The Shi’a Hub of Muslim World Power (Daniel 8:8)

Iranian General: Islamic Revolution Hub of Muslim World Power

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A senior Iranian general said the Islamic Revolution would form the centerpiece of the Muslim world’s power by shaping a modern Islamic civilization.

Tasnim News Agency

Addressing a cultural ceremony in Tehran on Saturday, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military aide to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution and the incoming president of the “Research Institute of Sacred Defense Sciences and Hierology”, said the Islamic Revolution in Iran would create a modern Islamic civilization, which would in turn shape the hub of power in the Islamic world in the current century.

Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi highlighted a decline in the power of the arrogant countries, saying the oppressed nations are going to defeat the tyrants and arrogant powers.

Highlighting Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei’s remarks about the defeat of the US and Israeli policies, the general said Iran, Iraq, and Syria have succeeded in combatting Takfiri terrorists and the wicked policies of the US, the Israeli regime, and their regional servants under the Leader’s expert guidance.

The Sacred Defense –Iraqi imposed war on Iran in the 1980s- shaped the ideology of resistance, which later shaped the axis of resistance and brought victories for the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, he added.

In a speech in March 2018, Ayatollah Khamenei highlighted Iran’s influential role in the region, saying that the Islamic Republic has made an essential contribution to defeating Takfiri terrorists.

“The Islamic Republic managed to liberate the people from these Takfiris in an important part of this region,” Ayatollah Khamenei said at the time.

In recent years, the Middle East has been plagued with Takfiri terrorist groups like Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL), which are believed to have been created and supported by the West and some regional Arab countries.

The terrorist groups, which claim to be Islamic but whose actions are anything but, have been committing heinous crimes not only against non-Muslims, but mostly against Muslims in the region.

In November 2017, the self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh collapsed after Syrian and Iraqi armed forces and their allies, including Iran, managed to recapture the terror group’s last strongholds in the two Arab countries.

The Pakistani and Iranian Horns Align (Daniel 8:8)

Pakistan president lauds Ayatollah Khamenei for strong support on Kashmir issue

Pakistani President Arif Alvi said on Friday that Islamabad is grateful for Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his strong support for the just struggle of the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

During a meeting with Mehdi Honardoost, the outgoing Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, Alvi said that Pakistan greatly values Iran’s consistent support on various regional issues, Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Honardoost said that Pakistan and Iran are brotherly countries and regional peace and stability was their high priority.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their partition and independence from Britain in 1947. The disputed region is claimed in full by both sides, which have fought three wars over it.

Kashmir was the scene of fresh protests and placed under a lockdown ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked the Indian-administered region’s special status in August.

India has claimed the decision to strip the Muslim-majority region of its semi-autonomy was necessary for economic development in Kashmir and to stop “terrorism.”

Ayatollah Khamenei has urged India to follow a “fair policy” toward the Kashmiri people.

“We maintain good relations with the Indian government, but the Indian government is expected to adopt a fair policy toward the decent people of Kashmir so that the Muslim people of the region are not put under pressure,” he said in August.

NA/PA

Iranian Hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

Lizzie Porter

November 20, 2019

Carrot and stick: how one Iran-backed group is wielding power in Iraq with free housing and violence

Supporters of Asaib Ahl Al Haq reap the benefits, but detractors face serious threats

Every night, Sahla Al Hasani goes to sleep in a room lined with pictures of her dead son, coloured fairy lights draped around their frames.

“He visits me in my dreams a lot,” she says. “I feel proud of him and all Iraqi martyrs.

“I consider all of them my sons. But I miss him a lot. It is so difficult.”

Her son Sari was 25 when he was killed in June 2015 in Iraq’s Saladin province, during the campaign to remove ISIS.

He belonged to Asaib Ahl Al Haq – the League of the Righteous.

It is one of about 60 units in the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries.

Since Sari’s death, Asaib has paid for a new house for his family, a $10,000 (Dh36,700) pilgrimage to Makkah for Sahla, and has promised to cover his relatives’ healthcare costs.

It also covered the 5 million Iraqi dinar (Dh15,500) cost of his three-day funeral wake, after which he was buried in a plot owned by the unit in Wadi Al Salam, the cemetery for Shiites in Najaf.

It is all part of the benefits package the Iran-aligned militant group offers the families of dead fighters. It lost scores of men in anti-ISIS operations, in which the PMF as a whole played a major role.

Sahla Al Hasani keeps photographs of her son Sari, who was killed during the military campaign to oust ISIS in 2015. Lizzie Porter/ The National

The Al Hasanis are from Abu Al Khaseeb, a poor town south of Basra city of rough breezeblock buildings, where provision of state services like electricity and paved roads is patchy at best.

Inside their new Asaib-provided home, clean blue and brown tiles line the walls, plastic reed carpets cover the floor and a ceiling fan beats back the sticky heat.

A plaque on the outside wall has Asaib’s logo next to Sari’s death date.

“Our old house was in a poor state – this one is much better.

“There is water and electricity,” said Sari’s brother Zulfiqar, 23.

The housing campaign was officially launched in January, with a promise from Asaib’s leader Qais Al Khazali to build or repair “a house for the family of every martyr”.

Including the Al Hasanis, the group has so far provided new homes to five Basrawi families, at a cost of 30 million to 40 million dinars each.

It intends to provide for five more still living in rented accommodation.

Funding comes from Asaib’s budget as well as private donations, according to a member of the group’s martyrs’ committee in Basra.

“Our role is to build houses, provide social support and health care, as well as provide jobs to the martyrs’ relatives,” said the committee member, Abu Maryam.

Sari’s unemployed brother Zulfiqar said Asaib was helping him to secure work at Iraq’s state oil company.

Backed by Iran, Asaib formed in 2006 as a splinter group from cleric Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

It claimed thousands of attacks on US troops in Iraq, and kidnapped and killed Iraqis, Britons and Americans.

It also sent fighters to back the Assad regime in Syria.

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It has since tried to rebrand itself as a nationalist political party: it controls two ministries and has 15 MPs in the Iraqi parliament.

It has developed a wide network of youth associations, social services and women’s representatives.

That welfare system mirrors those of other Iran-aligned groups in the Middle East.

In Lebanon, despite a failing economy and US sanctions, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah provides housing, health care and education for the families of its dead and injured fighters.

In Iraq, not all PMF units are aligned with Iran. But as the fight against ISIS has wound down, analysts say those who do side with Tehran have been using service provision to push for incremental social change.

“This is another way of them saying, stability also comes from us – we are always fighting … but you’re living a better life, a more just life, and you’re getting services and other fun stuff that you need,” said Phillip Smyth, a researcher on Shiite militant groups at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“That’s a big facet to it.”

Yet not everyone is happy with Asaib and similar groups’ activities, especially their responses to the anti-government protests that have swept across southern Iraq for the past two months.

An activist from Basra fled Iraq last week after discovering that his name was on a wanted list drawn up by local political parties and the intelligence services.

“I fled in secret to the airport and I booked the next plane I could,” he told The National from a nearby country.

The activist’s family escaped from Iraq years ago after receiving threats from Asaib over business links with American contractors. He returned to Basra, but last year started receiving direct threats again on social media, through telephone calls and in person.

“We have been subjected to a lot of harassment, plus direct and indirect threats because of activities that they don’t like, like charitable activities and cultural festivals,” the activist said. “An example of a threat is, ‘Shut up, otherwise we’ll make you shut up in our own special way’.”

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which party was sending the threats, he said, as all use similar intimidation techniques. But along with another Shiite group, Asaib “is the most active” in threatening people in Basra who oppose its activities, he said.

His account was supported by four other activists and analysts interviewed by The National.

Although protesters have publicly beaten pictures of top Iranian leaders, they appear reluctant to speak out against their Iraqi partners.

“Everyone is scared because of Asaib Ahl Al Haq,” said another Iraqi activist.

“They are highly trained killers. They had lots of equipment, even before they went into politics, and they are more powerful now. Whenever I asked in our networks to speak to a journalist about them, they replied: ‘Are you crazy? We don’t want our voice to be heard.’ They get scared.”

Asaib’s offices have been attacked by protesters who blame them – and other political parties – for rampant corruption. Last month, a group attacked and killed a local leader, Wissam Al Allawi, although it is not known if he was singled out specifically.

Like the Iraqi army and anti-­riot police, Asaib responded to protesters with force.

Seven protesters were killed last month when a gunman shot at them in Nasiriyah, a city between Basra and Baghdad, according to a witness.

Another estimate put the death toll at five.

“There were a number of people who were going out to protest and someone opened fire on them from the Asaib Ahl Al Haq headquarters,” the witness said. “The party members then drove around the streets, opening fire. The authorities didn’t intervene until the protesters started to set fire to the Asaib HQ.”

A verified video clip from the city of Amara, 70 kilometres from the Iranian border, showed another gunman shooting at protesters from a building bearing Asaib’s logo.

Al Khazali has said that he supports protesters’ demands for better government, but claimed demonstrations have been infiltrated by “foreign parties”, including Israel and the US.

They want to cause “chaos and internal disorder” in Iraq, he said.

Relatives celebrate the marriage of Saif Ali, a protester who decided to celebrate marriage in Tahrir Square during ongoing anti-government protests. AP

<img src=”/image/policy:1.939571:1574160024/image/d63a84c339a24065b4a3d5965196da5a-d63a84c339a24065b4a3d5965196da5a-5c1662d7d781414bab1d8aae8d1382de-edb3a.jpg?f=1×1&amp;w=480&amp;$p$f$w=bde3876″ />

Asaib’s spokesman denied the group had threatened people.

He told The National that any retaliation for the death of Al Allawi, the local leader, would be through legal means.

Analysts say the militant group and other Iran-aligned PMF brigades may take after Tehran when it comes to cracking down on dissent, using strategies of plausible deniability.

They will probably use a combination of “discreet violence and media manipulation” to “absorb some public anger and undermine the protest movement”, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk newsletter.

“I suspect that’s in part because they know that’s how Iran deals with these things.

“When there are protests in Iran, the government is able to figure out: who are the people we need to isolate; who are the people we need to target; who can be intimidated; who cannot; and how long should we let it go on? I think that’s probably how they’re looking at this.”

