“Armed men in two BMWs opened fire near Araji and hit a member of his personal bodyguard, which led to an exchange of fire between Araji’s bodyguards and the militants,” Obeidi said.
He believes political parties are behind the attempted murder, but would not name them.
In February, Araji was assigned by Sadr to represent “the administration of Basra Governorate” which has seen significant bloodshed since the protest movement began in 2019.
Hundreds of protesters have been killed and kidnapped by security forces and Iran-backed militias since October 2019.
The ceremony was commemorating members of the “Mahdi Army,” created in 2003 by Sadr in a response to US invasion at a time. The Madhi militia was involved in acts of violence and killing of civilians that led to Sadr’s decision to freeze its activities in 2007. However, in February 2020, Sadr said that “defrosting” the Mahdi Army and returning it to the forefront only needs “a matchstick”.
Sadr has been a vocal supporter of reform and anti-corruption campaigns for years. When anti-government protests broke out in October 2019, he sent members of his Saraya al-Salam militia to protect the demonstrators. However, Sadr changed his position and by February 2020, his militias were involved in suppression of the protests.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Protests renewed in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on Sunday after an explosive device detonated at a Saturday memorial ceremony to commemorate those killed in Iraq’s protest movement, an activist has confirmed to Rudaw English.
Three people were injured at an explosion at the Tishreen martyrs ceremony, activist Muhammad al-Khayyat told Rudaw English on Sunday. One is in a critical condition.
Video shared to social media showed a group of protesters erecting tents in the city’s central al-Habboubi Square on Sunday in preparation for an open sit-in demanding authorities reveal those behind the killing of protesters and calling on the government to protect activists from threats, kidnappings, assassinations.
At least 600 people have been killed across Iraq and more than 18,000 injured since the protests began, according to figures released by Amnesty International last year.
In November 2020, protesters in Habboubi Square were forced out of their tents and shot at by supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leaving seven people dead and scores wounded. Protesters moved back into the square a week later and vowed to continue protesting.
In February, bloody clashes left several dead and wounded in the city.
RELATED: Protesters gather across Iraqi cities in support of Nasiriyah demonstrators
“We closed a number of official departments in the governorate, in addition to main roads in preparation for the open sit-in,” Khayyat said.
Protests said they reject Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s decision to appoint Abdul Ghani al-Asadi as the Dhi Qar governor after Nathim al-Waeli stepped down following bloody protests calling for his dismissal.
Local government officials in other provinces have also come under fire, accused of involvement in the kidnap of activists.
Haidar al-Khashan, who was kidnapped and held for several hours early Thursday by unknown gunmen, accused agencies affiliated to the Governor of Muthanna of kidnapping and threatening him on Sunday.
“Four people got out of a government Land Cruiser, kidnapped me in front of my mother, handcuffed me and put a bag on my head before taking me to an unknown place and interrogating me for an hour and a half,” Kashan said told Rudaw English on Sunday.
The people who interrogated Khashan said they were from Samawah, and threatened to kill him if he went to demonstrations against Governor Ahmed Manfi, according to Khashan.
“Today we kidnapped you and we will release you, but tomorrow we will finish you by placing a bullet in your head,” Khashan quoted the kidnappers as saying.
“What hurt me the most when I was kidnapped was my mother; she is still in shock,” Kashan said.
“I fear for my life now, I cannot go out alone at night, and I make sure to go out with my friends during the day,” he added.
A day after the incident Kashan was back on the streets, leading a large demonstration in the city of Samawah on Friday.
“We will not be afraid of such threats, and we will not back down,” he said, pledging to continue protesting until the local government is removed from power.
Iraq lies on the fault line between the Shiite Muslim power Iran and the Sunni-ruled countries that are Tehran’s regional rivals, among them Saudi Arabia.
“It is a door that takes Iraq out of isolation from its historical Arab environment, hoping that it will be a visit of friendship and partnership in various fields and an end to conflicts and crises,” he said.
Mr Al Sadr made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017, where he met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials.
