The Antichrist is Winning the Peace in Iraq

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Winning the Peace in Iraq

Don’t Give Up on Baghdad’s Fragile Democracy

For Americans who came of age near the turn of the current century, the war in Iraq was a generation-defining experience. When the United States invaded the country in 2003, toppling the government of Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks, many saw the war as a necessary or even noble endeavor to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam was allegedly developing—and bring democracy to parts of the world that had long suffered under the weight of tyranny.

By the time U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, such illusions had been shattered. The conflict had cost the United States $731 billion, claimed the lives of at least 110,000 Iraqis and nearly 5,000 U.S. troops, and done lasting damage to Washington’s international reputation. The invasion had sparked a virulent insurgency that was only barely quelled by 2011, and which resurfaced following the U.S. withdrawal, when a vicious jihadist group calling itself the Islamic State (or ISIS) seized an area the size of Iceland in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Most Americans who have been to Iraq remember car bombs and streets lined with ten-foot-tall concrete blast walls. For those who have never been, Iraq is less a place than a symbol of imperial hubris—a tragic mistake that they would prefer to forget.

Yet Iraq today is a different country. Few Americans understand the remarkable success of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. campaign to defeat ISIS. Some 7,000 U.S. troops (and 5,000 more from 25 countries in the anti-ISIS coalition) provided support to Iraq’s army and local partners in Syria, who fought to free their towns, cities, and provinces from ISIS’ brutal grip. By the time these U.S.-backed forces had ejected ISIS from its final territorial stronghold, in Syria, in March of this year, the campaign had liberated 7.7 million people at the relatively modest cost of $31.2 billion. Today, Iraqi schools are open, Baghdad’s nightlife is vibrant, and security checkpoints have been removed. Last May, the country held largely free and fair nationwide parliamentary elections. Its population is young and forward-looking, and its government is back on its feet.

The United States has an opportunity to convert this momentum into a long-term geopolitical gain. Unfortunately, many Americans are so weary of their country’s involvement in Iraq that they fail to recognize the opportunity to salvage a positive outcome there that is far better than what anyone hoped to achieve even a few years ago. Many U.S. officials, meanwhile, are more focused on treating Iraq as an arena for combating Iran. They argue that, in the aftermath of ISIS’ defeat, Iraq has become an unreliable ally and even a proxy of Tehran. Worse, they appear willing to sacrifice the U.S. relationship with Baghdad—and put at risk the relative success that Iraq has become—in service of their campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran.

This approach would be a mistake. Cutting off U.S. support right when Baghdad has managed to achieve a modicum of stability would risk the hard-won gains of recent years, especially during Operation Inherent Resolve. And a confrontational U.S. policy toward Iraq would fan the dying embers of sectarianism at precisely the moment when the country is emerging as a stable, nonsectarian democracy. Worse, it would strengthen Iran’s hand in Iraq and provide ISIS with the chance it needs to rebuild. The only way the United States can achieve its goals—preventing ISIS’ return and ending Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq—is by working through and with Baghdad

Iraq’s future looks brighter today than it has at any point in the past decade. Its progress can be largely attributed to two factors: the country’s recent evolution away from Shiite-Sunni sectarianism and the coalition’s victory over ISIS.

Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections marked a maturation of Iraq’s democracy. These were the first elections in which sectarianism took a back seat to issues of good governance and the daily concerns of Iraqis. A range of parties formed cross-sectarian or nonsectarian coalitions to compete for votes; none of them emerged dominant. Instead, the election produced a number of parliamentary blocs that must bargain with one another to get anything done. The current government relies on consensus and is led by two politicians with a history of working with the United States: Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih. When the government took office in October 2018, it marked Iraq’s fourth successive peaceful transfer of power.

The 2018 elections were a demonstration of Iraqis’ priorities. The alliance that won the most votes, the Sairoon (Marching Toward Reform) coalition, was led by followers of the populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the erstwhile leader of a militia that fought U.S. troops from 2004 to 2008. Although Sadr studied and once sought refuge in Iran, he is also a vocal nationalist who wants to ensure Iraq’s independence from both Washington and Tehran. Many Iraqis consider today’s creeping Iranian influence to be an affront to their country’s sovereignty, and during the campaign, Sadr persuasively positioned his bloc as the independent alternative to the one led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (which was seen as too pro-American) and the one led by Hadi al-Ameri (which was seen as too close to Iran).

Even more important than Sadr’s emphasis on independence was his decision to champion bread-and-butter economic and governance issues. Sadr has long enjoyed support among poor Shiites thanks to his years spent demanding improved public services and a crackdown on Iraq’s egregious corruption. Although many Iraqis benefit from entrenched party patronage—some 60 percent of employed Iraqis are on the public payroll—they are fed up with politicians siphoning millions of dollars from the public coffers. Recognizing this frustration, Sadr called for the removal of corrupt officials and an upgrading of public services, especially electricity. After the election, he insisted on the appointment of technically competent cabinet ministers instead of politicians as a condition of his support for the government, which has largely occurred.

The demand for improved governance has moved to the fore now that Iraq has finally emerged from its vicious, five-year battle against ISIS. In 2014, the terrorist group swept across northern and western Iraq, capturing roughly one-third of the country’s territory, including Mosul, its second-largest city. Iraq’s military and police forces, corroded by years of political interference and corruption, all but disintegrated in the face of ISIS’ offensive. Some Sunnis, alienated by years of sectarian governance under the Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, welcomed ISIS forces as liberators. By the summer of 2014, many feared that the group would take Baghdad.

Iraq’s future looks brighter today than it has at any point in the past decade.

Alarmed by ISIS’ advance, Iran was the first country to come to Baghdad’s aid—by June, it had begun sending aid, equipment, and advisers from the Quds Force, a unit of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Then, in September 2014, Maliki stepped down in favor of Abadi, a pro-U.S. moderate who worked to soothe Sunni fears of persecution. That same month, the United States formed a global coalition to defeat ISIS. Washington and its coalition partners provided Iraq with military assistance in the form of training, equipment, battlefield advisers, and air power. But it was the Iraqis who did the fighting.

The fact that the Iraqis provided most of the troops to defeat ISIS in Iraq was essential to restoring the country’s morale. The government did receive outside help—Iran backed Iraqi Shiite militias, and Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, became a ubiquitous presence in Iraq during the war. Yet the major military gains in the anti-ISIS campaign were made, with coalition assistance, by the Iraqi army and especially the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, an elite, nonsectarian force funded, trained, and supported by the United States since 2003.

UNSTEADY PROGRESS

Iraq has defeated ISIS on the battlefield, but it has not yet won the peace. The country now faces the massive task of reconstruction. The Iraqi government, assisted by the UN Development Program and the U.S.-led coalition, has returned basic services to places such as eastern Mosul, which was devastated by heavy fighting in 2016 and 2017. But western Mosul and other areas still resemble the bombed-out cities of Europe at the end of World War II.

At an international donor conference last year, Iraq secured some $30 billion in aid, loan, and credit pledges. Yet the government has estimated that recovery and reconstruction could cost as much as $88 billion. The task will take a decade or more, provided the Iraqi government and international donors remain committed to rebuilding Sunni areas. Without consistent progress in this effort, hope will wane and discontent will grow. Already, there are worrying signs that the momentum for ensuring Iraq’s stabilization and security has begun to stall. If it does, it could augur a return to a full-blown insurgency.