Another Iraqi with knowledge of Asaib said that the group threatened people who disagreed with their vision of ruling Iraq.

“They are against a civil state in Iraq – they want a Wilayat Al Faqih,” the source said, referring to the system of government applied in Iran under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Many Shiites do not believe in this form of leadership.

The activist who fled Basra is determined to return home, but does not know when it will be safe to do so.

“I am not the type to be scared,” he said. “I will disappear until the arrest warrant is dropped.

“I don’t know how long that will be. It could be two weeks or two months. I don’t know.”

Updated: November 20, 2019 08:17 PM

Iran’s Secret Hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

The Iran Cables: Secret Documents Show How Tehran Wields Power in Iraq

Hundreds of leaked intelligence reports shed light on a shadow war for regional influence — and the battles within the Islamic Republic’s own spy divisions

By Tim Arango, James Risen, Farnaz Fassihi, Ronen Bergman and Murtaza Hussain

Nov. 18, 2019

All of the Iraqi Army’s intelligence — consider it yours. Tell me whatever you need and I will provide it for you.

ALL OF THE IRAQI ARMY’S INTELLIGENCE — CONSIDER IT YOURS. TELL ME WHATEVER YOU NEED AND I WILL PROVIDE IT FOR YOU.

In mid-October, with unrest swirling in Baghdad, a familiar visitor slipped quietly into the Iraqi capital. The city had been under siege for weeks, as protesters marched in the streets, demanding an end to corruption and calling for the ouster of the prime minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi. In particular, they denounced the outsize influence of their neighbor Iran in Iraqi politics, burning Iranian flags and attacking an Iranian consulate.

The visitor was there to restore order, but his presence highlighted the protesters’ biggest grievance: he was Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran’s powerful Quds Force, and he had come to persuade an ally in the Iraqi Parliament to help the prime minister hold onto his job.

It was not the first time General Suleimani had been dispatched to Baghdad to do damage control. Tehran’s efforts to prop up Mr. Mahdi are part of its long campaign to maintain Iraq as a pliable client state.

Now leaked Iranian documents offer a detailed portrait of just how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs, and of the unique role of General Suleimani. The documents are contained in an archive of secret Iranian intelligence cables obtained by The Intercept and shared with The New York Times for this article, which is being published simultaneously by both news organizations.

The unprecedented leak exposes Tehran’s vast influence in Iraq, detailing years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life.

Many of the cables describe real-life espionage capers that feel torn from the pages of a spy thriller. Meetings are arranged in dark alleyways and shopping malls or under the cover of a hunting excursion or a birthday party. Informants lurk at the Baghdad airport, snapping pictures of American soldiers and keeping tabs on coalition military flights. Agents drive meandering routes to meetings to evade surveillance. Sources are plied with gifts of pistachios, cologne and saffron. Iraqi officials, if necessary, are offered bribes. The archive even contains expense reports from intelligence ministry officers in Iraq, including one totaling 87.5 euros spent on gifts for a Kurdish commander.

About the Iran Cables

This article was reported in partnership with The Intercept, a nonprofit investigative news organization.

[Read the key findings from this investigation.]

According to one of the leaked Iranian intelligence cables, Mr. Mahdi, who in exile worked closely with Iran while Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq, had a “special relationship with the I.R.I.” — the Islamic Republic of Iran — when he was Iraq’s oil minister in 2014. The exact nature of that relationship is not detailed in the cable, and, as one former senior U.S. official cautioned, a “special relationship could mean a lot of things — it doesn’t mean he is an agent of the Iranian government.” But no Iraqi politician can become prime minister without Iran’s blessing, and Mr. Mahdi, when he secured the premiership in 2018, was seen as a compromise candidate acceptable to both Iran and the United States.

The leaked cables offer an extraordinary glimpse inside the secretive Iranian regime. They also detail the extent to which Iraq has fallen under Iranian influence since the American invasion in 2003, which transformed Iraq into a gateway for Iranian power, connecting the Islamic Republic’s geography of dominance from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

The trove of leaked Iranian intelligence reports largely confirms what was already known about Iran’s firm grip on Iraqi politics. But the reports reveal far more than was previously understood about the extent to which Iran and the United States have used Iraq as a staging area for their spy games. They also shed new light on the complex internal politics of the Iranian government, where competing factions are grappling with many of the same challenges faced by American occupying forces as they struggled to stabilize Iraq after the United States invasion.

And the documents show how Iran, at nearly every turn, has outmaneuvered the United States in the contest for influence.

The archive is made up of hundreds of reports and cables written mainly in 2014 and 2015 by officers of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or M.O.I.S., who were serving in the field in Iraq. The intelligence ministry, Iran’s version of the C.I.A., has a reputation as an analytical and professional agency, but it is overshadowed and often overruled by its more ideological counterpart, the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was formally established as an independent entity in 2009 at the order of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, which Iran considers crucial to its national security, the Revolutionary Guards — and in particular its elite Quds Force, led by General Suleimani — determines Iran’s policies. Ambassadors to those countries are appointed from the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guards, not the foreign ministry, which oversees the intelligence ministry, according to several advisers to current and past Iranian administrations. Officers from the intelligence ministry and from the Revolutionary Guards in Iraq worked parallel to one another, said these sources. They reported their findings back to their respective headquarters in Tehran, which in turn organized them into reports for the Supreme Council of National Security.

Cultivating Iraqi officials was a key part of their job, and it was made easier by the alliances many Iraqi leaders forged with Iran when they belonged to opposition groups fighting Saddam Hussein. Many of Iraq’s foremost political, military, and security officials have had secret relationships with Tehran, according to the documents. The same 2014 cable that described Mr. Mahdi’s “special relationship” also named several other key members of the cabinet of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as having close ties with Iran.

[Undated Fragment]

هدف بالفعل که ایشان می تواند همکاری نماید در راستای اشراف اطلاعاتی از روابط و برنامه های دولت ایالات متحده آمریکا در عراق و بر خورد با موضوع داعش و هر گونه برنامه پنهان این کشور در این موضوع، و در هدف بالقوه ایشان می تواند نشانگر خوبی در وزارت خارجه آمریکا و یا در بین افراد مستعد همکاری، سران اهل سنت و اکراد عراق، باشد.

The current objective is for this person to provide intelligence insights into the U.S. government’s plans in Iraq, whether it is for dealing with ISIS or any other covert operations. The ultimate goal is for this person to be an informant, either in the U.S. State Department or with any Iraqi Sunni or Kurdish leaders who are willing to cooperate.

A political analyst and adviser on Iraq to Iran’s government, Gheis Ghoreishi, confirmed that Iran has focused on cultivating high-level officials in Iraq. “We have a good number of allies among Iraqi leaders who we can trust with our eyes closed,” he said.

Three Iranian officials were asked to comment for this article, in queries that described the existence of the leaked cables and reports. Alireza Miryusefi, a spokesman for Iran’s United Nations mission, said he was away until later this month. Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s United Nations ambassador, did not respond to a written request that was hand-delivered to his official residence. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did not respond to an emailed request.

When reached by telephone, Hassan Danaiefar, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2017 and a former deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces, declined to directly address the existence of the cables or their release, but he did suggest that Iran had the upper hand in information gathering in Iraq. “Yes, we have a lot of information from Iraq on multiple issues, especially about what America was doing there,” he said. “There is a wide gap between the reality and perception of U.S. actions in Iraq. I have many stories to tell.” He declined to elaborate.

According to the reports, after the American troop withdrawal in 2011, Iran moved quickly to add former C.I.A. informants to its payroll. One undated section of an intelligence ministry cable shows that Iran began the process of recruiting a spy inside the State Department. It is unclear what came of the recruitment effort, but according to the files, Iran had started meeting with the source, and offered to reward the potential asset with a salary, gold coins and other gifts. The State Department official is not named in the cable, but the person is described as someone who would be able to provide “intelligence insights into the U.S. government’s plans in Iraq, whether it is for dealing with ISIS or any other covert operations.”

“The subject’s incentive in collaborating will be financial,” the report said.

The State Department declined to comment on the matter.

In interviews, Iranian officials acknowledged that Iran viewed surveillance of American activity in Iraq after the United States invasion as critical to its survival and national security. When American forces toppled Saddam Hussein, Iran swiftly moved some of its best officers from both the intelligence ministry and from the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards to Iraq, according to the Iranian government advisers and a person affiliated with the Guards. President George W. Bush had declared Iran to be part of an “axis of evil,” and Iranian leaders believed Tehran would be next on Washington’s list of regime-change capitals after Kabul and Baghdad.

700 pages of documents

Around the world, governments have had to contend with the occasional leak of secret communiqués or personal emails as a fact of modern life. Not so in Iran, where information is tightly controlled and the security services are widely feared.

The roughly 700 pages of leaked reports were sent anonymously to The Intercept, which translated them from Persian to English and shared them with The Times. The Intercept and The Times verified the authenticity of the documents but do not know who leaked them. The Intercept communicated over encrypted channels with the source, who declined to meet with a reporter. In these anonymous messages, the source said that they wanted to “let the world know what Iran is doing in my country Iraq.”

Like the internal communications of any spy service, some of the reports contain raw intelligence whose accuracy is questionable, while others appear to represent the views of intelligence officers and sources with their own agendas.

Some of the cables show bumbling and comical ineptitude, like one that describes the Iranian spies who broke into a German cultural institute in Iraq only to find they had the wrong codes and could not unlock the safes. Other officers were browbeaten by their superiors in Tehran for laziness, and for sending back to headquarters reports that relied only on news accounts.

But by and large, the intelligence ministry operatives portrayed in the documents appear patient, professional and pragmatic. Their main tasks are to keep Iraq from falling apart; from breeding Sunni militants on the Iranian border; from descending into sectarian warfare that might make Shia Muslims the targets of violence; and from spinning off an independent Kurdistan that would threaten regional stability and Iranian territorial integrity. The Revolutionary Guards and General Suleimani have also worked to eradicate the Islamic State, but with a greater focus on maintaining Iraq as a client state of Iran and making sure that political factions loyal to Tehran remain in power.

This portrait is all the more striking at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. Since 2018, when President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, the White House has rushed ships to the Persian Gulf and reviewed military plans for war with Iran. In October, the Trump administration promised to send American troops to Saudi Arabia following attacks on oil facilities there for which Iran was widely blamed.