It was seen by experts and officials as a significant development for regional stability and countering Iran’s expansionism in the region.
Since 2003, successive US administrations have pushed for more Saudi engagement with the new Iraqi government, which Baghdad embraced by maintaining good ties with Riyadh and Tehran.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq have improved since Riyadh reopened its embassy in Baghdad in late 2015.
The kingdom has taken a more proactive role in regional policy, building stronger ties with Iraqi leaders has become a priority to limit Iran’s influence in the country, where it has ties to Shiite groups that have dominated Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Mr Al Kadhimi’s first trip abroad as leader last year was to Iran, shortly after he visited the US.
He was scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia in his first foreign trip as prime minister last July, but the visit was cancelled at the last minute when King Salman had an operation to remove a gall bladder.
The Iraqi leader began his visit to the kingdom on Wednesday where he was received at Riyadh’s international airport by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Iraq and Saudi Arabia agreed to set up a $3bn fund to boost the private sector in Iraq.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — A commander of the state-sponsored Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) was killed in a clash with Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Iraq’s Salahaddin province, the PMF said on Monday.
Hassan Muhammad al-Asadi, commander of a regiment in Brigade 314, and a fighter from Brigade 315 were killed on Monday during clashes with ISIS militants southwest of Samarra, the PMF said in a statement shared on its official Telegram channels.
ISIS has attacked PMF forces several times this year – particularly in territories disputed by Erbil and Baghdad, where ISIS sleeper cells thrive.
On February 28, six members of Iraq’s state-sponsored Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) were killed and two others wounded in a car explosion in Anbar province, western Iraq.
On February 2, five members of the PMF were killed in a clash with ISIS militants in Diyala, according to state media and the PMF. At least 11 fighters from the PMF were killed in an ambush by ISIS in Salahaddin on January 24.
ISIS claimed in its weekly propaganda newspaper al-Naba, last published on Thursday, that it had conducted 17 operations in Iraq from March 17 to 23, killing and injuring 31 people, including PMF fighters.
The PMF took part of the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq in late 2017, but it’s role in Iraq has increasingly been called into question.
PMF units close to Iran are widely accused of abducting and killing opponents, and are believed to be responsible for some of the deadly rocket attacks targeting US and coalition personnel stationed at bases across Iraq.
03/28/2021 Iraq (International Christian Concern) – A recently formed Iraqi parliament committee has returned at least 50 houses and other properties to their rightful Christian owners. The committee was formed in January by a prominent Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, to explore the complaints from Christians regarding illegal property expropriations.
Iraq’s Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Sako, expressed commendation for the work that has already been done and suggested that it would encourage Christians to return home to Iraq. Some also linked the progress of the committee in part to the Pope’s visit earlier in March. Christians are hesitant to return to Iraq for many reasons, one of which being the loss of property that began in 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein. Legalized theft of Christian property turns a blind eye to those seizing homes, land and other belongings, despite the fact that many Christians still retained their legal paperwork to their homes.
Only around one-fifth of Christians remain in Iraq after the conflicts and economic hardship the country has faced.
In November, Sadr said he would push for the next prime minister to be a member of his movement for the first time.
With eyes on the executive authority, the Shia cleric has been calling recently for control of the weapons’ chaos in the country so as to curb attacks by armed factions on foreign forces, their supply convoys and the headquarters of the US embassy in Baghdad.
Sadr had also been involved in a crackdown on a massive uprising that took place in the cities of central and southern Iraq starting from October 2019. In that period, he employed a militia called Blue Hats to confront demonstrators in the streets and sit-in squares, as part of his efforts to crush the protest movement and protect the regime.
In recent statements, the leader of the Sadrist movement offered to help the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi end the spread of illegal weapons in the country.
“The Iraqi government must work diligently and firmly against all armed actions that target the security of Iraq and its citizens, regardless of the affiliation of the perpetrators,” Sadr said, adding, “I am aware that they (the militants who launch attacks) are recruited to destabilise security, threaten stability and weaken the state with the aim of discrediting the honourable reputation of the government for the benefit of those who carry foreign agendas.”