In the year and a half since December 2017, when Abadi declared Iraq’s liberation from ISIS, three million internally displaced people have returned to their homes in Iraq. But 1.6 million Iraqis, most of them Sunnis, are still displaced. The International Organization for Migration estimates that most of the remaining displaced people have now been so for over three years—a tipping point that the organization and other refugee experts say threatens permanent displacement. Many of these people are shunned by their fellow Iraqis, who suspect them of having supported ISIS.

The risk is that the resulting tensions could reignite sectarian conflict, drawing disaffected Sunnis—especially permanently displaced ones—back into the arms of ISIS. The group has already begun to reawaken, as former fighters drift back to their homes, forming sleeper cells in cities or creating rural safe havens in the Iraqi and Syrian deserts. Although ISIS attacks have declined since the destruction of the territorial caliphate, the group claims to be carrying out several dozen attacks and inflicting some 300 casualties every week, most of them in Iraq and Syria, a tally that roughly parallels those of outside observers.

PRESSURE DROP

Despite the progress it has made in recent years, Iraq is in a delicate position. The United States should be doing what it can to not only ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS but also assist Baghdad with the difficult work of reconstruction. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, however, U.S. policy toward Iraq has become increasingly confrontational, as the administration has made Iraq a central battleground in its fights with Iran.

Trump has presented Iraq with two demands that will be difficult for the country to meet. In November 2018, as part of its sanctions policy, Washington ordered Iraq to cease importing electricity and natural gas (which is used to make electricity) from Iran. In principle, Baghdad agrees with the goal of achieving energy independence. But in practice, Iraq currently receives about 40 percent of its electricity supply from Iran. As Luay al-Khatteeb, Iraq’s electricity minister, explained to U.S. officials in December, finding alternate energy sources will require rebuilding Iraq’s decrepit power grid and addressing the damage done by decades of war, mismanagement, and corruption—a project that he estimates will take at least two years. The United States has issued a series of 90-day waivers, most recently in June, to give Iraq time to comply. But if the administration stops granting waivers and Iranian imports are halted, the resulting electricity blackouts will certainly cause Basra and other Iraqi cities to erupt in violent protests, as they did last summer in response to power shortages.

The United States has also demanded that Iraq disband several Shiite militias with close ties to Iran. These militias are not a new problem: in 2009, Washington designated the most powerful Iranian-created militia, Kataib Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization for its attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq; the group and its leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were also subject to U.S. sanctions targeting insurgents and militias. But over the past five years, the issue has become far more complex. In June 2014, a wave of mostly Shiite volunteers responded to a call from Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to help defend the country against ISIS. Hundreds of small militia groups formed, and in 2016, these groups were formally recognized under Iraqi law as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF. The Iraqi government office set up to oversee the PMF, the Popular Mobilization Committee, became a conduit for Iranian influence, with Muhandis serving as the committee’s deputy chair.

Washington has called on Baghdad to disband both the PMF and militia groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, which it often treats as essentially indistinguishable. The Iraqi government agrees that the militias should be broken up but understands that, given Iran’s clout, doing so will take some time and deft maneuvering. One aspect of that maneuvering will be to distinguish Iranian-backed militias from groups of Shiite volunteers who were largely motivated by patriotism. Many PMF fighters have already gone home, but over 100,000 remain on the government’s payroll. Some groups have become entrenched and are allegedly involved in extortion and other illegal activities.

The Iraqi constitution bans political militias—a provision that has wide popular support. In addition, Abdul-Mahdi issued a decree in July 2019 that called on all entities bearing arms to be incorporated into the armed forces. As the PMF is already legally part of Iraq’s armed forces, this decree could serve as a vehicle for dissolving the Iranian-backed militias—something Abadi had sought to do with a previous order. Carrying out this decree, however, will require building a powerful coalition in parliament, likely with the Sadrists in the lead.

The PMF is a separate issue. It is unlikely to be disbanded outright. Thanks to the PMF’s achievements in the anti-ISIS campaign, it is politically popular, especially among Shiites. The problem is that the PMF’s official role is redundant, overlapping with that of the Ministry of the Interior’s police force, which already struggles to attract enough qualified recruits. Since PMF fighters receive the same pay and benefits as police officers, they have little incentive to join the federal police. This issue can be best addressed over time, as part of an effort to professionalize the entire armed forces of Iraq.

Instead of engaging with their Iraqi colleagues to find workable solutions, however, officials in the Trump administration seem intent on alienating them. Senior U.S. policymakers apparently believe that Iraqis are hostile to the United States, ungrateful for its help, and beholden to Iran. When I spoke to one U.S. diplomat recently, he noted that almost one-third of Iraq’s current parliamentarians had been detained by U.S. forces at some point before 2011. The implication was that they could not be trusted. But since 2003, the United States has often worked with former combatants in Iraq and encouraged their reintegration into mainstream politics. Abadi’s interior minister, Qasim al-Araji, was a former U.S. detainee, yet he worked closely with the U.S. coalition to coordinate the counter-ISIS campaign. Washington has cooperated with Ameri, who is the leader of the pro-Iranian Badr Organization, for years.

The administration’s statements and actions have affronted Iraqis by appearing to ignore their sovereignty, which is still a sore subject for a country the United States invaded. In February, Trump asserted in a Face the Nation interview that he planned on keeping U.S. troops in Iraq to “watch” Iran. This touched a nerve—the Iraqi government welcomes the presence of U.S. troops for the express purposes of defeating ISIS and helping improve its armed forces, but its policy is to maintain good relations with both Washington and Tehran. Trump’s statement drew rebukes from Iraq’s prime minister, its president, and Sistani. Then, on May 7, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi leaders and publicly demanded assurances that they would protect Americans against any hostile activity, implicitly from Iran. A few days later, the State Department ordered all nonessential personnel to leave the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after a mortar fell nearby. Since then, two locations where U.S. personnel are stationed have been targeted by rockets, likely fired by Iranian-backed militias.

The mortar and rocket attacks were reminders of the bad old days of the U.S. occupation, when rockets landed near the embassy with some regularity, as well as troubling signs that U.S. troops could be targeted as Washington increases its pressure on Tehran. Yet the United States should be working with the Iraqi government, which desperately wants to avoid a confrontation with Iran, rather than treating it with disdain. The Trump administration’s moves were widely seen as overreactions by U.S. and coalition officials in Iraq, who for the past four years have been quietly working to mitigate the threat posed by Iranian-backed militias and who are confident in their ability to protect U.S. troops. For most Iraqis—and for many coalition officials, too—Pompeo’s demand came across less as a genuine response to a security threat and more as an unnecessary attempt to humiliate Baghdad.

Washington is putting the Iraqi government in a difficult position. It will appear weak to Iraqis if it does not resist American browbeating. And the more confrontational Washington’s stance becomes, the more that pro-U.S. Iraqi politicians will be discredited in the eyes of their fellow citizens. The Trump administration’s approach thus risks driving Iraq into the arms of Iran—the opposite of its stated goal. Worse, an Iraqi government forced to lean on Tehran would once again alienate Sunnis, paving the way for a return of sectarianism and even a resurgence of ISIS.