‘Tell them we are at your service.’

With a shared faith and tribal affiliations that span a porous border, Iran has long been a major presence in Southern Iraq. It has opened religious offices in Iraq’s holy cities and posted banners of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on its streets. It supports some of the most powerful political parties in the south, dispatches Iranian students to study in Iraqi seminaries and sends Iranian construction workers to build Iraqi hotels and refurbish Iraqi shrines.

But while Iran may have bested the United States in the contest for influence in Baghdad, it has struggled to win popular support in the Iraqi south. Now, as the last six weeks of protests make clear, it is facing unexpectedly strong pushback. Across the south, Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties are seeing their headquarters burned and their leading operatives assassinated, an indication that Iran may have underestimated the Iraqi desire for independence not just from the United States but also from its neighbor.

In a sense, the leaked Iranian cables provide a final accounting of the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq. The notion that the Americans handed control of Iraq to Iran when they invaded now enjoys broad support, even within the United States military. A recent two-volume history of the Iraq War, published by the United States Army, details the campaign’s many missteps and its “staggering cost” in lives and money. Nearly 4,500 American troops were killed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died and American taxpayers spent up to $2 trillion on the war. The study, which totals hundreds of pages and draws on declassified documents, concludes: “An emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.”

Akkaz

gas field

By The New York Times

Iran’s rise as a power player in Iraq was in many ways a direct consequence of Washington’s lack of any post-invasion plan. The early years following the fall of Saddam were chaotic, both in terms of security and in the lack of basic services like water and electricity. To most observers on the ground, it appeared as if the United States was shaping policy on the go, and in the dark.

Among the most disastrous American policies were the decisions to dismantle Iraq’s armed forces and to purge from government service or the new armed forces any Iraqi who had been a member of Saddam’s ruling Baath Party. This process, known as de-Baathification, automatically marginalized most Sunni men. Unemployed and resentful, they formed a violent insurgency targeting Americans and Shias seen as United States allies.

As sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shias raged, the Shia population looked to Iran as a protector. When ISIS gained control of territory and cities, the Shias’ vulnerability and the failure of the United States to protect them fueled efforts by the Revolutionary Guards and General Suleimani to recruit and mobilize Shia militias loyal to Iran.

According to the intelligence ministry documents, Iran has continued to take advantage of the opportunities the United States has afforded it in Iraq. Iran, for example, reaped an intelligence windfall of American secrets as the United States presence began to recede after its 2011 troop withdrawal. The C.I.A. had tossed many of its longtime secret agents out on the street, leaving them jobless and destitute in a country still shattered from the invasion — and fearful that they could be killed for their links with the United States, possibly by Iran. Short of money, many began to offer their services to Tehran. And they were happy to tell the Iranians everything they knew about C.I.A. operations in Iraq.

Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, in Tehran in 2016. Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

In November 2014, one of them, an Iraqi who had spied for the C.I.A., broke and terrified that his ties to the Americans would cost him his life, switched sides. The C.I.A., according to the cable, had known the man by a nickname: “Donnie Brasco.” His Iranian handler would call him, simply “Source 134992.”

Turning to Iran for protection, he said that everything he knew about American intelligence gathering in Iraq was for sale: the locations of C.I.A. safe houses; the names of hotels where C.I.A. operatives met with agents; details of his weapons and surveillance training; the names of other Iraqis working as spies for the Americans.

Source 134992 told the Iranian operatives he had worked for the agency for 18 months starting in 2008, on a program targeting Al Qaeda. He said he had been paid well for his work — $3,000 per month, plus a one-time bonus of $20,000 and a car.

But swearing on the Quran, he promised that his days of spying for the United States were over, and agreed to write a full report for the Iranians on everything he knew from his time with the C.I.A.

“I will turn over to you all the documents and videos that I have from my training course,” the Iraqi man told his Iranian handler, according to a 2014 Iranian intelligence report. “And pictures and identifying features of my fellow trainees and my subordinates.”

The C.I.A. declined to comment.

Iranian spies, Iraqi officials say, are everywhere in the south, and the region has long been a beehive of espionage. It was there, in Karbala in late 2014, that an Iraqi military intelligence officer, down from Baghdad, met with an Iranian intelligence official and offered to spy for Iran — and to tell the Iranians whatever he could about American activities in Iraq.

“Iran is my second country and I love it,” the Iraqi official told the Iranian officer, according to one of the cables. In a meeting that lasted more than three hours, the Iraqi told of his devotion to the Iranian system of government, in which clerics rule directly, and his admiration for Iranian movies.

He said he had come with a message from his boss in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Hatem al-Maksusi, then commander of military intelligence in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense: “Tell them we are at your service. Whatever you need is at their disposal. We are Shiite and have a common enemy.”

General al-Maksusi’s messenger continued, “All of the Iraqi Army’s intelligence — consider it yours.” He told the Iranian intelligence officer about secret targeting software the United States had provided to the Iraqis, and offered to turn it over to the Iranians. “If you have a new laptop, give it to me so I can upload the program onto it,” he said.

And there was more, he said. The United States had also given Iraq a highly sensitive system for eavesdropping on mobile phones, which was run out of the prime minister’s office and the headquarters of Iraqi military intelligence. “I will put at your disposal whatever intelligence about it you want,” he said.

In an interview, General al-Maksusi, disputed saying the things attributed to him in the cables and denied ever working for Iran. He praised Iran for its help in the fight against the Islamic State, but said he had also maintained a close relationship with the United States. “I worked for Iraq and did not work for any other state,” he said. “I was not the intelligence director for the Shiites, but I was intelligence director for all of Iraq.”

When asked about the cable, a former American official said the United States had become aware of the Iraqi military intelligence officer’s ties to Iran and had limited his access to sensitive information.

‘The Americans’ candidate’

By late 2014, the United States was once again pouring weapons and soldiers into Iraq as it began battling the Islamic State. Iran, too, had an interest in defeating the militants. As ISIS took control of the west and the north, young Iraqi men traveled across the deserts and marshes of the south by the busload, heading to Iran for military training.

Some within the American and Iranian governments believed the two rivals should coordinate their efforts against a common enemy. But Iran, as the leaked cables make clear, also viewed the increased American presence as a threat and a “cover” to gather intelligence about Iran.

“What is happening in the sky over Iraq shows the massive level of activity of the coalition,” one Iranian officer wrote. “The danger for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests represented by their activity must be taken seriously.”

The rise of ISIS was at the same time driving a wedge between the Obama administration and a large swath of the Iraqi political class. Mr. Obama had pushed for the ouster of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as a condition for renewed American military support. He believed Mr. al-Maliki’s draconian policies and crackdowns on Iraqi Sunnis had helped lead to the rise of the militants.

2014 Iraqi security forces inspect the bodies of Islamic State militants after clashes in Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad. Associated Press

Mr. al-Maliki, who had lived in exile in Iran in the 1980s, was a favorite of Tehran’s. His replacement, the British-educated Haider al-Abadi, was seen as more friendly to the West and less sectarian. Facing the uncertainty of a new prime minister, Hassan Danaiefar, then Iran’s ambassador, called a secret meeting of senior staffers at the Iranian Embassy, a hulking, fortified structure just outside Baghdad’s Green Zone.

As the meeting progressed, it became clear the Iranians had little cause to worry about the new Iraqi government. Mr. Al-Abadi was dismissed as “a British man,” and “the Americans’ candidate,” but the Iranians believed they had plenty of other ministers in their pocket.

One by one, Danaiefar went down the list of cabinet members, describing their relationships to Iran.

Ibrahim al-Jafari — who had previously served as Iraqi prime minister and by late 2014 was the foreign minister — was, like Mr. Mahdi, identified as having a “special relationship” with Iran. In an interview, Mr. al-Jafari did not deny that he had close relations with Iran, but said he had always dealt with foreign countries based on the interests of Iraq.

Iran counted on the loyalty of many lesser cabinet members as well.

The report said the ministers of municipalities, communications and human rights “are in complete harmony and at one with us and are our people.” The environment minister, it said, “works with us, although he is Sunni.” The transportation minister — Bayan Jabr, who had led the Iraqi Interior Ministry at a time when hundreds of prisoners were tortured to death with electric drills or summarily shot by Shiite death squads — was deemed to be “very close” to Iran. When it came to Iraq’s education minister, the report says, “we will have no problem with him.”

The former ministers of municipalities, communications and human rights were all members of the Badr Organization, a political and military group established by Iran in the 1980s to oppose Saddam Hussein. The former minister of municipalities denied having a close relationship with Iran; the former human rights minister acknowledged being close to Iran, and praised Iran for helping Shiite Iraqis during Mr. Hussein’s dictatorship, and for help defeating the Islamic State. The former minister of communications said that he served Iraq, not Iran, and that he maintained relationships with diplomats from many countries; the former minister of education said that he had not been supported by Iran, and that he served at the request of Prime Minister al-Abadi. The former environment minister could not be reached for comment.

Iran’s dominance over Iraqi politics is vividly shown in one important episode from the fall of 2014, when Baghdad was a city at the center of a multinational maelstrom. The Syrian civil war was raging to the west, Islamic State militants had seized almost a third of Iraq and American troops were heading back to the region to confront the growing crisis.

Against this chaotic backdrop, Mr. Jabr, then the transportation minister, welcomed General Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, to his office. General Suleimani had come to ask a favor: Iran needed access to Iraqi airspace to fly planeloads of weapons and other supplies to support the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in its fight against American-backed rebels.

It was a request that placed Mr. Jabr at the center of the longstanding rivalry between the United States and Iran. Obama administration officials had been lobbying hard to get the Iraqis to stop Iranian flights through their airspace, but face to face with the Quds chief, Iraq’s transportation minister found it impossible to refuse.

General Suleimani, Mr. Jabr recalled, “came to me and requested that we permit Iranian airplanes to use Iraqi air space to pass on to Syria,” according to one of the cables. The transportation minister did not hesitate, and General Suleimani appeared to be pleased. “I put my hands on my eyes and said, ‘On my eyes! As you wish!’” Mr. Jabr told the intelligence ministry officer. “Then he got up and approached me and kissed my forehead.”

