Antichrist’s men defy government, expand networks and pressure

Iraqi militias defy government, expand networks and pressure

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

Ali Mamouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antichrist threatens an Iraqi politician who wants peace with Israel

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

eg24.news2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The plague and the White House: Revelation 6

First lady Melania Trump confirms negative COVID-19 test, says son Barron tested positive but is now negative | Fox News

October 14, 2020

First Lady Melania Trump revealed Wednesday that her 14-year-old son with President Trump, Barron, contracted coronavirus but has since tested negative.

Barron remained asymptomatic throughout the course of his positive diagnosis, the first lady said.

The White House initially said the youngest Trump heir tested negative after both of his parents contracted the virus weeks ago, but subsequent tests revealed a positive diagnosis. More recently, Barron has tested negative, according to the first lady.

Trump said she first thought of Barron upon learning she and her husband had coronavirus.

MINNESOTA CORONAVIRUS CASES LINKED TO TRUMP, BIDEN CAMPAIGN EVENTS: REPORT

“Naturally my mind went immediately to our son. To our great relief he tested negative, but again, as so many parents have thought over the past several months, I couldn’t help but think “what about tomorrow or the next day?” she wrote in a letter detailing her experience with Covid-19. “My fear came true when he was tested again and it came up positive. Luckily he is a strong teenager and exhibited no symptoms.”

“In one way I was glad the three of us went through this at the same time so we could take care of one another and spend time together. He has since tested negative,” Trump continued.

Trump said the symptoms of her diagnosis “hit me all at once,” and she experienced body aches, a cough, headaches and extreme fatigue. She said she opted for “a more natural route in terms of medicine,” of taking vitamins and a healthy diet.

President Trump and the first lady announced they’d tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, Oct. 2. Their results came after close aide Hope Hicks also tested positive.

TRUMP INDICATES HE NO LONGER HAS CORONAVIRUS, SAYS HE IS ‘IMMUNE’

Since then, over 30 journalists, White House staff and Trump associates have contracted COVID-19. Many attended a White House Rose Garden ceremony to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court the weekend before.

While Melania and apparently Barron quarantined at the White House, Trump spent three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in an “abundance of caution.”

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Trump was cleared by White House physician Sean Conley to resume in-person events last Saturday.

What is Wrong with Our President?

Trump says Iran is on notice not to ‘f**k around’ with US

President Donald Trump says ‘you don’t see terror’ in Middle East because of his sanctions against Iran

US President Donald Trump talked up his Iran policy in a profanity-laden tirade on Friday, telling conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh that Tehran knows the consequences of undermining the United States.

“Iran knows that, and they’ve been put on notice: if you fuck around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before,” Trump said.

During a 90-minute interview where he mostly raged against his Democratic rivals, Trump promoted his foreign policy record, including relations with China, before shifting focus to Iran.

New deal with Iran?

The US president reiterated his pledge to secure a new agreement with the Islamic Republic if reelected. “If I win, we’ll have a great deal with Iran within one month,” said Trump, stressing that Iranian leaders are “dying” to have him lose.

Limbaugh, seemingly unsettled by the prospect of diplomacy with Iran, blurting out: “A deal on what?” interrupting the president. 

“No nuclear weapons,” said Trump, who pulled the US out of the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had seen Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against its economy.

With the rigorous international inspection regime implemented by the JCPOA, proponents of the deal say the agreement would have ensured that Iran did not acquire a nuclear weapon.

“He’s desperate to try to win this election, so he’s trying to be the tough guy again,” said Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

But what’s more concerning than the president’s rhetoric is his policies, Slavin added.

Earlier this week, the US Treasury Department announced a new wave of sanctions against Iran’s financial sector, including several private banks – measures that critics say may worsen foreign currency shortages and usher in a humanitarian crisis.

Slavin said Trump’s entire approach to Iran is “sanctions and more sanctions”.

But US administration officials and Trump supporters insist that the sanctions are working. Trump, who has been recovering from the coronavirus while tweeting incessantly about various subjects, told Limbaugh on Friday that Iran has become a “very poor nation” because of his policies.

“You don’t see the terror the way you used to see the terror, and they know if they do anything against us, they’ll pay,” the president said.

‘Sadistic streak’

Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), said that while the Iranian economy is struggling under sanctions, there is no evidence that Tehran is sending less money to its regional proxies and allies or spending less on its military.