Sadr at a mosque in Baghdad, December 2015

Alaa al-Marjani / Reuters

COUNTERING IRAN, WINNING IRAQ

With Iraq at a critical point in its transition to a stable and secure democracy, U.S. actions can either help ensure this transition’s success or fundamentally jeopardize its prospects. As this opportunity may be short lived, Washington should act quickly to seize it. It should focus its security assistance and diplomatic efforts on coordinating with the Iraqi government to make certain that there is a successful conclusion to the counter-ISIS campaign—one that will not only eliminate the last remnants of the group but also address the grievances that drove its success in the first place. At the same time, the United States should work behind the scenes with Baghdad to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq. Finally, the United States should help integrate Iraq into a set of long-term bilateral, multilateral, and regional partnerships.

Continued security assistance to Iraq will be necessary to ensure that ISIS’ nascent efforts to make a comeback do not succeed. The Iraqi security forces are on the mend, but further professionalization of the army and the police force is needed to prevent these forces from unraveling again. A combination of U.S. aid and diplomacy can guarantee that Iraq’s war-damaged areas are rebuilt and that its 1.7 million displaced citizens find homes while resisting ISIS’ blandishments. Washington should also consider pressing Baghdad to revise or eliminate its de-Baathification law, which still subjects Sunnis to unfair treatment.

To ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS, the United States will also need to more actively grapple with the difficult problem of ISIS foreign fighters detained in Syria. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are currently holding over 2,000 foreign fighters, but as the SDF is a nongovernmental entity, this is not a permanent solution. The U.S. government should push for one of two solutions: an international tribunal to try these detainees or a coordinated international effort to have them transferred to and tried, or at least held, in their countries of origin.

Despite the progress it has made in recent years, Iraq is in a delicate position.

The United States must also adopt an approach to reducing Iran’s negative influence in Iraq that will help stabilize the region, rather than corner the Iraqi government and force it to choose between Washington and Tehran. Iraqi nationalism is the ultimate hedge against Iran’s overweening ambitions; no Iraqi wishes for his or her country to become a pawn of Iran. Yet the United States must make sure that the sovereignty card is played against Tehran and not against Washington. Issuing public demands to Baghdad is counterproductive—pressure must be exerted behind closed doors, and savvy coalitions must be built to empower Iraqis to limit Iranian encroachment. That said, Iran is and will remain one of Iraq’s major trading partners, its primary source of tourism revenue, and a much larger and more powerful country forever on its borders. Only a web of countervailing influence from the United States, Europe, and the Arab world will secure Iraqi sovereignty.

The United States has all the tools to help Iraq succeed, and it is manifestly in Washington’s interest to do so. A strong, independent, and democratic Iraq will be a boon to U.S. interests in the Middle East. As the largest Shiite-majority Arab country, Iraq can serve as a bridge between the region’s Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Persians. As a neighbor and former rival of Iran, Iraq can also act as a brake on Tehran’s regional ambitions—provided that it is in a position to look after its own security needs.

A more consolidated Iraqi democracy will also make fewer demands on the United States. Iraq has the fifth-largest oil reserves in the world, which should provide it with the resources to care for its own people. The country is also, finally, beginning to restore diplomatic and commercial ties with the Gulf states, which had withered after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Saudi Arabia has reopened its embassy in Baghdad, resumed commercial airline service to Iraq, provided the country with reconstruction aid, and welcomed Abdul-Mahdi and Sadr to Riyadh. In April, Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion in investment to Iraq, and it has offered to sell Baghdad electricity at a discount to help wean the country off Iranian energy.

The basic architecture for a mutually beneficial U.S.-Iraqi relationship already exists. After the 2007 U.S. troop surge, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker worked with Salih, who was then deputy prime minister, and Salih’s fellow Kurd, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, to develop the Strategic Framework Agreement, which called on Washington and Baghdad to deepen their relationship from a security partnership to one spanning cultural, economic, educational, and scientific ties. Thus far, the United States has focused on winning contracts for U.S. businesses and gaining more visas as implicit preconditions for other forms of engagement. This is a mistake. Instead, the United States should see the broad implementation of the agreement as a chance to use U.S. soft power—in the form of investment, trade, tourism, and educational and scientific exchanges—to draw Washington and Baghdad closer together.

Antichrist’s Men Want More Time to Integrate

Iraqi militias want more time to integrate into army

Falih Alfayyah announces closure of PMUs recruitment centres but calls for two month extension to integration process

The head of Iraq’s controversial state-sponsored militias has announced the closure of registration centres for the units across the country and requested an extension to the Wednesday deadline for the integration of the armed groups into the state’s apparatus.

Iraq’s prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi first issued the order for the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) – known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic – to integrate with the regular army on 1 July, following a number of attacks on US interests in the country that were blamed on the militias.

Falih Alfayyadh, chairman of the PMUs, told reporters on Tuesday that recruitment centres for the organisation were to be closed – but that the overall process would requirement a two-month extension.

“The Hashd al-Shaabi is fully committed to the decree that the Iraqi prime minister issued on 1 July 2019, which is focusing on integrating the Hashd al-Shaabi units into the Iraqi army,” he said.

“We ask the Iraqi prime minister for a two-month extension of the deadline in order to finalise the integration of all the Hashd al-Shaabi units into Iraqi army.”

The PMUs were officially created in 2014 after an appeal by Ali Sistani, the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq, for citizens to rally to the defence of the country against the Islamic State (IS) group, which had recently seized the city of Mosul.

While some of the units were created in 2014, a number of the largest were pre-existing groups – such as Kataib Hezbollah and the Badr Organisation – which were backed by Iran.

Although popular among a large number of Iraqis for fighting gainst IS, they have been accused of carrying out sectarian abuses against the country’s Sunni minority, while their power has often been seen as outstripping that of the regular armed forces.

Military or political choice

Part of Mahdi’s decree said that in the future the PMUs would have to make a choice between military and political work, whether “on an individual or organizational level”.

Drone carries out deadly grenade attack on Iraqi militia: Security sources

“All other names under which the factions of Hashd al-Shaabi operated during the heroic battles that eradicated the Daesh (IS) terrorist entity will be abandoned and replaced with military terms (division, brigade, regiment, et cetera),” said the decree, according to Rudaw.

Bases, checkpoints, economic offices and other entitites outside the “new working framework” would need to be closed.

The PMUs officially came under central government control, with central government funding, in 2016.

The move to constrain armed groups in Iraq came after a number of attacks in June targeting American interests in the country, including an attack on an oilfield in Basra, and an attack near the US embassy in Baghdad.

Sanctions

The US has, in recent months, moved to place greater sanctions on PMU members as tensions rise with Iran over incidents in the Gulf.

In mid-July, the US placed sanctions on the leaders of two non-Shia PMU groups – Rayan al-Kildani, head of the Christian Babylon Brigade, and Waad Qad, head of the Shabak 30th Brigade, an organisation comprised of members of the tiny Shabak Muslim minority.