Mr. Jabr confirmed the meeting with General Suleimani, but said the flights from Iran to Syria carried humanitarian supplies and religious pilgrims traveling to Syria to visit holy sites, not weapons and military supplies to aid Mr. Assad as American officials believed.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials known to have a relationship with the United States came under special scrutiny, and Iran took measures to counter American influence. Indeed, many of the files show that as top American diplomats met behind closed doors with their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad, their conversations were routinely reported back to the Iranians.

2017 Iraqis walk past a poster of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Diyala. Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Throughout 2014 and 2015, as a new Iraqi government settled in, the American ambassador, Stuart Jones, met often with Salim al-Jabouri, who was speaker of the Iraqi Parliament until last year. Mr. al-Jabouri, although he is Sunni, was known to have a close relationship with Iran, but the files now reveal that one of his top political advisers — identified as Source 134832 — was an Iranian intelligence asset. “[I] am present in his office on a daily basis and carefully follow his contacts with the Americans,” the source told his Iranian handler. Mr. al-Jabouri, in an interview, said he did not believe that anyone on his staff had worked as an agent for Iran, and that he fully trusted his aides. (Mr. Jones declined to comment.)

The source urged the Iranians to develop closer ties to Mr. al-Jabouri, to blunt American efforts to nurture a new class of younger Sunni leaders in Iraq and perhaps bring about reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. The source warned that Iran should act to keep the Parliament speaker from “slipping into a pro-American position, since one of Salim al-Jabouri’s characteristics is credulousness and making hasty decisions.”

Another report reveals that Nechervan Barzani, then the prime minister of Kurdistan, met with top American and British officials and Mr. al-Abadi, the Iraqi prime minister, in Baghdad in December 2014, and then went almost immediately to meet with an Iranian official to tell him everything. Through a spokesman, Mr. Barzani said he did not recall meeting with any Iranian officials at the time, and described the cable as “baseless and unfounded.” He said he “absolutely denies” telling the Iranians details about his conversations with American and British diplomats.

Sometimes, the Iranians also saw trade value in the information they received from their Iraqi sources.

One report from the al-Jabouri adviser revealed that the United States was interested in gaining access to a rich natural gas field in Akkas, near Iraq’s border with Syria. The source explained that the Americans might eventually try to export the natural gas to Europe, a major market for Russian natural gas. Intrigued, the intelligence ministry officer, in a cable to Tehran, wrote, “It is recommended that the aforementioned information be used in exchange with the Russians and Syria.” The cable was written just as Russia was significantly stepping up its involvement in Syria, and as Iran continued its military buildup there, in support of President al-Assad.

And although Iran was initially suspicious of Mr. al-Abadi’s allegiances, a report written a few months after his rise to the premiership suggested that he was quite willing to have a confidential relationship with Iranian intelligence. A January 2015 report details a private meeting between al-Abadi and an intelligence ministry officer known as Boroujerdi, held in the prime minister’s office “without the presence of a secretary or a third person.”

During the meeting, Boroujerdi homed in on Iraq’s Sunni-Shia divide, probing Mr. al-Abadi’s feelings on perhaps the most sensitive subject in Iraqi politics. “Today, the Sunnis find themselves in the worst possible circumstances and have lost their self-confidence,” the intelligence officer opined, according to the cable. “The Sunnis are vagrants, their cities are destroyed and an unclear future awaits them, while the Shias can retrieve their self-confidence.”

Iraq’s Shia were “at a historical turning point,” Boroujerdi continued. The Iraqi government and Iran could “take advantage of this situation.”

According to the cable, the prime minister expressed his “complete agreement.” Mr. Abadi declined to comment.

2018 Volunteers collect bodies in Mosul, Iraq. Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

‘Sweetness into bitterness’

Ever since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, Iran has put itself forward as the protector of Iraq’s Shiites, and General Suleimani, more than anyone else, has employed the dark arts of espionage and covert military action to ensure that Shiite power remains ascendant. But it has come at the cost of stability, with Sunnis perennially disenfranchised and looking to other groups, like the Islamic State, to protect them.

A 2014 massacre of Sunnis in the farming community of Jurf al-Sakhar was a vivid example of the kinds of sectarian atrocities committed by armed groups loyal to Iran’s Quds Force that had alarmed the United States throughout the Iraq War, and undermined efforts at reconciliation. As the field reports make clear, some of the Americans’ concerns were shared by the Iranian intelligence ministry. That signaled divisions within Iran over its Iraq policies between more moderate elements under President Hassan Rouhani and militant factions like the Revolutionary Guards.

Date: 2014-11-23

منطقه عمومی جرف صخر کاملا از عوامل تروریست پاکسازی و حتی خانواده ها نیز ازآنجا کوچانده شده اند و منازل توسط نیروهای نظامی تخریب شده و باقیمانده آنها تخریب خواهند گردید ودر برخی مناطق درختان نخل از ریشه کنده تا سوزانده شوند و امکان حضور تروریستها و پناه گرفتن در میان منازل و درختان میسر نگردد. احشام مردم منطقه (گاو گوسفند) در نقاط مختلف پراکنده شده اند و بدون صاحب مشغول چرا هستند.

The area around Jurf Al-Sakhar has been cleansed of terrorist agents. Their families have been driven away, most of their houses have been destroyed by military forces and the rest will be destroyed. In some places, the palm orchards have been uprooted to be burned to prevent the terrorists from taking shelter among the trees.

The people’s livestock (cows and sheep) have been scattered and are grazing without their owners.

Jurf al-Sakhar, which lies just east of Falluja in the Euphrates River Valley, is lush with orange trees and palm groves. It was overrun by the Islamic State in 2014, giving militants a foothold from which they could launch attacks on the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

Jurf al-Sakhar is also important to Iran because it lies on a route Shiite religious pilgrims use to travel to Karbala during Muharram, the monthlong commemoration of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, a revered figure for Shiites.

When Shiite militias supported by Iran drove the militants out of Jurf al-Sakhar in late 2014, the first major victory over the Islamic State, it became a ghost town. It was no longer a threat to the thousands of Shiite pilgrims who would pass by, but Iran’s victory came at a high cost to the town’s Sunni residents. Tens of thousands were displaced, and a local politician, the only Sunni member on the provincial council, was found with a bullet hole through his head.

One cable describes the damage in almost biblical terms. “As a result of these operations,” its author reported, “the area around Jurf al-Sakhar has been cleansed of terrorist agents. Their families have been driven away, most of their houses have been destroyed by military forces and the rest will be destroyed. In some places, the palm orchards have been uprooted to be burned to prevent the terrorists from taking shelter among the trees. The people’s livestock (cows and sheep) have been scattered and are grazing without their owners.”

The Jurf al-Sakhar operation and other bloody actions led by Iran’s proxies and directed by Tehran further alienated Iraq’s Sunni population, according to one report, which notes that “destroying villages and houses, looting the Sunnis’ property and livestock turned the sweetness of these successes” against the Islamic State into “bitterness.” One of the Jurf al-Sakhar cables cast the impact of Shiite militias in particularly stark terms: “In all the areas where the Popular Mobilization Forces go into action, the Sunnis flee, abandoning their homes and property, and prefer to live in tents as refugees or reside in camps.”

The intelligence ministry feared that Iran’s gains in Iraq were being squandered because Iraqis so resented the Shia militias and the Quds Force that sponsored them. Above all, its officers blamed General Suleimani, whom they saw as a dangerous self-promoter using the anti-ISIS campaign as a launching pad for a political career back home in Iran. One report, which states at the top that it is not to be shared with the Quds Force, criticizes the general personally for publicizing his leading role in the military campaign in Iraq by “publishing pictures of himself on different social media sites.”

Doing that had made it obvious that Iran controlled the dreaded Shia militias — a potential gift to its rivals. “This policy of Iran in Iraq,” the report said, “has allowed the Americans to return to Iraq with greater legitimacy. And groups and individuals who had been fighting against the Americans among the Sunnis are now wishing that not only America, but even Israel, would enter Iraq and save Iraq from Iran’s clutches.”

At times, the Iranians sought to counter the ill will generated by their presence in Iraq with soft-power campaigns similar to American battlefield efforts to win “hearts and minds.” Hoping to gain a “propaganda advantage and restore Iran’s image among the people,” Iran devised a plan to send pediatricians and gynecologists to villages in northern Iraq to administer health services, according to one field report. It is not clear, however, if that initiative materialized.

Date: 2014-11-29

ضرورت دارد که حد و حدودی برای جلوگیری از خشونت علیه افراد بی گناه اهل سنت درعراق و اقدامات آقای سلیمانی اندیشیده شود و الی خشونت و درگیری میان شیعه و سنی همچنان ادامه پیدا کرده و در حال حاضر هر گونه اقدامی علیه اهل سنت به حساب ایران نوشته می شود٬ چه ایران مستقیم و غیر مستقیم در آن نقش داشته باشد و یا نقشی در آن نداشته باشد.

We must think about limiting violence against innocent Sunnis in Iraq and limiting Mr. Soleimani’s measures, or else violence and strife between Shiites and Sunnis will continue. Currently, any actions taken against Sunnis will be blamed on Iran, whether Iran had a direct or indirect role in it, or none at all.

Just as often, Iran would use its influence to close lucrative development deals. With Iraq dependent on Iran for military support in the fight against the Islamic State, one cable shows the Quds Force receiving oil and development contracts from Iraq’s Kurds in exchange for weapons and other aid. In the south, Iran was awarded contracts for sewage and water purification by paying a $16 million bribe to a member of Parliament, according to another field report.

2019 Graffiti on a street sign in Najaf, a city in central Iraq. Protesters blacked out the real name — Khomeini Street — and painted in “Revolution Street.” Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Today, Iran is struggling to maintain its hegemony in Iraq, just as the Americans did after the 2003 invasion. Iraqi officials, meanwhile, are increasingly worried that a provocation in Iraq on either side could set off a war between the two powerful countries vying for dominance in their homeland. Against this geopolitical backdrop, Iraqis learned long ago to take a pragmatic approach to the overtures of Iran’s spies — even Sunni Iraqis who view Iran as an enemy.

