, a research fellow at the Middle East Research Institute. “However, this idea is rejected by the Coordination Framework and every major party besides Sadr’s.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/ajcx1kTw7t4?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

Some pro-Iran militia groups had previously warned of intensified violence if Sunni and Kurd groups decided to join al-Sadr’s camp.

But al-Sadr – once the leader of the formidable Mahdi Army, a powerful militia group that vehemently fought US forces during Iraq’s occupation and was a major player in the post-invasion sectarian conflict – has stood firm.

“Today, there is no place for sectarianism or ethnic division, but a national majority government where the Shia defend the rights of minorities, the Sunnis and Kurds,” al-Sadr, whose party won 73 seats in the polls, tweeted one day before the first parliamentary session.

“Today there is no place for militias, and everyone will support the army, police and security forces.”

‘No good alternatives’

By defending his Sunni and Kurd allies, al-Sadr is treading further down the road of alienating groups such as Fatah, which, until the recent elections, wielded undeniable levels of power in Iraqi politics. Should al-Sadr managed to form a majority government with his Sunni and Kurd allies, al-Maliki’s State of Law party and Fatah could be pushed into the opposition – a dramatic blow to the status quo.

Analysts say such a rift between Iraq’s Shia groups would be unprecedented, and if either al-Sadr or the Shia Coordination Framework were to be pushed aside, a backlash would be almost inevitable.

“In either scenario, the opposite side will not only try to overthrow the government with legal and political tools but will escalate violently,” warned Lahib Higel, an Iraq analyst at Crisis Group.

“Political assassinations among Shia parties and armed groups hav[e] already occurred and may become more frequent and high-profile.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/0YKRh6aqqDU?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

Faced with the spectre of instability, some ordinary Iraqis say a majority government would bring about much-needed accountability, which has been largely absent under the current muhasasa system.

“I am not an al-Sadr supporter, but at this point, I’d love to see a majority government led by him because we don’t have any other good alternatives,” said Ahmed al-Haddad, a Baghdad resident.

“Also, if he forms a majority government and still drives the country to chaos, he wouldn’t have any excuse for the next election.”

Yet not all is rosy on the path to establishing a majority government in a country scarred by years of ineffective governance and sectarian violence.

“The whole point behind pushing for a majority government was to move beyond muhasasa,” said Hamzeh Hadad, an Iraqi political analyst. “But the latest election of parliament’s speaker and deputies reveals that we are far from abolishing muhasasa, as long as parties run based on ethno-sectarian identity where no party can win a majority in elections.”

What does the Antichrist want?

What does Muqtada Al-Sadr want

What does Muqtada Al-Sadr want?

Salah Nasrawi , Tuesday 18 Jan 2022

Full of energy and certitude, Al-Sadr is out to remake Iraq’s political order in his image, writes Salah Nasrawi

Iraq faces a pressing roster of crises, including government dysfunction, factional tensions, unabated terrorism, and Covid-19 infections that are spiralling dramatically upwards.

But prominent Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has emerged as Iraq’s most powerful leader, says he aims for his beleaguered country to end its prolonged misery and halt its tumble into chaos.

To that end, Al-Sadr is proposing sweeping changes to the way the country has been run since the US-led invasion in 2003. But first of all, Al-Sadr needs to be in charge.

Al-Sadr’s party was the largest vote-winner in the Iraqi parliamentary elections in October. The party, Saaroon, won 73 seats in the 329-seat parliament, more than any other and up from 54 in 2018. It beat an alliance of Iran-aligned militias led by the Fatah Coalition.

The election victory has given Al-Sadr major influence in the formation of Iraq’s next government, and he is relying on that to extend his hold over the country for as long as he deems fit.

Beyond that, no one really knows how he plans to steer the country through its multiple crises.

Al-Sadr, 47, hails from one of the most prestigious Shia religious families in Iraq and is widely seen as one of the most influential Shia political leaders to have emerged from the shadows of the US-led invasion.

For nearly two decades, Al-Sadr has outmanoeuvred other Shia leaders by manoeuvering himself into a position of power and individual prestige within the community. He has reinvented himself not just as the leader of a Shia faction, but effectively as a king-maker.

Al-Sadr has helped form Iraq’s successive governments, controlled one of the biggest political blocs in parliament, led a massive movement, and commanded a powerful militia. His power is undeniable, thanks to his grassroots party that is influential in working-class neighbourhoods across Iraq’s Shia-populated provinces.