Slamming the sanctions on Tueday, Alfayyadh said: “We refuse the US treasury sanctions, because they have no evidence and they clearly are humiliating Iraqi sovereignty.”

A number of leaders of the PMUs have welcomed Mahdi’s decree, including Qais al-Khazali – leader of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq – and the influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Renad Mansour, an analyst with the Chatham House think-tank, wrote in Foreign Policy that the conciliatory attitude from PMU leaders could be an indication that they believe the new move will allow them to “consolidate power from within the state”.

“Although the new policy mandates that the PMF integrate with the Iraqi state, it does not require their subordination,” he wrote.

“If anything, the risk may be that the state is subordinating itself to the paramilitary groups, not the other way around.”

Antichrist Uses Old Trick To Get US Involved In Major Gas Hub

Iraq Uses Old Trick To Get US Involved In Major Gas Hub

July 29, 2019, 10:00 AM MDT

Last week saw two apparently independent major events occur in Iraq centred on its gas sector but a senior oil and gas industry source who works closely with Iraq’s Oil Ministry told Oilprice.com they were a lot more connected than they seemed. The first was a statement by the Secretary General of the Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber, Seyed Hamid Hosseini, that Iran’s gas and electricity exports to Iraq are expected to reach US$5 billion by the end of the current Iranian calendar year, ending on 21 March 2020. The second was an announcement by Iraq’s Oil Minister, Thamir Ghadhban, that a U.S. consortium led by Honeywell has signed a memorandum of understanding for a huge deal that would reduce the country’s current level of gas flaring by nearly 20%.

Iraq under the auspices of Moqtada al-Sadr – the real power behind the [Adil] Abdul-Mahdi government is very good at playing the U.S. with the Iran card, so every time there is a hint that Iraq will continue with its historically close relationship with Iran, the U.S. comes in to offer the services of one of its companies at beneficial terms to Iraq,” the source said.

The deal itself involves U.S. giant, Honeywell, partnering with another U.S. heavyweight, Bechtel, and Iraq’s state-owned South Gas to build the Ratawi gas hub In the first stage that is expected to last for three years this project will process up to 300 million standard cubic feet per day (scf/d) of ‘associated gas’ (generated as a by-product of crude production) at five southern Iraqi oil fields: Majnoon, Gharib al-Qurna, al-lhiss, al-Tubba, and al-Siba. It comes shortly after the granting of a new waiver from the U.S. for Iraq to import electricity from Iran, first awarded last November and subsequently renewed in December, March, and June, each time for 90 days. At the same time, Iraq has been steadily importing around one third of its total energy supplies from Iran, which equates to around 28 million cubic feet (mcf) of gas to feed its power stations.

With peak summer power demand in Iraq perennially exceeding domestic generation, Iraq’s dependence on Iran is acute – a highly troubling situation for the U.S. in all circumstances, let alone the current impasse – and made worse still for its capacity to cause major civilian unrest in the country. Last summer’s widespread protests across Iraq – including in the major oil hub of Basra – were widely seen as being prompted in part by chronic electricity outages. The situation also promises to become much worse as, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Iraq’s population is growing at a rate of over one million per year, with electricity demand set to double by 2030, reaching about 17.5 gigawatts (GW) average throughout the year.

In addition to the ongoing dependence on Iran that this energy imbalance necessitates, Iraq is losing billions of dollars in two streams of revenue. The first is the oil that it is forced to burn burns crude oil directly at power plants in order to attempt to address the shortfall in power supplies accrued from other raw materials, such as gas. Although the average volume of crude oil used for power generation has fallen in the past two years from a peak of 223,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July and September 2015, it still averages around 110,000 bpd, or around US$2.5 billion per year in value.

The second reason is that the associated gas is largely flared rather than captured and either sold on as raw gas or used as feedstock for the production of value-added petrochemicals products. On the first point, according to the IEA, Iraq has around 3.5 trillion cubic metres (tcm) of proven reserves of gas, mainly associated with oil that is produced from the supergiant fields in the South hydrocarbon region. These reserves would be enough to supply nearly 200 years of Iraq’s current consumption of gas, as long as flaring is minimised. It added, though, that proven reserves do not provide an accurate picture of Iraq’s long-term production potential and that the underlying resource base – ultimately recoverable resources – is significantly larger, at 8 tcm.

On the second point, Oilprice.com was told recently by the managing director of a major foreign oil company operating in Iraq that the failure to capture this gas – more than half of the gas that is extracted in Iraq today is flared and it is the world’s second worst offender in this regard – is a key reason holding back the development of a viable petrochemicals sector in the country.

“Iraq needs to put into action its plans to develop a second gas hub away from Basra that would get the gas volumes up to an average of 800 million to 1 billion standard cubic feet per day so that the ethane can be extracted on a sustainable and reliable basis that would give sufficient volume for a major petchems plant to be viable,” he said. “Ethane should be the initial feedstock for Iraq’s first few plants in the same way that it was in the development of Saudi Arabia’s master gas system that captured associated gas, which was then fractionated and supplied as primary feedstock to the flagship Jubail Industrial City,” he underlined.

This latest project would build on the previous plans to address Iraq’s power shortfall and to monetise its oil and gas assets better, as was the original intention of Iraq last year stating that it was joining the United Nations and World Bank ‘Zero Routine Flaring’ initiative aimed at ending this type of routine flaring by 2030. Shortly after this, the Oil Ministry announced that it had signed a gas capture deal with U.S. oil services provider Baker Hughes to harness 200 million cubic feet (mmcf) per day from the Gharraf oil field – being developed by Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. (JAPEX), Malaysia’s Petronas, and Iraq’s North Oil Co. (NOC) – and the neighbouring Dhi Qar site, Nassiriyah, plus other oilfields north of Basra. At that time, Baker Hughes stated that addressing the flared gas from these two fields would allow for the provision of 400 MW of power to the Iraqi grid.

The then- Oil Minister, Jabbar al-Luaibi, added at that point that Iraq was also currently negotiating a similar gas capture deal for the state-run Nahr Bin Umar field with Houston-based Orion Gas Processors and that there were similar plans to construct gas-processing facilities in the Missan and Halfaya fields that would have a combined capacity of 600 mmcf per day of gas when completed. This, in turn, was in line with an ambitious statement last January from al-Luaibi that Iraq would have ceased all gas flaring from its southern producing oilfields by the end of 2021, so additionally freeing up some of this gas capacity for export.

“By the end of last year, there had been some progress, with the Basrah Gas Company (BGC) processing and producing the equivalent of around 10 bcm of gas per year and earlier this year the shareholders in BGC [Iraq’s South Gas Company with 51%, Shell with 44% and Mitsubishi with 5%] stated that they’d increase the volume to around 14 bcm by 2021, with a target of 20 bcm of gas per year focussed on Rumaila, Zubair and West Qurna,” the Iraq source told Oilprice.com last week. “Unfortunately, with Iraq there is often a big gap between what is said and what is done, with the space between filled by people looking to line their own pockets [] so it is difficult to be optimistic,” the Iraq source added. “Ironically it may be the man that the U.S. hates – and vice-versa – Moqtada al-Sadr, who forces these projects through, as he is a genuine nationalist and is clever enough to see that by monetising all of these resources properly, Iraq will be able to free itself of all foreign interference, which is exactly the message he ran on in the last election and which keeps him as the major power in Iraq,” he concluded.