The majority of these militias have links with Iran and have been helping pursue Teheran’s agenda, which is to expand the Islamic Republic’s influence in Iraq and the region.
Most of the Iraqi Shia militias that were trained to fight ISIS in 2014 are with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), formally affiliated with the Iraqi armed forces. Some PMF factions, however, respond only to the orders of leaders who are close to Iran.
In his recent statements, Sadr stressed that “the security chaos and the spread of weapons should not last,” calling on the government to “double its efforts” and offering his services when saying, “We are ready for cooperation.”
Sadr is known for his extreme self-confidence, at times acting as a holder of absolute power by issuing orders, warnings and setting deadlines for his demands to be fulfilled. This is fundamentally contrary to the logic of thegovernment’s control that he has been preaching with his call for ending chaos in the country and halting the spread of weapons.
In recent years, the Shia cleric, who hails from a prominent religious family in Iraq, has sought to distance himself from the bad governance that led to massive popular protests against the ruling class.
He portrayed himself as being different from other leaders of Shia parties and militias, and sought to act as a spokesman for the people, a defender of their cause, a reformer and an enemy of corruption.
Sadr, in fact, sees the failure of his political rivals as an opportunity to control the executive , especially in the light of new international and regional dynamics that may redraw the political map in Iraq.
After 18 years of mostly Shia rule in Iraq, the security situation in the country is still a serious problem affecting all aspects of life.
The Shia militias, who had obtained weapons and financial resources to help fight the Islamic State (ISIS) group, constitute today’s the biggest challenge to peace and security in the country, according to experts.
Washington accuses armed Iraqi factions linked to Iran, including Kata’ib Hezbollah, of being behind a number of attacks targeting its embassy and military bases, from which American soldiers are sometimes deployed in the country.
Kata’ib Hezbollah, whose leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was assassinated in January by the US military while he was with Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport, is considered one of the factions with the closest ties toTehran.
Iraqi politicians and activists from the protest movement accuse militias loyal to Iran of kidnapping and torturing protesters, placing them in secret prisons and shooting demonstrators.
Kadhimi promised to hold the killers of demonstrators accountable and made surprise visits to numerous prisons to find out whether they included detainees from the protest movement.
Last July, the Iraqi judiciary announced the formation of an investigative body to look into assassination crimes, hours after an expert on armed groups, Hisham Hashemi, was assassinated.
Poster of Sadrist Movement Leader Muqtada Al-Sadr is seen as Iraqi demonstrators gather at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq on 3 January 2020 [Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency]
March 11, 2021 at 12:31 pm
Leader of the Iraqi Sadrist Movement and prominent Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr yesterday announced his support for Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s call for national dialogue, Anadolu reported.
This came in a statement read by the director of Al-Sadr’s media office, Haider Al-Jabri, in which he also said: “Everyone is required to activate reform dialogue between all parties, including the protesting youth generation”, adding that dialogue should take place under the supervision of the United Nations and that everyone who has a Baathist or terrorist affiliation should be excluded.
The statement did not define who was included in “the terrorist” affiliation, but Al-Sadr went on to accuse some political parties of using infiltrators within peaceful protests to escalate the security and political situation for electoral gains.
Al-Sadr called on the Iraqi government to carry out its duties in preserving the state’s security and prestige.
Earlier on Monday, Al-Kadhimi called on the country’s rival political groups to use dialogue to solve their differences.
“In the atmosphere of love and tolerance promoted by the visit of His Holiness the Pope to the land of Iraq, we present today the call for a national dialogue,” Al-Kadhimi said in a televised speech.
Zana Gulmohamad’s new book, The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq: Political Factions and the Ruling Elite, takes on the mammoth task of exploring and explaining how Iraq has formulated its foreign relations since the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation. Iraqi politics are often quite difficult for outside observers to make sense of; foreign policy is no different. As Gulmohamad makes clear, Iraq has no single foreign policy; the ruling elite in both Baghdad and Erbil have multiple foreign policies. Through interviews with diplomats, ambassadors and politicians, the author, who teaches politics and international relations at Sheffield University, has put together an important insight into how the country’s foreign relations are determined.