Even more strikingly, Al-Sadr has installed allegiance to the legacy of his late father Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq Al-Sadr as the movement’s way of thinking. This has given him a platform to exercise more power and greater legitimacy among many Iraqi Shia.

Over the years, Al-Sadr’s political strategy has witnessed a sea change that has seen him shift from being a militant Shia cleric who advocates communalism to becoming a populist political leader who champions non-sectarianism in order to help forge a national-unity platform that can reform Iraq’s fundamentally flawed political system.

Since his Saaroon bloc came first in the country’s 2018 elections, winning 52 seats in parliament, the Sadrist Movement has come to control the Iraqi government. Through appointees in top posts, Al-Sadr has been able to clear government departments of unaffiliated bureaucrats and bring Sadrists in their place.

Through this carefully planned strategy to infiltrate the state apparatus, his followers have been taking up top jobs within local administrations and key ministries such as defence, the interior, communications, oil, electricity and transport.

In addition to being able to dominate Iraq’s huge civil service, Al-Sadr’s supporters now exert control over the country’s financial resources through the state budget and their own economic influence.

They wield enormous power in Iraq’s three state-owned banks and even in Iraq’s Central Bank.

Al-Sadr’s journey towards being Iraq’s paramount Shia leader was highlighted in the October parliamentary elections. Since he was declared the winner of most seats in the new assembly, he has refused to form a coalition with other Shia blocs as has been the norm after the polls since the US-led invasion.

Instead, Al-Sadr has been pushing for a “national majority” government that would put his Sadrist faction at the helm of an administration that would bring in Sunni Muslim and Kurdish representatives.

The formula would disfranchise nearly a dozen Shia political groups and their affiliated militias and give Al-Sadr overall authority.

Apart from his declared intention to uproot rival militias and rhetoric about fighting corruption and transcending sectarianism, neither Al-Sadr nor his top aides seem to have a desire to go into details about their strategy.

What Al-Sadr is working fervently to achieve is a dream project that flows from his intention to consolidate his power base among the Iraqi Shia and then to move to tighten his grip on the country as a whole in ways big and small.

To understand what is happening in Iraq following Al-Sadr’s bid to impose his model of leadership and ultimately to make it familiar to the region and the world, it helps to understand what Al-Sadr himself thinks, believes, and acts upon.

As Al-Sadr has started to signal his supremacy in Iraq’s politics, he has also adopted a more aggressive posture on the national stage, drawing new borders to circumscribe existing Shia power struggles and thus make Iraq well placed for further conflicts.

There is nothing that can explain Al-Sadr’s strategy better than his insistence on controlling the next government and running the country’s affairs. His worst nightmare is that his Shia foes will maintain their political power and have militias that may fight him over influence and authority in the country.

Therefore, Al-Sadr’s two imperatives are to exclude politically affiliated officials from government departments and to stuff them with his own cronies and to get rid of dozens of Shia militias and replace them with his own powerful Jaish Al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army, a paramilitary organisation.

The death of Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shia clergyman, could create a tremendous opportunity for Al-Sadr’s leadership.

Al-Sadr is not a mujtahid, or scholar of theology, making him ineligible to join those vying for Al-Sistani’s succession, but his influence might still be more than that enjoyed by many of the presumed contenders.

In December, Al-Sadr issued guidelines for his supporters in Iraq to follow fatwas, or legal rulings, issued by his late father, who was assassinated in 1999. The instructions are important because they underline Al-Sadr’s intention to keep power over the Hawza, or Shia school of theology in the city of Najaf, within his family line.

Meanwhile, the world is watching Al-Sadr’s rise with keen interest. Some of Iraq’s neighbours and world powers have geopolitical grievances, particularly about Iran’s influence and the role of its proxies in Iraq.

World and regional powers have been sending signals of support to Al-Sadr, whom they believe could stand up to Iran and the Iran-backed Shia groups in Iraq.

In recent weeks, the Western media, which used to describe Al-Sadr as a hardliner and a radical, has started to promote him as a moderate politician and the “face of reform in Iraq” in an apparent attempt to accept him as Iraq’s next leader.

The New York Times has even dubbed Al-Sadr as an “unlikely US ally.”

Al-Sadr may have grand ambitions and the self-confidence to match, but he has yet to show how he will deliver. He has no clear strategy for rebuilding the Iraqi state and nation or for consolidating its democratic and federal system as stipulated in its post-invasion constitution.

Al-Sadr remains a controversial figure, and to many of his critics he is out to remake Iraq’s order in his image. For all the bold headlines and focus from the media and the Iraq expert community about Al-Sadr transforming himself into a statesman, he is still a Shia clergyman with a strictly religious agenda that stokes sectarian politics.