By Simon Watkins for Oilprice.com

One of the Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

Iran’s shadow warrior who sows chaos and discord in Iraq

Preachers of hate are unethical but smart. Deceit requires brains and minimum wit. But not all preachers of hate were created equal. Some are street smart and talkative, often making arguments that reveal their shallowness. To make up for their inadequate intellect, they outmuscle their rivals, lead militias, and spew hate that they copy from their superiors. Such hate preachers become guns for hire, even if they insist on wearing traditional garments and pretending that they are pious and knowledgeable clerics.

The Iraqi Qais Al-Khazali, a cleric who is also the leader of one of Iraq’s most notorious militias, is one such hate spewer who pretends to be a cleric, when in fact his claim to fame is working as the operative of one of the many Iranian clandestine networks that sow war and discord in Arab countries.

Aged 29, this graduate of geology accompanied Muqtada Al-Sadr — who had inherited the mantle of his father and one of Iraq’s foremost Shiite clerics Mohammed Sadeq Al-Sadr — to a meeting with Iranian operatives. They were promised arms and training, if they would take on US troops in Iraq, according to declassified US investigations with Al-Khazali. A few battles and months later, Al-Sadr realized that he had little reason to undermine a burgeoning sovereign Iraqi state. Al-Sadr disbanded his militia, the Mahdi Army, and transformed his organization into a political movement.

Politics is rarely the strong suit of people with modest intellectual skills and, without a militia, Al-Khazali might have lost his prominence. However, he did not lose his connection to his Iranian handlers, who sponsored his defection from Al-Sadr to set up a splinter group, the Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) militia. Al-Khazali’s miltia played a central role in Iran’s two-pronged war in Iraq: One against US troops, the other against Iraqi Sunnis. Iran connected Al-Khazali to Musa Daduq, an operative from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah who helped to engineer a few of the most atrocious kidnappings and killings of US soldiers. Washington estimates that Tehran is responsible for the killing of 1,000 out of the 4,000 troops it lost in the Iraq War.

With US assistance, Iraqi government forces captured Al-Khazali in 2007 and jailed him for three years, when he was released in a prisoner exchange for a kidnapped British contractor.

Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Since then, Al-Khazali has been one of Iran’s most loyal militiamen in Iraq, so much so that he not only joined the Popular Militia Units (PMU), but also opened shop in Syria. Al-Khazali even appeared in Lebanon, checking out the border with Israel, in a flagrant offense against Lebanese sovereignty. But who’s keeping count in Lebanon anyway?

With Daesh almost annihilated, Al-Khazali has been left with little fighting and lots of time. He comes up with unsubstantiated accusations against Iraqi Sunnis, accusing towns such as Tarmiyah, to the north of Baghdad, of being a hotbed for Daesh fighters, calling for a military campaign against the predominantly Sunni town.

Al-Khazali has also been developing his brand. He has taken as his spiritual guide Kazem Al-Haeri, a firebrand Iraqi cleric who lives in Qom, in Iran.

“US President (Donald Trump) gives the countries of the Sheikhs of the Gulf a choice between funding his wars… and the demise of their governments,” Al-Haeri said in a statement. “This is the result of throwing themselves into the arms of the global arrogant powers after their loss of popular support,” Haeri added, claiming — without any substantiation — that Arab governments do not enjoy the popular support. “We also call on the Iraqi government not to be dragged into the lap of global arrogance in its economic, security and military contracts,” Al-Haeri argued, in a clear sign that the Iraqi cleric in Qom was unhappy with Baghdad’s warming relations with Gulf capitals.

In addition to toeing his mentor’s and Iran’s line about the “downtrodden” and about “global arrogance,” Al-Khazali echoes the official Iranian rhetoric, depicting an imaginary alliance between America, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, as the source of all evil in the region. At a conference in Tehran last year, Al-Khazali said that the Iraqi victory over Daesh was a victory over America, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That America offered extensive air cover and military advice on the ground in the battle against Daesh does not seem to register with Al-Khazali, or his audience. Hate speech, after all, is impossible without some spin and a ton of deceit.

On his militia’s website, Al-Khazali’s publicity seems to copy that of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Al-Khazali calls himself Al-Sheikh Al-Amin, a play on words with Amin meaning both trustworthy and secretary general. Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Standing up to “cultural normalization with Israel,” Al-Khazali said in a sermon transcribed into Tweets, means “countering attempts to undermine Iraqi identity by spreading homosexuality in Iraq,” a line of reasoning that Al-Khazali seems to have come up with on his own and slipped into his speech, outside the Iranian-approved script. When speaking his mind Al-Khazali does not sound hateful, he sounds stupid.

• Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington bureau chief of Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, and a former visiting fellow at Chatham House in London. Twitter: @hahussain

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

The Antichrist Unifies the Iraqi Army (Revelation 13:18)

Pro-Iranian militias are to be integrated into the Iraqi army in a move seen as strengthening the integrity and unity of the state

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s executive order of 1 July to integrate the Hashd Al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), into the Iraqi army triggered an outburst of controversy in Iraq.

However, the majority of the people support the decision to reform the PMF and effectively discipline its component groups.

The prime minister’s order comes at a time when Iraq and the regional environment are facing numerous challenges in which the PMF played no small part in light of its contribution to fighting the Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq, its ideological connection to Iran, and Iranian practices in the region (in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq) and the repercussions of these practices on other Arab states and their interests.

The order primarily obliges all components of the PMF, a collection of militias that began to band together several years ago to fight IS, to subordinate themselves to the General Command of the Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF), to relinquish their banners, insignia and other such emblems of separate identity and become incorporated into the Iraqi military structure as regiments, brigades, divisions and the like.

PMF members are to be assigned military ranks, in accordance with the IAF hierarchy, and to obey the orders of the IAF General Command which will appoint the head of the PMF Committee as their immediate supervisor.

The prime ministerial order gave PMF militias the choice of either abiding by its provisions or becoming unarmed political organisations. In addition, they must close all headquarters and offices carrying the name of a PMF faction.

The factions that choose to convert to political organisations must abide by the laws and regulations governing political parties, among which is the prohibition against bearing arms.

The PMF’s component militias must also close all economic offices, money-making operations and other such ventures that are not sanctioned under the new system governing the PMF.

Mahdi’s decree set a 31 July deadline for “drawing the final arrangements to complete the work in accordance with these points”, adding “orders will be issued subsequently to restructure the PMF Committee and its formations.”

Mahdi’s executive order followed through on a previous prime ministerial decree issued by former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi stipulating the state’s exclusive right to bear arms and ordering the dissolution of militias and the closure of all their bases and headquarters.

But the Mahdi decree was also motivated by a number of other factors related to regional developments, combined with the nature of some of the PMF’s activities in Iraq.

PMF units recently staged Katyusha missile strikes against US targets in Iraq in response to which the US designated a number of PMF militias and figures as terrorist entities.

The Iraqi government was deeply embarrassed by the attacks against oil companies operating in Basra governorate in June and by the incident of the storming of the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad by some PMF factions.