“Their talking points don’t seem to add up. I think you can take as much money as you want out of the Iranian economy and continue to double down on threats… Iran is just going to divert its resources to defence and so forth,” Costello told MEE.

Slavin echoed his comment on the efficacy of sanctions. Asked if Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran is working, Slavin said: “It depends on what the goal is.” 

“If the goal is simply to make 80 million people miserable, they’ve succeeded brilliantly. If the goal is to make Iran change its policies in the region, they’ve totally failed,” she told MEE.

“It shows not just the lack of imagination, but a real sadistic streak, a willingness to penalise an entire country for the actions of a government that those people don’t control.”

Antichrist’s men announce conditional ceasefire against US troops

Iraqi militias announce conditional ceasefire against US troops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No injuries or damage were reported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated: October 12, 2020 12:11 PM

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

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

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Last modified on Thu 8 Oct 2020 14.34 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump continues to spread the plague: Revelation 6

Trump to hold rally Monday in Florida despite his COVID-19 case

Brett Samuels

President Trump will hold a campaign rally on Monday in Florida, his first time hitting the campaign trail since testing positive for COVID-19.

The announcement comes despite the fact that the White House has yet to say whether Trump is still infectious or when he last tested negative for the highly contagious virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.

The president will gather in Sanford, Fla., with supporters on Monday evening, the campaign announced. Officials have declined to specify whether they would move forward with events regardless of if Trump has tested negative.

He is also slated to speak to hundreds of people on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday.

Trump on Thursday night had floated the possibility of traveling to Florida as early as Saturday.

Public health officials advise that an individual who had the virus obtain two negative tests before interacting in public again, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines suggest individuals should remain isolated for 10 days after the onset of symptoms in mild cases and up to 20 days for more severe cases.

Monday would mark 11 days since Trump first tested positive for the virus, though the exact timeline of when he became infected remains fuzzy because White House officials have repeatedly refused to say when he last tested negative for COVID-19.

Aides have argued that Trump stands a good distance away from his supporters at rallies, and they take place outside to lessen the risk of transmission. Still, the decision to move forward so quickly reflects how little Trump and his campaign have changed their approach to the pandemic even after the candidate contracted the virus.

Trump admitted during a two-hour call into Rush Limbaugh’s show that he had a serious case of the virus and had not been doing well, crediting an experimental antibody treatment from Regeneron for aiding his recovery. Trump spent last weekend in the hospital and returned to the White House on Monday.

The president has not been seen in person since then, but he and his aides have attempted to project a sense of normalcy. Trump has done two phone calls with Fox networks, called into Limbaugh’s show and is slated to appear in a pre-recorded segment on Tucker Carlson’s show later Friday. He has released taped videos from the White House and worked from the Oval Office despite still being positive for the virus.

Trump’s allies are eager to see him back on the campaign trail has time runs out for him to turn the tide of the presidential race. 

The president can ill afford to lose Florida and its 29 electoral votes in November if he is to have a chance at re-election, particularly given his poor showing in polls in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

Polls released earlier this week from CNBC and Reuters each showed Biden leading Trump by 4 percentage points in the Sunshine State.

Trump’s Covid diagnosis is the fourth seal: Revelation 6

Trump returns to Oval Office and says coronavirus diagnosis was ‘blessing from God’

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

Updated 8:55 PM EDT, Wed October 07, 2020

Washington(CNN)President Donald Trump said his coronavirus infection was a “blessing from God” because it educated him about potential drugs to treat the disease in a video meant to demonstrate his return to work after several days in the hospital.

The appearance, his first since returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was taped Wednesday afternoon in the Rose Garden by White House staff. Trump seemed upbeat, but his voice still sounded breathless at points and he appeared to be wearing make-up.

Parts of the video looked edited. In it, Trump framed his ongoing bout with the virus as a net positive

“I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. It was a blessing in disguise,” he said, citing his first-hand experience with the experimental combination of drugs he was administered at Walter Reed.

He singled out in particular the high dose of an experimental antibody cocktail from Regeneron, saying he requested it from his doctors and attributing his recovery to its effects.

Calling the drug a “cure,” Trump said he would work to make it available at no cost to other Americans.

“I want everybody to be given the same treatment as your President,” Trump said, adding: “It was, like, unbelievable.”

He also seemed downbeat at the prospects of a vaccine before Election Day, saying political maneuvering had stymied progress.