“Not only doesn’t he believe in Iran, but he doesn’t believe that Iran might have positive intentions toward Iraq,” one Iranian case officer wrote in late 2014, about an Iraqi intelligence recruit described as a Baathist who had once worked for Saddam Hussein and later the C.I.A. “But he is a professional spy and understands the reality of Iran and the Shia in Iraq and will collaborate to save himself.”

This story was reported in partnership with The Intercept, where James Risen is the senior national security correspondent and Murtaza Hussain is a reporter.

Additional Reporting: Matthew Cole and Laura Secor for The Intercept; Rick Gladstone, Falih Hassan and Alissa J. Rubin for The Times.

Research: Margot Williams for The Intercept.

Iranian Hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

Soleimani in Iraq

By Giancarlo Elia ValoriNovember 16, 2019

The current presence of Qassem Alì Soleimani, leader of the Al QudsForce of the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” in Iraq is strategically significant.

Certainly, according to the Iranian press, Soleimani was the sole responsible for the destruction of the so-called “Caliphate” of Al Baghdadi, whohas recently been eliminated by the US Special Forces, upon probable Turkish pressure.

It is not entirely false: the various Shiite forces from Iran and Iraq have made about 3,000 military operations against Al Baghdadi’s network.

Soleimani also remains the strategic holder of the Lebanese stability – if we can say so – even with the robust presence of Hezbollah in Saad Hariri’s Lebanese government that resigned on October 29 last, in spite of the pressure from a great Christian friend of Iran and Syria, namely Michel Aoun. President of the Lebanon and, as Maronite, certainly not disliked in Iran and Syria.

The idea that the government of Saad Hariri – a friend of the naive West and of the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, but in fact in the hands of Hezbollah and Amal, two Lebanese Shiite and Iranian movements – could survive the economic crisis that persists even after the 11 million US dollars lent by the Sunni monarchies and the USA, and after the Shiite riots in Beirut and in the South of the country, was completely unfounded.

If the Lebanon collapses, Iran shall strengthen Iraq, and vice versa. It is obvious if we study the political structures of both countries and their role for Israel and the USA.

In Syria, however, the Russian Federation – and not Iran – has won, but it is equally true that the Shiite Republic, also thanks to Qassem Soleimani, is currently able to fight well in Syria, thus maintaining such a level of hostility as to minimize the possibility of retaliation against Iranian forces both in Syria and at home.

Iran has now stably penetrated the informal and official Syrian defence structures and its goal is both to support Hezbollah and the Shiite forces that will replace it, for an attack southwards, namely against Israel, and the definitive exclusion of US forces or US allies from the whole region of the Syria-Iraq axis.

Nevertheless the trump card that counts for the internationalization of the Syrian crisis is still in Russian hands only.

Furthermore, the territorial and operational limitation of the Russian forces in Syria, above all on the Golan Heights, is a further strategic aim of Iran in Syria and Jordan, as well as obviously in Iraq.

Qassem Alì Soleimani, however – often associated to Rahbar, the Supreme Leader Alì Khamenei, in the iconography of the Iranian regime – is considered the military leader closest to the ideas and opinions of Rahbar himself.

He has always been a myth for the Iranian public because he has quickly risen to the top ranks, among Iran’s 13 Major Generals, starting from a humble job as mason in Kirman, Southern Iran, and he is currently the only senior officer of the Armed Forces who speaks directly with the Supreme Leader.

Jointly with some of the most powerful representatives of the Sunni regimes in the Emirates and in the Saudi Kingdom, Soleimani and the Rahbar are organizing a new policy of negotiations with Saudi Arabia and with the whole Sunni world of  Egypt and Jordan.

Currently the Al Quds Force led by Soleimani is organizing alone – with at least 12 commercial jet planes never entered into any register – import-export operations in its favour and in favour of the Iranian regime, while millions of Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, Azerbaijani and Bahraini refugees in Iran have quickly obtained – through the Al Quds Force – citizenship in the Republic founded by Ayatollah Khomeini.

An Iranian passport is always ready -through Soleimani’s Force – also for many Lebanese, Pakistani (20% of the Pakistani inhabitants are Shiite) and Bahraini citizens.

These are the future strengths of Iran’s destabilization, which uses the Shiite minorities, but not only them.

Soleimani also manages a network of special envoys of the Shiite Republic of Iran throughout the Middle East that report directly to him who then transfers data directly to the Supreme Leader’s Office.

Currently Soleimani’s parallel and military diplomacy is the real axis of the Iranian power projection in the Greater Middle East and reaches as far as India and the West.

As Ayatollah Yatani said about a month ago: “Nowadays, thanks to General Soleimani, we directly control four Arab capitals, namely Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a”.

This is not entirely true, but certainly Soleimani’s network is effective and credible, at least to back the business that supports the Al Quds Brigade  and hence also its political operations of infiltration and control of the local political systems.

Certainly Qassem Soleimani’s power is not as relevant as the Iranian propaganda suggests, but it is however true that, in Iraq, the role played by the General and his Al Quds Force is really important and decisive.

Iraq has a border of 1,559 kilometres with Iran and the great country that was Saddam Hussein’s absolute dominion has always hosted a vast Shiite majority, the second in the world after Iran and India. It is also the majority in the country.

In fact, it has just been reported that General Qassem Alì Soleimani has reached Iraq by helicopter and has settled in Baghdad, taking direct control of the Shiite armed forces and their autonomous security services.

Certainly, the most important sign to define this Iranian decision was the attack on the Iranian Consulate in Karbala, the Shiite holy city. The attack launched on November 3 last caused the death of three people.

The demonstrators carried the Iraqi flags and cried out “Karbala is free, Iran out, out!” – one of the many signs of growing intolerance, not only by Sunnis, towards Iran’s strong interference in Iraqi politics and economy.

On November 11 last, Al-Sistani, the Great Shiite Iraqi Ayatollah, gave the Iraqi government a two-week deadline to find out which  “undisciplined elements” – as the Iraqi government of Adel Abdul Al Mahdi euphemistically called them- had used snipers to shoot some demonstrators.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mahdi declared three days of mourning for the victims of the demonstrations in Karbala and elsewhere.

The toll was terrible. At least 110 Iraqi citizens were killed in the demonstrations; over 6,000 were injured in demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala and the South of the country. The death toll includes at least six elements of government security forces.

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo ,asked the Iraqi Prime Minister for maximum repression of demonstrations, which, however, are becoming increasingly “harsh”.

Abdul Al Mahdi immediately announced his 13-point plan for reforms, with economic subsidies and free housing for poor people, while a special session of the Iraqi Parliament opened on October 8, with meetings between the government and the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Mohammed Al Haboulsi, and between them and the tribal leaders.

On the same day, the Head of the State Grain Buying Agency in Baghdad, Naeem Al Maksousi, was removed and immediately replaced by Mahdi Elwan.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had arrived in Baghdad as early as October 7 to negotiate with the Iraqi government and curb the protests, which are potentially destructive both for the Russian equilibria in Syria and for the sensitive relationship that the Russian Federation has with Iran, between Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

If Iraq becomes viable for all the destabilization operations that currently pass through the Greater Middle East, the Russian successes in Syria, the stability of Assad’s regime in Syria, the penetration of the Sunni jihad from Afghanistan into Iran, and finally the destabilization of Jordan, will become not only possible, but likely.

In this case it is not only a matter of “bread riots”, as those described by Manzoni in his book The Betrothed, but of a political equilibrium between Iraqi ethnic groups, tribes and international relations, which today is inevitably breaking.

However, as mentioned above, on October 30 last a helicopter transported Qassem Alì Soleimani from Baghdad airport to the fortified Green Zone around the Iraqi capital.

In a meeting called by him in the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Soleimani also discussed the issue of the protests mounting in the capital city and, above all, in the Shiite Southern Iraq.

Soleimani is now the de facto Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, especially with reference to the actions taken to keep the protest under control.

“We in Iran know how to control these situations. They also happened in Iran and we quickly put them under control”. According to many sources, he reportedly said so to the Iraqi political leaders.

Hence a real Iranian coup d’état took place in Iraq, because of or with the pretext of the often bloody riots that occurred particularly in the last fortnight.

But there is also another weakness that has emerged for Iran in a  traditionally friendly country like Iraq.

Soleimani and his Brigade were not able to organize Hezbollah and its  network in the Lebanon, especially to prevent Saad Hariri – a Lebanese President who is a friend of Iran, but connected to the Saudi banks that hold him in their hands – from resigning together with all his government, including the various, and often powerful, Ministers chosen by Hezbollah itself.

Hariri’s resignation has also made a future technocratic solution for the Lebanese government more likely – a solution that would certainly diminish the grip of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, always trained by the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”a Lebanese movement that was the “right eye” of Imam Khomeini.

If Iran loses also Iraq, its area of influence will be so much reduced as to allow a possible penetration of its own territory.

However, despite the presence of Soleimani, the Iraqi Prime Minister intends to leave power.

Therefore, while a “friendly” government for Iran resigns in the Lebanon, another “friendly” government in Iraq is floundering in a structural crisis. This is the rationale underlying Soleimani’s presence in the Iraqi capital.

It should be noted that on the border between Iran and Iraq, on both sides of the line, the Kurds live and they are a real human shield against massive military penetration from Iran into Iraq.

Sunni and Shiite Arab-Iranian tribes are also straddling the border line, and all the parties involved on the border between the two countries – both with a Shiite majority – have vast reserves of oil at their disposal, which they control almost entirely on their own.

Not to mention the various rivers of the region and, above all, the Shatt-el-Arab.

Let us see, however, who Qassem Alì Soleimani really controls in Iraq.

Firstly, there is the Asaib al-Haq network, as well as the Popular   Mobilization Forces (PMF) and finally what remains of the old Al Badr Brigades.

Asaib al-Haq, the “League of the Righteous”, also known as the Khazali Network, heavily operated also during the last war in Syria.

In the Iraqi war, after Saddam Hussein’s fall, it was responsible for at least 6,000 attacks against the US and coalition forces.

At the time, the “Widowers’ House”, where the Sunni jihadist “martyrs” – also those who hit Italy’s military in Nassiriya – passed at the end of their journey towards death, was placed in Syria.