More generally, the activities and behaviour of some PMF militias and members have stirred increasing discontent and criticism among Iraqi political and religious circles and, indeed, some military circles.

The executive order to integrate the PMF into the Iraqi army elicited some significant positive responses both at home and abroad. The Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr welcomed it as “an important thing and a good first step towards building a strong state”.

He stressed that the Saraya Al-Salam (Peace Companies), the militia that he, himself, founded, would be the first to fall in line with Mahdi’s decree.

Falih Al-Fayyadh, who heads the PMF Committee, declared his “absolute support” for the decree “because it truly serves the interests of security and stability in Iraq.

The PMF finds itself in harmony with the prime ministerial order.” Al-Fayyadh added that consultations were currently in progress with the prime minister to “complete the restructuring [of the PMF] in line with the prime ministerial order” and that the PMF “has begun to assume an official military character”.

He stressed that “the original purpose for creating the PMF was to defend the state. To fail to abide by this commitment is to violate this mission.”

At the regional and international level, the Iranian reaction is particularly significant given how major PMF factions align with Tehran ideologically.

Commenting on Iraq’s decision to integrate the PMF into the Iraqi army, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters at a press conference, “we respect the decisions made by Iraq’s government and consider it a domestic issue of Iraq. Iran has great respect for the Iraqi government and its armed forces and popular forces because of their courageous steadfastness against terrorism.”

The statement is an example of Iranian dissimulation since one of the aims of the integration of the PMF into the army is to clip Iranian wings in Iraq and prevent it from harming Iraq’s national security and interests both at home and abroad.

Washington, for its part, welcomed Mahdi’s decision and expressed its hope that the provisions of his executive order would be fulfilled.

So far, we can register the following observations in light of the reactions above and recent developments in general:

– As the reactions of Al-Sadr and Al-Fayyadh indicate the executive decree was only issued after the prime minister secured a broad base of political and religious support for its provisions.

– The integration of the PMF, which is a predominantly Shia umbrella organisation, aims to preserve and consolidate it by institutionalising it. This is important at this time in particular, when the Iraq army is still weak, in contrast to the PMF’s military strength as well as it economic strength.

– The decision to integrate the PMF is largely a formality undertaken to placate the US which has been angered by some of the actions of the pro-Iranian PMF.

– It is unlikely that Mahdi’s decree will severely undermine Iranian influence in Iraq because Tehran has forged a large network of support within the executive, legislative and judicial institutions of the state.

– The integration of the PMF into the military could work less to regulate the PMF than to strengthen the PMF’s influence in the military establishment.

Nevertheless, a number of factors could obstruct the implementation of the executive order. Firstly, it is still a decree and has not yet been passed into law.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the legislation required to implement it will also require increasing the IAF’s budget in order to cover the expenses of the integration process, which would strain the government’s resources at a time when it already has a large budget deficit.

The process of incorporating the PMF contingents into the army will involve, among other things, enlisting their troops in new military training camps after which they would be reassigned to existing army units which, in turn, could entail measures to restructure and retrain troops across the military establishment as a whole.

Moreover, it is also envisioned that the process will be applied to the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, thereby “unifying the Iraqi military creed beneath the banner of the defence of a single nation and loyalty to a single nation”.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Iraq to unify military structure

The Antichrists Men Are Taking Over the Iraqi State From the Inside

Militias Are Taking Over the Iraqi State From the Inside

An attempt to rein in Iraq’s paramilitaries could end up making them stronger than the government.

Renad MansourJuly 9, 2019, 6:50 AM

Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization and leader of the Fateh Alliance, a coalition of Iranian-supported militia groups, speaks during a campaign rally in Baghdad on May 7, 2018. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

On July 1, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued an official decree that, at the end of this month, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) would be fully integrated into the national armed forces. To most observers, this came as a surprise. The PMF were established by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2014 in response to the collapse of the Iraqi army and the swift rise of the so-called Islamic State. Most analysts concluded that these 50 or so predominantly Shiite paramilitary groups and militias were too powerful to be integrated with other state institutions and that they would continue to pose as independent military, economic, and political actors.

Has Mahdi found a solution for what had been considered an impossible problem? He emphasized that the groups would be abandoning their individual names and other political affiliations, instead adopting brigade and battalion numbers. They will also close their economic offices and commit to following the command of the prime minister as commander in chief. Many in Iraq and across the region are celebrating the news.

It’s worth noting, that among those celebrating are the leaders of the paramilitaries themselves. Qais al-Khazali, who leads the powerful League of the Righteous (Asaib ahl al-Haq), tweeted his support for the prime minister’s decision as a step in the right direction. Similarly, the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement of support and announced the disbanding of his Peace Brigades (Saraya al-Salam). Members of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba have also endorsed the order.

One might have expected harsh criticism from these leaders, given that their groups’ economic and political interests seemed to be directly jeopardized by the prime minister. But they seemed to understand something that most observers have not: Although the new policy mandates that the PMF integrate with the Iraqi state, it does not require their subordination. If anything, the risk may be that the state is subordinating itself to the paramilitary groups, not the other way around.

For the PMF leadership, this decree presents an opportunity to consolidate power from within the state. In my meetings with senior PMF leaders over the years, they have always insisted that one of their top goals was to gain official recognition by the Iraqi state. On one hand, there were financial incentives associated with gaining official control over ministries and government agencies. But the paramilitary groups also saw joining the state as the most promising path to public legitimacy.

PMF leaders are aware that many Iraqis have been withdrawing their support for the militias—and that includes Iraqi Shiites. During the fight against the Islamic State, Shiite Iraqis viewed the PMF as a quasi-sacred force—but once that war was over, they began criticizing the paramilitary groups. For example, in Basra, the home of an estimated one-third of PMF fighters, there were widespread protests against the PMF for operating as a parallel state. Local activists have blamed the PMF for killing 20 or so protesters on Sept. 8 and 9, 2018.

Muhandis, the group’s leader, has set the goal of transforming his organization from a wartime to a peacetime armed group by developing a clearer (and more formal) chain of command and enduring public support. His first step has been to consolidate the organization and centralize its decision-making. During the war, the PMF existed as an umbrella organization of many paramilitary groups all fighting against the Islamic State. After the Islamic State lost its territorial control, these groups began fighting one another for power, legitimacy, and resources. Muhandis therefore began a campaign to purge internal enemies, which he referred to as “fake” groups.

To complete this transformation, Muhandis’s ultimate aim has been to secure a closer connection to the state. Mahdi’s declaration this week marks a step toward that goal and toward strengthening the PMF’s internal hierarchy. He recognizes that there are still PMF groups that do not obey his command. For instance, a rocket attack near the U.S. Embassy in May was not ordered from the PMF’s central leadership, some of whom scrambled to find out how the attack happened. By gaining control over state resources—and how they are distributed within his group—Muhandis now has leverage to establish greater control over the PMF.