Gulmohamad identifies three levels to Iraqi foreign policy and quotes lawmaker Dhafer Al-A’ni in explaining them: “There are multiple or numerous levels of Iraqi foreign policy… Firstly it is based on ethnic or sectarian foreign policies; Shiite, Sunnis, and Kurdish foreign policies… Secondly, there are different foreign policies from decision makers’ level, such as the President, Prime Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs where each has their own perspective and they are not compatible… Thirdly, there are foreign policies that emanate from various political parties, which are different from each other; for example, the external relations of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan are different from those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.” Thus we ask not only what Iraq’s foreign policy is, but also whose foreign policy is it? Or as the author puts it, “Various political factions via their ethnic, religious, political, ideological and personal differences and their competition for resources and power have contributed to an incoherent foreign policy.”
The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq… proceeds to take us through different political factions, actors, movements, and institutions and explores how each one forms its own foreign policy and how they interact with one another. “The Iraqi state’s weaknesses and the post-2003 political system, including the quota al-Muhasasa and the electoral system (proportional representation), have contributed to the rise of emerging political figures and parties,” writes Gulmohamad. “While al-Muhasasa has contributed to the divided foreign policy, the principle of inclusion of all three major ethno-sectarian political factions (Shia, Arab Sunni, and Kurd) has prevented a complete fallout of the state’s system and given every main political component a stake in Iraq. The interests and external ties of the political factions do not necessarily translate to benefit the public.” This is a critical point because the political factions are constantly trying to undermine one another, and at the same time, the inclusion of these different factions stops the state from collapsing entirely. However, the Iraqi people do not actually benefit a great deal from the preservation of this political system.
Whilst the book discusses the ethnic and sectarian composition of power in Iraq, it does not fall into lazy thinking by treating these identity markers as having homogeneous attitudes in foreign policy thinking. “There are clear differences between the Shia elites and factions in terms of how they view regional and international powers. Thus, not all Shia elites and factions are pro-Iran, and both [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and Muqtada [Al-Sadr] seek to limit Iranian leverage while maintaining a competitive relationship with Iran. Muqtada and [former Prime Minister Haider] al-Abadi’s supporters, unlike the pro-Iran factions, are more willing to restore ties with, for instance, the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia].”
The Islamic Da’wa Party, a Shia political movement which has given Iraq three prime ministers, tends to take a harder sectarian approach to foreign policy, although there are degrees to this depending on which prime minister you examine. Nouri Al-Maliki, who was prime minister of Iraq between 2006 and 2014, gravitated the country’s foreign policy towards complete alignment with Iran on both domestic and regional issues. According to Gulmohamad, Al-Maliki had two faces when it came to foreign policy; he held the principle that Iraq would never meddle in the affairs of other countries, but he turned a blind eye to and facilitated Iran’s recruitment of Iraqi Shia to fight in Syria in defence of dictator Bashar Al-Assad. While Al-Maliki held that Iraq should be sovereign, his entrenchment with Tehran and hostility towards Iran’s regional rivals harmed the country’s sovereignty.
Not everyone in the Da’wa Party agreed with Al-Maliki’s style of government and internal factionalism played out in foreign policy, as the author tells us: “A few days before Prime Minister al-Maliki’s resignation, a number of Da’wa Party members visited Iran to persuade Iranian decision-makers not to support al-Maliki.” The prime minister’s decision to step down was also influenced by the United States refusing to help Iraq against Daesh unless he resigned.