It was from there that a young Sunni “martyr”, of Moroccan origin, who initially worked in a halal butcher shop on the Catalan coast moved to the Mosque of Viale Jenner, in Milan, and finally to Syria, to hit Italy’s soldiers in Camp Mittica, Nassiriya.

We were informed of it by the Spanish Guardia Civilthat – as always happens in these cases – had received some DNA found on the body of the “martyr” who killed our soldiers.

Asaib al-Haq, that is also an Iraqi political party, is under direct orders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, in any case, is institutionally part of the old network of the Popular Mobilization Forces.

It is estimated that the militants and operatives of the Asaib network and of the Popular Mobilization Forces are currently worth about 15,000 elements, all well-trained, both in Iraq and Iran.

Asaib was born as a splinter group of the old Army of the Mahdi, led and founded by Muqtada al-Sadr (and exactly in the old “rationalist” Sadr City, ferocious clashes between the “rebels” and the Iraqi police forces have taken place very recently).

The working style of the militia group among the population – that is to provide aid to poor people through a “religious welfare”, the same policy of Hezbollah in the Lebanon – is, however, a significant cost for Iran.

Hezbollah in the Lebanon, however, is supported by a system of private funding from rich local Shiites; companies, also Sunni ones, that operate in the areas or with Iranian customers; income from investment and from the usual private donations.

Between 1983 and 1989 Iran has given directly to Hezbollah as many as 450 million US dollars.

Currently – and, however, this does not include operational military support and training for Hezbollah men and women in the Lebanon – there is talk of at least 650 million US dollars a year, from Iran directly to the Southern district of Beirut, where the operational centre of the Lebanese and Shiite “Party of God” is located.

Hezbollah also gets money from the often powerful Shiite minorities outside the Middle East, such as those in West Africa, in the USA and also in the very important area of the “tripartite border” between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.

As shown by international agencies’ data, there are also operations that demonstrate how and to what extent  the business network of the “Party of God” also deals – for significant amounts – with the illegal trafficking of tobacco and, often, with international drug trafficking.

Currently news about Iran’s financial commitment in Iraq tells us of at least 16 billion US dollars to train, support and organize Shiite militias in Iraq.

Moreover the expansion of the Shiite militias in these areas is recent and will follow Soleimani’s presence in Iraq, like Banquo’s ghost in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The Popular Mobilisation Forces are currently a complex organization born in 2014 to fight against  the so-called Al Baghdadi’s “Caliphate”.

In September 2019, upon order of the Shiite Iraqi leader, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis,the network of the Shiite PMF separated from the rest of the Iraqi Armed Forces. This Iran’s political choice stems from a series of air bombings that the PMF bases have suffered in Iraq over the last three months.

The Shiite network has accused Israel, which has neither confirmed nor denied the charge.

But there is no guarantee that this Shiite network is now also opposed to many of the sectarian forces operating on Iraqi soil, between Sunnis and Kurds.

However, the great Shiite military alliance, under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, was born in 2014 from a fatwa of the Great Ayatollah al Sistani that indicated to the young Iraqis the duty to “be part of the security forces” to save the country from the danger of the so-called Al Baghdadi’s “Caliphate”.

Despite various decrees enacted by the Iraqi government, both by Nouri al Maliki and the current President, the structure of the Popular Mobilisation Forces has not given their weapons to the Iraqi army and the PMF have never subjected their chain of command to the Iraqi hierarchy of the Armed Forces.

Recently, the Shiite network in Iraq has increased from the 4,500 armed militants, who had been identified in 2011, to well over 81,000 ones, with a significant increase that has occurred only over the last six months.

The network of the Popular Mobilisation Forces is also useful for Iran to create a second front – more difficult to control – of missile launch against Israel, operated solely from the Iraqi territory.

Also the Hashd al Shaabi movement in the Lebanon was born in 2014, like the new PMF. It is a movement connected – from the very beginning -to the Iraqi brigades of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, as well as to the Badr Brigade and the new Asaib al-Haq network, always linked to the presence of the Brigades of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and hence to Soleimani’s Al Quds Brigade.

Now this network, under Qassem Alì Soleimani’s direct control, currently counts at least 130,000 armed militants.

In other words, Iran is replacing its proxies in Iraq and the Lebanon with a view to avoiding the enemy penetration and staking – with new organizational and military models – a very heavy claim to regimes, between the Lebanon and Iraq, which are obviously at the end of their pathway.

The Fight Over the Small Horn (Daniel 8:7)

Image result for shia horn

The battle for Iraq is the battle of the whole region | Khairallah Khairallah | AW

The battle for Iraq is nothing less than a battle for the future of the whole region. Is Iraq going to remain a place where the sectarian militias sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran roam free?

Iran has been seeking to lay its claws on Iraq for good. It almost succeeded when it imposed Adel Abdul-Mahdi as prime minister after the May 2018 elections, even though he had very little public support.

Iran invented a base for Abdul-Mahdi to prevent Haider al-Abadi from winning another term as prime minister. Abadi, despite being a member of the Islamic Dawa Party, a party known for its fanaticism and retrograde thinking, had tried to gain a margin of independence from Iran during his years as prime minister.

Abadi realised quite late that shaking off Iran’s grip on Iraq was not possible and that the coalition, which was supposed to bring him back as prime minister, would not withstand Iranian pressure exerted through various means, personalities and sectarian militias.

Among those figures, we find Muqtada al-Sadr, who, not long ago, was clamouring for the independence of Iraqi decision but, once the elections were over, al-Sadr went back to playing the role that was assigned to him by Tehran. He made sure to publicly declare his loyalty to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Tehran is surprised by the scale of the anti-Iranian movement in Iraq, headed by Iraqi Shias before anyone else. To understand how this development is the result of the accumulation of mistakes that enabled Iran to boast that it was the undisputed master of the political game in Iraq, there is a need to revisit certain events.

Before the 2018 general elections, Iraq was not as close to Iran’s jaws as it is now. The results of those elections, however, revealed the extent of Iran’s influence in Iraq and the absence of a clear US policy for Iraq.

It wasn’t just Iraq that that was concerned but the whole region as well. US President Donald Trump was only interested in avoiding a military confrontation with Iran. Nothing better illustrates this position than the United States’ tepid response to downing by an Iranian missile of a US spy drone over the Strait of Hormuz last June.

Trump fears that any military confrontation with Iran will destroy his hope of returning to the White House. He is a president who has nothing on his mind but the elections of November 2020. Iraq and the Iraqis, Syria and the Syrians, Lebanon and the Lebanese can all go to hell!

The Iraqis have decided to take matters into their own hands and so did the Lebanese, who discovered in October that they were living under the rule of Hezbollah. Young Lebanese invaded the streets and demanded major changes, starting with the change of the government led by Saad Hariri. The government resigned, even though Hezbollah wanted to keep it in place for cover.

The significance of what is happening in Iraq is that it is directed against Iran, directly and publicly, directed against Tehran’s expansionist project, which had seen a new impetus after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the return of Iraqi sectarian militia leaders to Baghdad on the back of an American tank. Most of those militia leaders are commanders of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, which are Iran’s tool to control Iraq, like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Given these facts, it’s natural Iran will suppress the popular movement in Iraq, the same Iraq that’s never been an easy prey as after the 2018 elections and the appointment of Abdul-Mahdi as prime minister.

Abdul-Mahdi outperformed Nuri al-Maliki in obedience to Iran. Maliki was a mere Iranian tool and was only interested in remaining prime minister. It took the events of Mosul of June 2014 and the scandal of handing it to the Islamic State to remove Maliki from power.

From Iraq, Iran began its expansion in all directions. It strengthened its presence in Syria and Lebanon, especially following the assassination of Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. Iran will do all it can to stay in Iraq or to keep Iraq as an Iranian colony.

This explains the efforts of Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force, to eliminate Iraqi resistance to the Iranian presence. It explains his support for Abdul-Mahdi and Iran’s opposition to establishing an Iraqi national army with weight and officers who are loyal only to Iraq.

The battle for Iraq is going to be long and its outcome will determine Iran’s position on the map of the region. An Iranian dream would have come true if the Iraqis had not risen.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who knew how to lead the Iranian popular revolution against the shah’s regime in his favour, had hoped that Iraq would fall quickly but Khomeini’s hopes were thwarted after eight years of war with Iraq that ended in a near-Iraqi victory.

Khomeini had benefited from that war by sending the Iranian Army to the front and keeping it out of the cities. That allowed him to strengthen his regime, which relies much more on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps than on the regular army. Khomeini must have known that the army commanders had asked the shah to take a strong stand against the street protests but the shah had refused to listen to them.

Regardless of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s simplistic political reasoning, Iraq resisted Iran for eight years. This is because of several factors, notably the Iraqi people themselves, who disappointed the Iranians. The latter had thought that the Shias of southern Iraq were waiting to see the Iranian Army on their border to lay down their weapons.

The battle for Iraq has been raging since 1979. It is a battle between Iran and the Iraqi people, who refuse to surrender. There is no doubt that the battle for Iraq is far more important than the battle for Lebanon, given that, in Iraq, the future of the Iranian regime is at stake.

The Iranian regime knows that very well and that explains its determination to reject any change in Iraq, including changing Abdul-Mahdi. The latter had done his tour of duty in the service of Iran and now he must leave rather than remain prisoner of a game that is part of a long and dangerous battle.

This battle is bound to end one day but there remains this unavoidable mystery: Is it possible that the United States will continue to allow Iran to control and plunder Iraq? After all, it was George W. Bush who had offered Iraq to Iran on a silver platter.

The Shi’a Horn is About to Change (Daniel 8:8)

Anti-government protesters control some barriers set by Iraqi security forces to close the bridge leading to the Green Zone during ongoing protests in Baghdad. Image Credit: AP

Iraqis, Lebanese in showdown with their governments. Who will blink first?

Layelle Saad, Middle East Editor

Published:  November 11, 2019 12:26

Dubai: Both Iraqis and Lebanese have been protesting against their government for weeks now. In Iraq, the protesters have been met with brutal repression with more than 300 protesters killed whereas in Lebanon protests have thankfully gone over peacefully with no recorded deaths to date.

But, despite the drastic differences between the two country’s protests, the end results have been practically the same: nothing.

Despite the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri over a week ago, there has been no agreement by Lebanon’s ruling elite on the way forward.