However, the single most important reason why the senior PMF leadership at this point supports the prime minister’s new decree is because of the prime minister himself. Unlike former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who at times worked against the PMF, Mahdi owes his power to the paramilitary groups that backed his candidacy. He does not have a political party to back him. Since his election, the PMF’s political leadership, represented via the Fatah electoral bloc, have sought to gain influence over the prime minister’s office, including by staffing it with allies. The appointment of the prime minister’s new chief of staff, Mohammed al-Hashimi, known as Abu Jihad, has given Muhandis and the PMF a strong ally in the Prime Minister’s Office. Security analysts argue that it was Abu Jihad who was internally behind this week’s decree. Indeed, weeks before it was officially announced, Abu Jihad explained the concept to me in a meeting at his office in Baghdad, pitching it as a response to criticisms about security sector reform.

The experience of the Badr Organization, which is the largest PMF unit with some 30,000 fighters, offers an instructive cautionary tale. It agreed to dissolve and integrate into the Ministry of Interior in 2004, but not only did Badr maintain a group of fighters separate from the official armed forces, it also ensured that those fighters sent into the ministry remained loyal to the paramilitary group. Today, Badr (and thus the PMF) continues to control all aspects of the ministry, from the minister to the federal police. Mahdi’s decree can similarly serve as a step for the PMF to pursue integration with the state but at the same time maintain its autonomy and the loyalty of its fighters and members.

For the senior PMF leadership, the main goal is to become part of the state as a step to consolidate power and gain control of the state. They will integrate on their own terms so as not to lose autonomy. And so, rather than reining in the paramilitary groups, Mahdi’s decree can actually be another step in the process of their empowerment.

The Antichrist Reins in Iran-backed Militias

Will the Iraqi government rein in Iran-backed militias? | | AW

LONDON – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has decreed that the Popular Mobilisation Forces will be integrated into Iraq’s regular armed forces and subject to the same regulations as the army. The presence of armed militias has been a key feature of Iraq’s recent history.

All militia headquarters and economic offices outside the control of the prime minister will be shut down after July 31. The decree orders that the armed groups joining the military must change their names and end their political activities.

That last point could prove controversial because some of Iraq’s most powerful politicians have strong links to Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) affiliates known as Al-Hashed al-Shaabi.

The PMF is an umbrella group for a vast array of forces that fought against the Islamic State (ISIS) alongside the Iraqi military and coalition partners. Some of the most powerful elements in the PMF — such as the Badr Organisation, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah — have long-standing ties with Iran.

Abdul-Mahdi’s move comes amid increasing tensions between the United States and Iran. There have been unclaimed rocket attacks against bases hosting US personnel and an attack on the headquarters of foreign oil firms in southern Iraq, including US oil giant Exxon Mobil.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Iraqi leadership in May that Washington would respond with force if Baghdad did not rein in the Iran-backed militias.

“The decree does send a message to regional actors and in some ways to Iran that the Iraqi state is eager to formalise its control over an umbrella that is mostly made up of Iran-controlled factions,” said Phillip Smyth, a researcher on Shia militant groups.

Key Iraqi politicians and militia heads welcomed Abdul-Mahdi’s decree. Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful politicians and head of the Saraya al-Salam, called the order “a correct first step towards building a strong state,” adding that his fighters were now under the command of the prime minister.

The leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Qais Khazzali, posted on Twitter that the decree was welcome and a correct step to prevent the PMF from dissolving. Kata’ib Hezbollah said it would implement the order, while stating that its members fighting outside Iraq — the group is active in Syria — would not adhere to the rules.

Iraq’s highest Shia religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, demanded that PMF groups be placed under the control of the state. However, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has often said he does not want the PMF to be dissolved or integrated into the

army, wrote Ali Mamouri in Al-Monitor.

The PMF has been instrumental in fighting ISIS. Local reports said its forces recently destroyed ISIS tunnels in Diyala province. However, various PMF units have been accused of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.

Some observers said they doubt the decree would be implemented. “Compliance hinges on Iran’s receptiveness to these orders, if Iran is not receptive to these orders, they will be like the ones Abadi issued,” Iraqi security expert Hisham al-Hashimi told Reuters.

The growing power of the PMF has been a pressing issue. Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree in 2018 to make the PMF part of the armed forces but the order was not followed through.

Getting the PMF groups to sever links with political parties is “hard to do,” Smyth said, “when each Hashed brigade is usually comprised of one political group’s members.” Referring to the 2018 decree issued by Abadi, Smyth said militia brigades still advocated for certain political candidates linked to them. “Most of these groups did little more than alter their logos,” he said.

Maria Fantappie, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, commented on social media that the most relevant part of the decree was “its potential to give Iraqi leaders additional legal/political means to insulate Iraq from US-Iran confrontation.”

Iraq has been trying to stay a neutral party in the US-Iran conflict, working to maintain a good relationship with both sides. Amid intensifying tensions between Tehran and Washington, Iraqi President Barham Salih told CNN in June that Iraq would not allow the United States to use one of its bases in Iraq to attack Iran.

The PMF decree will be a serious test for the strength of the Iraqi state.

Going forward, Smyth said: “A major issue will come down to any potential reorganisation of these brigades and how it is enforced,” adding that the PMF has claimed that it could enforce government rules on its own, without the state or the army intervening.

Antichrist Orders for Slow Coup in Iraq

img_4544Demand for ‘slow coup’ against Iraqi corruption

Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr reportedly wants to see independent professionals fill top government seats in a bid to both fight corruption and improve services.

However, a prominent supporter of the cleric told Arab News that Al-Sadr has so far ruled out organising demonstrations to pile pressure for reform on prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

“We can say that Al-Sadr is leading a peaceful and slow coup to correct the government,” an official of Al-Sadr’s party that controls Iraq’s largest parliamentary bloc Sairoon told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.

“He also wants to dismantle the mafia of financial and administrative corruption that controls the ministries and loots public money.”

Rival political groups in Iraq are competing to control thousands of top government positions under existing power-sharing arrangements.

A majority of the top jobs have been under the control of the Islamic Dawa Party that has led most of the governments that have run the country since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Negotiations between political factions and parties in June on sharing out positions ended in deadlock, and a new deadline at the end of October is now likely to be agreed.

According to Arab News, Al-Sadr blames Dawa’s appointments for endemic corruption that has also resulted in a decline in public services.

There have been demonstrations in Iraq’s southern provinces over a lack of basic services, including drinking water and electricity, as well as high levels of unemployment.

“We are working to achieve change by changing the government decision-makers,” added the anonymous official of Al-Sadr’s party.

However, the official has so far ruled out support by his leader for demonstrations, which often turn violent in Iraq.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index places Iraq among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Al-Sadr and other lawmakers have repeatedly said they are working to dismantle what they have called a “deep state” formed by Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki.

The Face of the Antichrists and Their Victims (Revelation 13)

The faces behind the oil America went to war for

By David Bacon5 July 2019

Despite the geopolitical importance of Iraq’s oil, and the central role that oil played in its invasion by a US-led coalition in March 2003, 16 years ago people in the US and Europe knew very little about the workers who made the world’s second biggest oil industry function. In October 2003, the US photographer David Bacon went to Baghdad to learn how the occupation was affecting Iraq’s workers and unions. At the Daura Oil Refinery and at other factories in Baghdad, he documented the lives of workers. After meeting Hassan Juma’a, president of the then newly-reorganised Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, two years later he visited Basra in southern Iraq, where most of the country’s oil industry is located. There he took photographs and recorded interviews, determined to “pierce this invisibility. I wanted to give unions and workers, a sense of who their brothers and sisters were, and how they were affected by the occupation.”