“I think we should have it before the election and, frankly, the politics get involved,” he said.

The video was the first time Trump had been seen since returned from Walter Reed on Monday evening. While he taped a video on Tuesday from the White House residence, it was never released.

The White House said earlier in the day he was being briefed on a looming hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and stimulus talks in the Oval Office, though Trump himself scrapped talks on additional aid a day earlier.

Oval Office return

Trump’s reckless return met with a dramatically changed White House

Unsatisfied with the temporary office space erected for him in the White House residence, where he was isolating after returning from three days in the hospital, Trump had been itching to return to the Oval Office since Tuesday but aides convinced him to stay put.

Few seemed to believe, however, that Trump would last much longer isolating in his private quarters.

In a new memo released midday Wednesday, Trump’s doctor relayed the President saying “I feel great!” and reported he had been symptom-free for 24 hours. But the memo declined again to provide critical information such as when Trump last tested negative, what his lung scans show and whether he is still on the steroid dexamethasone or any other medications that could be masking his symptoms.

Trump’s “schedule right now is fluid, we’re looking at his prognosis,” chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters earlier at the White House. “If he decides to go to the Oval, we’ve got safety protocols there.”

Indeed, preparations had been made for Trump’s eventual return to the Oval Office, including positioning a so-called “isolation cart” stocked with yellow medical gowns, respirator masks and plastic goggles required for visitors just outside the office doors near where Trump’s assistants sit.

When he did return, Trump avoided other areas of the Wing Wing, entering the Oval Office directly from outside. Meadows and social media adviser Dan Scavino joined him there dressed in the protective gear. It wasn’t clear who else he might have encountered along the way.

Trump made phone calls and spoke with aides mostly from his third-floor quarters on Tuesday and a taped a video — never released — from downstairs where offices were set up for him next to the medical suite.

What we do know about his health

All except Trump’s senior-most aides are mostly in the dark about his health status beyond what his doctor released publicly. While he seemed short of breath at times on Monday night, people said he seemed somewhat better on Tuesday, though few actually saw him in person.

In his memo on Wednesday, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley wrote Trump “has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization” and said he has been “fever-free for more than 4 days,” but did not say whether Trump was currently receiving any medications which could lower a fever.

Trump’s labs, he said, “demonstrated detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies from labs drawn Monday.”

Regeneron, the company that makes the experimental antibody treatment given to Trump on Friday, said the test likely showed evidence of the treatment, not Trump’s own immune response.

Over the weekend, Trump’s physician said days seven to 10 after Trump’s diagnosis could be the most critical, a window that seemed to open on Wednesday. The White House continued to refuse to disclose when Trump last tested negative for coronavirus, throwing into doubt the extensive testing regimen they had long pointed to as their main protection against the virus.

It also wasn’t clear which drugs the President continues to take. He was due to receive his final dose of remdesivir on Tuesday night at the White House but it wasn’t known if he remains on a steroid, which some inside the building have openly speculated could be altering his mood.

Any aide who comes near Trump is required to don protective garb, according to a person familiar with the matter. It has given the White House residence the feeling of a sci-fi movie, one person said, as aides, staff and Secret Service personnel who need to come near Trump suit up to protect themselves.

Trump had raised on Tuesday the possibility of working from the Oval Office instead of the rooms that have been arranged for him on the lower level of the executive mansion, saying he feels ready to go back. Aides convinced him to remain isolated at least for a day.

The hallways and offices in the West Wing have taken on a very different feel from when he left for the hospital on Friday. The President’s staff has largely moved to working from home because so many of them have tested positive for coronavirus.

More than 15 members of Trump’s staff or inner-circle have tested positive in recent days, including his wife, senior adviser, press secretary, campaign manager, former counselor, personal assistant, four press aides, three Republican senators and a member of the military who directly serves the President.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s immigration adviser and speechwriter, said he tested positive Tuesday and was entering isolation. He is one of several people who had helped Trump prepare for last week’s presidential debate who have now tested positive, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

It was unclear when the White House or the President would release the video remarks he taped on Tuesday, whose themes were similar to those in the video Trump recorded Monday night, a person familiar with the taping told CNN.

The atmosphere inside the White House was described by one official as “chaotic,” largely because many people were working remotely and the President was calling the shots.

This story has been updated to reflect the news Trump worked from the Oval Office on Wednesday.

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

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

The Nationala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated: October 7, 2020 04:20 PM

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