Hariri hands his resignation to Lebanese President Michel Aoun on October 31. Image Credit: Reuters

Lebanese citizens want the removal of all corrupt politicians but it seems that controversial Lebanese Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, is refusing to budge.

In Iraq, Iran has openly intervened, sending in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief, Qassem Soleimani, to personally intervene and make sure the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi does not fall.

An Iraqi protester holds his shoe to a poster of Iran Guards chief Qassem Soleimani. Image Credit: AP

This is not the first time Iran has intervened to bolster a government that the people sought to topple.

It is because of Iran, and also Russia, that the government of Bashar Al Assad in Syria is still intact, despite a gruelling eight-year civil war that killed nearly half a million people and practically destroyed the country.

What do the Iraqi and Lebanese people want?

The demands of both country’s citizens are relatively the same.

In Iraq, public anger erupted in October over rampant corruption and a lack of jobs but quickly spiralled into calls to overthrow a regime blamed for perpetuating graft and clientelism.

Oil-rich Iraq is OPEC’s second biggest producer, but one in five people live in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, the World Bank says.

In Lebanon, the protests began on October 17 after citizens, angry over plans to impose a levy on WhatsApp calls, poured out into the streets.

This was preceded by sporadic protests in the months prior, driven by dire economic conditions made worse by the country’s financial crisis.

Lebanese protesting. Image Credit: AP

It is one of the most heavily indebted countries in the world, and recently the government declared a state of economic emergency. The government says it is seeking ways to fight deficit, but meanwhile, the country’s currency, pegged against the dollar, remains under pressure.

The proposed Internet-phone fee, seen as a new revenue stream, was revoked after the protests. But it was not enough to appease the protesters.

The protests evolved and intensified until Hariri announced his government was resigning on October 31, but still this was not enough to appease the protesters who are calling for a government of technocrats, free from the “corrupt” ruling elite.

What are the similarities between the two protests?

Both Iraqis and Lebanese have had a sordid history plagued by sectarian-based violence. Lebanon had a gruelling 15-year civil war, which generally pitted Muslims against Christians.

However, the recent protests in both countries have transcended those sectarian divisions. Iraqi and Lebanese protesters have come together in the past weeks from across the religious, political and geographic spectrum, united in disdain for a political class they say has cheated them of a decent future.

While the older generations have been more skeptical that real change can be achieved, the younger generations have taken the lead in protests this time around.

They did not live under Saddam Hussein or were born after Lebanon’s civil war, so they do not have the same hang-ups as their parent’s generation.

Iraqi youth protesting. Image Credit: AP

In Lebanon, 25-year-old Huda Wissam is protesting with her younger siblings.

“I am veiled and when I see a Christian smiling at me, I get reassured that we have shed off sectarianism,” said Wissam, a Sunni Muslim. “The challenge is for us all to remain together, Christian, Muslim, Shiite or Sunni … then we will succeed.”

Her father, she said, wanted her to stay out of protests, warning, “This will lead to a civil war.”

Anti-government demonstrations in Beirut. Image Credit: Reuters

“He doesn’t want his children to become victims for something that won’t happen. He has given up, but we won’t,” she said.

“I don’t want to wait until I am my parents’ age and then there would be nothing I can do.”

“When you ask for the dismantling of the political sectarian system … you’re basically asking the current political elite to commit group suicide. They’re not going to do that,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

The young “want basic, fundamental rights and for them they really have nothing to lose,” she said. “They recognise that this system hasn’t worked for their parents and it is not working for them.”

What role has Iran played in both countries?

Both countries have governments heavily influence by Iran.

In both countries, citizens have criticised foreign powers controlling the government’s decisions.

An increasingly violent crackdown in Iraq and an attack by Hezbollah and Amal supporters on the main protest camp in Beirut have raised fears of a backlash by Iran and its allies.

Iraqi security forces fire on protesters. Image Credit: AP

“We in Iran know how to deal with protests,” Soleimani told the Iraqi officials, according to two senior officials familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret gathering.

“This happened in Iran and we got it under control.”

But nearly a month later, the protests in Iraq have resumed and demonstrations continue in Lebanon, both directed at governments and factions allied with Tehran.

The protests threaten Iran’s regional influence at a time when it is struggling under crippling US sanctions.

An anti-government protester in Iraq. Image Credit: AP

“All the parties and factions are corrupt, and this is connected to Iran, because it’s using them to try and export its system of clerical rule to Iraq,” said Ali al-Araqi, a 35-year-old protester from the southern town of Nasiriyah, which has seen especially violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

“The people are against this, and that is why you are seeing an uprising against Iran,” he said.

What have the politicians done so far?

The Iraqi government has suggested a series of reforms in response to the demonstrations, including hiring drives, welfare plans, a revamp of the electoral law and constitutional amendments.

After intitially backing the protesters, political forces in Iraq closed ranks this week to defend the government, and the consensus among the Iraqi elite seems to have paved the way for a crackdown as protesters clashed with security forces.

An injured protester in Iraq. Image Credit: AP

This, of course, came after direct intervention from Soleimani, who ‘corrected’ the thinking of such figures as Moqtada Al Sadr and chief of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units, Hadi Al Ameri.

This has only intensfied the drive and anger of protesters against Iran’s malign interference in their domestic affairs.

In Lebanon, political bargaining has stumbled over the shape of a new government.

Hariri, before resigning, had issued dozens of sweeping reforms including halving government ministers’ salaries and reinstating pensions of retired Lebanese civil servants.

However, at that point protesters were not satisfied and wanted the government to resign.

They kept pouring into the streets across the country from Tripoli in the north to Nabatiyeh in the south. Christians, Sunnis, Shiites and Druze were demanding a government of technocrats free of the corrupt ruling elite and free of Lebanon’s sectarian-based system of the past.

Thousands protested on Sunday across Lebanon against the ruling class for a fourth consecutive week, as they await a new cabinet two weeks after demonstrations forced the premier to resign.

Dubbed “Sunday of Determination”, the day was marked by huge rallies in several cities from the afternoon onwards.

Lebanese youth protesting. Image Credit: AFP

From the capital Beirut to Sidon and Tyre in the south up to Tripoli in the north, the ranks of protesters on the streets swelled from the early evening.

Brandishing Lebanese national flags, the protesters demanded that the formation of a new government be accelerated.

They once again insisted any incoming cabinet be comprised of technocrats and be independent of established political parties.

“We will not leave the streets before our demands are totally satisfied!” shouted one young protester into the microphone of a local broadcaster.

“We are more determined than ever,” she insisted.

-with inputs from agencies

Iran’s Military Might Against Babylon the Great

Iran Has Military Advantage Over U.S. in Middle East Due to Asymmetric Forces, Report Says

By David Brennan On 11/7/19 at 7:52 AM EST

A new report has warned that Iran is leveraging its asymmetric warfare networks to establish a military advantage over the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, as Washington and Tehran maintain a tense standoff over Iran’s nuclear research program.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published a new report on Thursday—titled Iran’s Networks of Influence in the Middle East—detailing Tehran’s success in establishing a series of non-state forces across the region to protect and further its interests.

While the U.S. and its allies are operating with conventional military forces, the report said Iran’s strength lies in its influence within non-state militias and insurgent groups in several nations.

IISS said this “third-part capability” has become more significant than Tehran’s ballistic missile program, its nascent nuclear capabilities or its large—though outdated—conventional armed forces.

Though the conventional balance is still in favor of the U.S.—by far the most advanced and well-funded military in the world—Iran’s capability in the so-called “gray zone” has shifted the balance of effective force towards Tehran.

IISS said Iranian investment in its asymmetric network “has consistently delivered Iran advantage without the cost or risk of direct confrontation with adversaries.” It allows the nation to launch attacks on enemies with some level of deniability.

The network comprises some 200,000 fighters, IISS estimated, all of which are underpinned by the operations of the Quds Force—a secretive arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps tasked with foreign operations and led by Major General Qasem Soleimani.

The Lebanese Hezbollah militia can attack Israel, Houthi rebels in Yemen can attack Saudi Arabia, and Shi’ite militias in Iraq can attack Americans. The strategy has “consistently delivered Iran advantage without the cost or risk of direct confrontation with adversaries,” IISS said.

“Iran avoids symmetrical state-on-state conflict, knowing it will be outgunned. Instead, it pursues asymmetrical warfare through non-state partners,” the report added. Rather than taking on fellow states, Iran is “fighting and winning wars ‘fought amongst the people.'”

Tehran’s strategy is thriving in the modern Middle East, where IISS noted conflicts are now “complex and congested battle spaces involving no rule of law or accountability, low visibility and multiple players who represent a mosaic of local and regional interests”.

Iran has been “opportunistic” and flexible in adapting to local demands, IISS said. In Iraq, Tehran focused on arming and training Iraqi militias fighting the U.S. occupation. But in Syria, Iran has worked to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s established government against Western-backed rebel fighters.

And in Lebanon, Iran’s support of Hezbollah has helped turn a militia into a parallel military and political force that overshadows the national army and wields huge influence within government.

This has all come at a cost. IISS estimates that Iran’s activities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen have cost the economy some $16 billion.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is receiving around $700 million in support each year and Israeli military officials say Iran is funneling another $100 million to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip annually.

Iran’s regional influence has been a constant chagrin for the U.S. and its allies. But recent anti-government unrest in Iraq and Lebanon has threatened Tehran’s reach. The regime is so concerned that Soleimani reportedly personally intervened in Iraq to forestall an imminent coup against the beleaguered administration there.

But IISS noted that Iran’s influence mainly comes through non-state actors, meaning its regional power is less threatened by the fall of specific regimes.

This does, however, limit Tehran’s options. “Its influence relies on groups that either do not want to directly rule (as in Hezbollah in Lebanon) or are not capable of and equipped for governance (as in Iraq),” the report explained.

Fighters of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement attend the funeral of a comrade who died in combat in Syria in the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Hatta on March 18, 2017. MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP via Getty Images/Getty

The Smaller Horn Rises (Daniel 8:9)

Is Iran’s honeymoon in Iraq over?

October brought bad news to Iran, as popular demonstrations in Baghdad and Beirut continued, signaling a potential threat to its dominance over the Shiite Crescent.