Bacon, a former union organiser who has spent over 30 years documenting the struggles of working people around the globe, recalls one story in particular that workers in Basra told him. After the invasion of Iraq, the US occupation authorities put Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR (corporations formerly headed by then-US Vice President Dick Cheney) in charge of civil administration in Basra. In the first weeks of the occupation the companies didn’t pay workers their wages. Workers responded by blocking the gate into the refinery at the shift change with a crane to stop trucks from leaving with the oil. US soldiers then showed up in tanks.

“At first there were only 100 of us, but workers began coming out,”Faraj Arbat, one of the plant’s firemen, told Bacon. “Some took their shirts off and told the troops, ‘Shoot us’. Others lay down on the ground.” Ten of them even went under the oil tankers, brandishing cigarette lighters. They announced that if the soldiers fired, they would set the tankers alight. The soldiers did not fire. Instead, by the end of the day, Halliburton paid the workers the wages they had been withholding. Within a week the oil union in Basra had been reborn. Finally, oil workers stopped work.

Three days of paralysis in the oil fields was enough to force Halliburton out of Basra, marking one of the first big victories of Iraqi’s rekindled union movement.

Bacon came back to the US with stories like these, and photographs showing people what life in the oil fields was like for those working there. US Labor Against the War, a coalition of unions opposed to the US occupation, managed to get visas for a handful of Iraqi trade union leaders to come to the US and tell their stories in person. In Los Angeles, the US oil workers union gave the Iraqis laptop computers. An exhibition of the workers held in 2005 and again in 2006, showed Californian workers how their counterparts in Iraq were treated, often by the same oil monopolies. Iraqis explained that they saw the country’s oil as the people’s property – the only resource that could pay the enormous cost of rebuilding their country after decades of war. “These photographs,” writes Bacon, “were documentation with a purpose. Photographers often speak about ‘putting a human face’ on a particular social problem or movement. These images certainly introduced the human faces of Iraqi oil workers to workers [abroad].” Thanks to the exhibition, Bacon’s photographs helped bring Iraqi oil workers “to the United States where they could speak for themselves, finding common ground with the workers of the country occupying theirs. If they helped to encourage peace and solidarity, the photographs served a good purpose.”

‘Iraq Free 2005’ is painted on a broken machine on the factory floor of the Basra Oil Refinery on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

Many of the machines, such as pressure vessels and other equipment in the refinery, were damaged during the war with Iran (1980 – 1988), and later from US bombing in early 2003. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, economic data in Iraq was considered a state secret, but according to some estimates, Iraq’s oil industry was worth billions of dollars at the time of the US-led invasion.

Faraj Arbat (left) and members of the fire department of the Basra Oil Refinery, photographed on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

In this photo, the men are discussing the privatisation of the oil industry in Iraq. For decades before the invasion, the industry had been run by the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company. In the aftermath of the invasion, the US government wanted to open up the industry to international investors and multinationals, but this was opposed by oil workers, who said that the oil wealth of Iraq belonged to its people.

Ibrahim Arabi, leader of the union at the Basra Oil Refinery, photographed at his home in Basra on 26 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

A picture of the Islamic cleric Moqtada al Sadr, leader of the Sairoon political alliance supported by many unions and left-wing groups, is in on the door. Arabi was blacklisted by the oil ministry for his union activities.

Workers on an oil drilling rig in the South Rumaila oil field just outside of Basra, in southern Iraq, on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

At the time these photos were taken, making the rigs function required great skill because the equipment was often old, and economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s made it difficult to obtain parts for repairs. The heat in the Iraqi desert is extreme in the summer, rising to over 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). Workers also worried about the danger from both occupying military forces and from Saddam Hussein’s old secret police, who were responsible for assassinating a number of trade unionists during the occupation.

Abdi Settar Ajid, an assistant driller, controls the speed of the drill on an oil rig in Basra on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

At the time he was photographed, Abdi Settar Ajid had been drilling oil wells for 30 years and was working on an oil rig in the South Rumaila oil field just outside of Basra. Controlling the drill is the most highly-skilled job on an oil rig, and Ajid was the most senior and most respected worker in the crew.

Workers eat together on an oil drilling rig in the South Rumaila oil field, photographed on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

Today, oil accounts for 99 per cent of all government revenue in Iraq. The country has the fifth largest reserves in the world and is thought to be the largest unexplored market for oil. But the great wealth produced by oil is yet to trickle down to ordinary citizens. Basra and southern Iraq were rocked by demonstrations in 2018 over lack of electricity, water scarcity and high unemployment. According to Hassan Juma’a of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, “these events are an inevitable result of the government’s neglect and financial corruption in the state system”.

People sit by and walk towards apartment buildings built by the government for the working-class residents of Basra. Photograh taken on 26 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

At the time these photographs were taken, many of the residential buildings in Basra had spent years surrounded by the wreckage of war, including depleted uranium ammunition. Iraqi doctors report that thousands of people received higher doses of radioactivity than those received from standard natural sources of radiation, due to the use of depleted uranium weapons by the US military. Low level radiation exposure has led to an increase of children’s leukemia, birth defects and breast cancer.

Antichrist Blames Government for Weak Anti-Corruption Steps

Muqtada Al-Sadr, cleric who wants to replace the Government (photo: Malhotra((CC BY-SA 3.0))

Iraqi Clerics Blame Government for Weak Anti-Corruption Steps

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr may opt for demonstrations instead for prayers in a bid to replace the country’s senior government officials whom he blames for inadequate response to growing corruption.

“He also wants to dismantle the mafia of financial and administrative corruption that controls the ministries and loots public money,” a high official of Al-Sadr’s party told Arab News while insisting on anonymity.

“We can say that Al-Sadr is leading a peaceful and slow coup to correct the government,” he added.

The influential cleric, according to the paper, would like to see independent professionals fill top government’s seats and hopes to be able to improve services and fight corruption.

Another prominent Sadrist member, however, said that Al-Sadr “has ruled out demonstrations to pressure Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi into accepting the changes”.

Al-Sadr is not alone in demanding changes. Another Iraqi’s Shiite cleric and one of the country’s top religious leaders, marja Ali al-Sistani, spoke about the necessary changes in the country at his Friday sermon last month, saying that “corruption still remains rampant within institutions and the state has not met that with clear practical steps to limit it and hold those involved accountable.”

He also stressed that complicated bureaucracy, lack of employment opportunities, and an acute shortage of essential services cause people to suffer.

Failure to address these issues, as he warned, “could lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State group (ISIS).”

A major Shiite block in the Iraqi Parliament last month also strongly criticized Abdul-Mahdi’s leadership, especially his failure to “fill top posts in his cabinet, tackle corruption and improve public services.”

One of the main problems in the country, according to media reports, is the fact that the political factions are struggling for control of top government jobs, the majority of which was, so far, controlled by the Islamic Dawa Party since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Although Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi promised he would fight corruption and established the Supreme Anti-Corruption Council in January this year, the country’s largest parliamentary block, led by al-Sadr, seems to be determined to change the government.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Iraq is among the most corrupt countries in the world.