When newly elected lawmakers from Al-Sadr’s parliamentary group arrived at the inaugural session of the new parliament in Baghdad last week, they donned the white shrouds that Muslims use to wrap their dead bearing inscriptions of Jaish Al-Mahdi on their backs.

The scene was reminiscent of numerous episodes of the rise to power of others, most strikingly the ascent of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 that began the newly established Islamic Republic in Iran.

The Antichrist’s New Endgame

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attends a meeting with Shia political leaders in Baghdad, Iraq December 2, 2021. (REUTERS)

Sadr’s new endgame

Will Sadr be able to continue trying to lure potential allies in light of the fear that is gripping them? As it grapples with that question, Iraq will live in a different sort of hell.Tuesday 18/01/2022

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attends a meeting with Shia political leaders in Baghdad, Iraq December 2, 2021. (REUTERS)

The dialogue between the victorious and defeated Shia political parties in the recent Iraqi elections has ended in failure. That was expected. It was also expected that this failure would lead to some armed confrontation.

That confrontation was not expected to take place indirectly. This is however what actually happened when the headquarters of the parties allied with Moqtada al-Sadr were the targets of armed attacks. It is not difficult to pin the blame for these on the militias backing the losing parties in the elections.

The attacks constituted an initial threat to the Sunni and Kurdish parties which have decided it is in their interests to ally themselves with Sadr in a decisive confrontation with the political parties which have clearly lost their popular base, who now owe their existence to the armed might of the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Today, the picture is no longer ambiguous but the political scene is due to become murkier. Rising violence will rule the next stage. Sadr’s allies may retreat from their alliance with him, but they will not retreat to the point of allying themselves with his enemies. These will become increasingly fierce in their search of an opportunity to abort Sadr’s dream of constituting the largest parliamentary bloc and therefore being entitled to forming a government.

The condition of the Sunni and Kurdish blocs will be that the Shia parties must resolve their differences, which is unlikely to happen. The two sides have parted ways and a middle-of-the-road path compromise is no longer possible.

The political delay will be prolonged and a new government will not be formed to succeed Mustafa Kadhimi’s administration, which will remain in existence for a long time but will be deprived of powers..

It has become clear that the defeated parties are no longer satisfied with the developments unfolding around them. They have come to the conclusion that since their own defeat, their former allies no longer need them.  They might as well conspire against them after realising how narrow their popular support base has become.  That support base is now only composed of militia members who may lose their livelihoods if their parties’ domination of the state and its wealth is over.

The logic here is that their electoral defeat epitomised a conspiracy aimed at weakening their ability to control relations between the so-called “Iraqi components” within the sectarian quota system.  This is not acceptable, not only from Iran’s perspective but also from that of those who run the corruption machine in the country, as overlapping interests have become the basis for managing the state’s structure. It is not unlikely that the government, any government, will be incapable of real action if the followers of the parties controlling the sinews of the state refuse to obey its orders and work instead to sabotage its projects.

The defeated Shia parties continue to press for the election results to be annulled,  even though the Federal Supreme Court has confirmed them. They had expected Sadr to give precedence to his sectarian affiliation and to prioritise that affiliation over any discord that the acceptance of the results might cause within the illusory “Shia house.” The solution was to be the return to a consensus formula instead of the reality of election results. From that perspective, Shia politics would regain its cohesion in the face of “the others” who would eventually consider themselves to be mere appendices, likely to benefit from the consensus as long as they abide by whatever Shia decision is reached.

However, Sadr was obstinate. He began tempting “the others” with the weakness of Shia parties under the slogan of a national majority government. Parties were in shock when he proceeded to act on his idea, which in reality was nothing but an attempt to consolidate the dominance of the Sadrist Movement over the political scene, with Sunni-Kurdish allies backing him.

Therefore, it was necessary for the parties to disrupt the political project, which, if it succeeded, could lead to a new political system. It is true that Sadr-instituted regime will also be sectarian, but this time it will exclude Iran’s most subservient allies. This means building a new state that will not be based on the ready-made US-Iranian deals.

The parties have preferred to start with the weak links before they launched their attack on Sadr. Weakening him politically before exhausting him militarily. They may not need an armed confrontation if his Sunni and Kurdish supporters desert him.

Other players will have to avoid stepping into the forbidden zone.

Will Sadr be able to continue trying to lure potential allies in light of the fear that is gripping them?

As it grapples with that question, Iraq will live in a different sort of hell.

Written ByFarouk Yousef