Anti-Iran sentiments have been a staple of Iraq’s protests since Oct. 25. Tens of thousands of Iraqi protesters view Iran as the main source of the country’s instability. Protesters wielding Molotov cocktails attacked the Iranian Consulate in Karbala, home to several Shiite shrines, on the evening of Nov. 3.

“After the defeat of [the Islamic State (IS)], all major media outlets focused on broadcasting anti-Iran shows discussing the corruption and widening gap between the rich and poor,” said Mohammed Sameer, 27, a protester from Baghdad. “Extremely poor people blame Iran for backing the corrupt government and its militias, and got sick of Iranian interventions.”

Sameer said that the removal of Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, a “hero” in the war against IS, from his post was the “spark for the first protest.” He added, “This showed the magnitude of Iran’s influence and urged many people from different sects and orientations to join the protests.”

For the first time, a national consensus has emerged in Iraq rejecting Iranian interference in domestic affairs. 

“There is a great rejection of Iran’s influence and a marked rise in the patriotic spirit,” Senad al-Fadhel, an assistant lecturer at a university in Najaf, told Al-Monitor. “This collective anger is a cumulative result of Iran’s interventions in Iraq, from cutting the rivers and electric supply in the summer to flooding the local markets with their goods, not to mention [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s] recent speech.”

The wrath is everywhere, Fadhel said. “There are protests in Najaf, Karbala, Basra and Maysan,” he said. “Anti-Iran sentiments are evident and cannot be misinterpreted.”

Such sentiments are against the Iranian government, not its people, protesters say.

“Now the Shiites are the ones who chant against Iran,” said Taleb, a 25-year old activist from Maysan, who asked to not disclose his full name. “We are not against the people of Iran … we are against the interventions of Iran’s revolutionary party in our affairs. They are responsible for forming armed factions that led to the lack of state and looting of public wealth.”

Iraqis have been openly critical of Iran during protests, burning its flag, calling for the country to leave Iraq, defacing posters of Khamenei and attacking the headquarters of Shiite militias supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“There is a demonization of Iran in the Iraqi street. This demonization will include the popular mobilization too,” said Suha Hassen, an Iraqi doctoral student in counterterrorism at George Mason University. “To get rid of Iran, you have to demonize it and its arms by changing people’s convictions. This is currently happening.”

Khamenei exacerbated the situation by calling for suppressing the riots and preserving Iraqi security, further recalling how Iran stifled unrest in 2018. He blamed the United States and its allies for spreading “insecurity and turmoil” in Iraq and Lebanon, urging anti-government protesters to seek change in a lawful way.

“Those demands can be met only through the framework of legal structures,” he said Oct. 30. The United States and Saudi Arabia “had similar plans for our dear country, but fortunately the people … came out in time and the armed forces were ready and that plot was neutralized.”

In his Friday sermon Nov. 1, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, responded to these comments. He stated that he refused the interference of regional and international entities, and the imposition of opinions on demonstrators in Iraq. He said that “no person nor group, no side with a particular view, no regional or international actor may seize the will of the Iraqi people and impose its will on them,” according to Middle East Monitor. Sistani further urged authorities to not “bring any type of fighting forces” against the demonstrators. This sermon put Sistani squarely on the side of the protesters.

Ali Bashar, a political scientist at Bayan University in Erbil, told Al-Monitor, “Anti-Iran slogans were less common at the beginning due to the evolving links of the Sadr movement with Iran — the movement that usually chants the slogan of ‘Iran Out!’ Recently, they replaced it with “the corrupt go out.” However, the people have become aware that Iran and the parties it supports are depleting the Iraqi state’s capabilities. Khamenei’s tweet provoked the people and led to ready reactions against it.” Khamenei tweeted Oct. 30 that those “who care” about Iraq “remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries” by the United States.

Bashar thinks that Sistani’s Friday sermon, as delivered by his representative, satisfied many protesters. “I think Iran is willing to save a government that it helps form and fund many of its militant groups,” he added.

The wrath is everywhere in Iraq. Layth Saher, an English teacher from Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, said, “Most of the ruling parties — the Shiite and most of the Sunni ones — are under Iran’s cloak. They are arms of Wilayat al-Faqih.” Wilayat al-Faqih is the doctrine in Iran that calls for rule by a supreme leader. Saher continued, “There is a harsh attack on Iran’s supreme leader. He has no right to comment on our legitimate demands for social justice and a new constitution.”

Yet Iran is determined to save its strongholds in Iraq. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to hold early elections to stop the protests. According to Reuters, “Sadr had urged his main political rival, Hadi al-Amiri, whose alliance of Iran-backed militias is the second-biggest political force in parliament, to help push out Abdul Mahdi.”

Also according to Reuters, a “secret meeting” Oct. 30 “changed the course of events,” with Iran intervening to prevent the ouster of Abdul Mahdi.  Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, “intervened” and “asked Amiri and his militia leaders to keep supporting Abdul Mahdi,” Reuters reported.

Most of the protesters are between the ages of 15 and 25, revealing a lot about Iraq’s new generation.

“It did not come to politicians’ minds that the new generation was born in the technology age and that indoctrination is no longer useful,” Hassen said. “Especially with the existing climate triggering this revolution, such as hunger, humiliation and abuse and finally the mass killing.” Hassen was referring to the over 250 protesters killed in the demonstrations so far.

“It is a youth revolution,” she added. “In addition, it is about cutting off Iran’s arms in the region.”

For this reason, the Iranian response will be violent, Hassen said. “I expect the fall of a large number of victims over the next two weeks,” she said. “Iran considers Iraq, Syria and Lebanon its territory. It will try all means to suppress these demonstrations. Especially after Iraq’s supreme Shiite leadership came out to oppose Khamenei. This does not please Iran.”

Iraqis continue to call for the overthrow of the regime amid politicians’ inability to find solutions to stop the protests, which have left more than 250 dead, according to a parliamentary committee. This November, Iraqi activists launched a campaign to boycott Iranian products on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag “Leave it to rot.”

“We want all the government out, not just the prime minister,” said Huda Alaa, 30, a physician attending the protests in Baghdad. “We have broken our fear. We are strolling the streets with Iraqi flags unafraid. A few days ago, I didn’t even know how to go to [Tahrir Square]. Many things have been changed since then.”

Iran Struggles to Retain Her Hegemony (Daniel 8:3)

Iran clings to sway in Iraq, Lebanon

BAGHDAD: Iran has worked to turn sweeping anti-government protests in Iraq from a threat to its hard-earned influence over its neighbor into an opportunity for political gains, analysts say. In Lebanon too, where similar rallies against corruption and government inefficiency have broken out, Iran’s main ally Hezbollah has managed to maintain its influence.

“Very clearly, Iran in both Lebanon and Iraq wants to protect the system and not allow it to fall apart,” said Renad Mansour, researcher at London-based Chatham House.

In both countries “it considers the demands of protesters potentially destabilizing,” he told AFP.

In Iraq, many demonstrators calling for an overhaul to the political system over the past month have pointed at Tehran as its primary sponsor – a worrying accusation for Iranian officials.

The leaders in Iran “are probably at peak influence and don’t want anything to change, because it’s exactly where they want to be,” said Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute.

For decades, Iran has carefully crafted ties to a vast range of Iraq political and military actors, from Shiite opponents of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein to Kurdish factions in the north and even Sunni tribes in the west.

It therefore can play a crucial mediating role in Iraq’s political crises, and Qasem Soleimani, who heads the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Al-Quds Force, often visits Baghdad during such times.

Tehran also backs many of the factions in Iraq’s Al-Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary force, which was formed in 2014 to fight Daesh (ISIS). And it sells crucial electricity and natural gas to supplement Iraq’s gutted power sector and is Baghdad’s second-biggest source of other imports, from fruit to carpets and cars.

‘PALM OF IRAN’S HAND’

The political and economic sway is perhaps more valuable than ever amid Washington’s efforts to isolate and economically handicap Iran.

The leaders in Tehran “have absolutely everything to lose and will do anything to defend it,” Knights said. “In the course of that, they are exposing their hand and their allies, and building even greater anger towards them.”

Since protests erupted on Oct. 1 in Iraq, many demonstrators have accused Iran of propping up the corrupt, inefficient system they want to overthrow. One in five Iraqis lives below the poverty line and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.

“All our leaders are in the palm of Iran’s hand,” said Azhar, a 21-year-old protester in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

In unprecedented displays of anti-Iran sentiment, demonstrators chanted, “Out, out, Iran! Baghdad will stay free!”

Online footage showed Iraqis hitting pictures of Soleimani with their shoes, a severe insult in the region.

The criticism caught Iran’s attention, and Soleimani has visited Iraq multiple times over the past five weeks to “advise” factions on how to respond, sources told AFP.

“He’s running the show,” a government official said.

“They agreed on a way to deal with protesters that allows the current political leadership to stay,” another source with knowledge of Soleimani’s visits said.

One such meeting blocked a potential deal between paramilitary chief Hadi al-Ameri and populist Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr to oust Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi, sources said.

But parties appear to have closed rank around the embattled premier again, maintaining the status quo.

And amid the chaos of protests, several military commanders seen as close to the United States have been sidelined.

Iran has tightened its grip considerably and become much more bold,” Knights said.

LEBANON ERUPTS

A week before the resumption of Iraq’s anti-government rallies on Oct. 24, Lebanon erupted in anger at systemic corruption.

Its government is dominated by the allies of Shiite armed movement Hezbollah, through which Iran exerts significant influence.

“Hezbollah has never had it this good,” said Amal Saad, a Hezbollah expert and professor at the Lebanese University.

But after rallies unexpectedly reached the party’s strongholds in Lebanon, “Hezbollah and Iran are in a precarious situation,” Saad told AFP.

Criticism of the movement’s chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah even aired on the Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV, which was previously unimaginable for its propaganda arm.

After initially backing the demonstrations, Nasrallah said that his party would not back the government’s resignation, which he said would lead to a dangerous political vacuum.

Party loyalists have also launched counterdemonstrations, sparking scuffles with protesters and journalists.

Despite the initial threat, analyst Qassem Qassir said, the party is as strong as ever.

“It may have lost some morale or taken a hit in the media, but its strength remains,” Qassir told AFP.