This is a useful study that will equip readers with the tools to understand how post-2003 Iraq makes foreign policy decisions. It also provides a mirror into domestic politics within the country and explores the dynamics of different movements. It does not deal very much with the United States and claims that Washington has had very little influence over how Iraq makes its foreign policy since the 2005 parliamentary elections. Many would argue that this demonstrates America’s disinterest in governing Iraq post-invasion and more studies examining this question would be welcome. Iraqis benefit very little from this arrangement, as Zana Gulmohamad tells us repeatedly throughout the book.
While The Making of Foreign Policy in Iraq… offers an insight into that country, it might also help us to look at other countries in a similar situation, including neighbouring Syria. This is, without doubt, a spirited and welcome book that contributes to our understanding of political dynamics in post-invasion Iraq.
ROME (Crux) – Despite widespread speculation that Pope Francis and top Shi’a cleric Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani will sign a document on human fraternity during their meeting in Iraq next month, an Iraqi state official has said the rumors are false.
According to the Iraqi Kurdish news site “Rudaw,” in comments made during a media roundtable, Senior Undersecretary of Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nizar Al-Khair Allah called the Holy Father’s scheduled visit with Al-Sistani “historic.”
A visit like this “has not been witnessed in the history of the Hawza,” he said, referring to a prestigious seminary for Shi’a clerics, “but it won’t include any signings or agreements.”
Pope Francis is set to meet Al-Sistani March 6 as part of his 4-day visit to Iraq, during which he is expected to make stops in Baghdad, Erbil, Qaraqosh, Mosul, the Plain of Ur, and Najaf, where Al-Sistani lives.
For some weeks it has been rumored that during his private meeting with Al-Sistani, the two would sign the Document on Human Fraternity, originally signed by Pope Francis and the Gran Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, during the pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi in 2019.
However, Khair Allah’s statement that there will be no agreements made or document signed appears to debunk that rumor. Al-Sistani himself, who is 90, does not usually leave Najaf and rarely receives visitors, making his conversation with the pontiff even more significant.
In his remarks to state media, Khair Allah also said the pontiff would be provided local security, saying, “The Vatican would like Pope Francis to come via an Iraqi plane with the provision of Iraqi protection.”
Although the trip is less than a month away, some have speculated whether the visit will actually take place, with security being one of the top concerns in addition to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initially an alarm was raised in January when two ISIS suicide bombers at a crowded market in Baghdad claimed dozens of lives. Since then, there have been periodic rocket strikes in residential areas of Erbil, raising concern that more attacks could take place as the papal visit gets closer.
The latest of these rocket attacks took place Feb. 15, when a barrage of rockets targeted the main military base inside Erbil’s airport. Among other things, the base hosts foreign troops deployed as part of the US-led coalition helping Iraqi forces to fight ISIS.
However, not all of the rockets hit their target. Several struck portions of Erbil’s northwestern sector, killing one foreign civilian contractor and wounding at least nine others, including an American soldier.
A group that calls itself “Awliya al-Dam,” meaning “Guardians of the Blood,” claimed responsibility, saying it would continue to attack the American “occupation” forces in Iraq.
After the incident, senior Iraqi Shi’a cleric and leader of the country’s Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, said he believes the rocket strike was launched in a bid to either cancel or postpone Pope Francis’s March visit, which would mark the first time a pope has ever set foot in the country.
Sadr said it is now the government’s task to deal with any security concerns with “caution and wisdom.”
Immediately after Monday’s rocket attacks, rumors began circulating in local media that the papal visit would be postponed, however, the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq, Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, denied the reports, saying in a statement that “in some Arabic media is circulating a fake news that Pope Francis is delaying his visit to Iraq. The truth is that it remains scheduled from 5-8 March 2021.”
Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also quickly put out a statement promising action, saying, “the government will take all means to fight the remnants of terrorism in any form and under any name and is determined to continue the war against these groups.”
In an interview with Vatican News, Bishop Basel Yaldo, an auxiliary bishop in Baghdad and general coordinator of the papal trip, said Iraqis are awaiting the pope “with all our hearts.”
“For decades, we have been waiting for a pope. For us, it will be a truly historic event,” he said, adding that after decades of war and violent conflict, the people want peace, “and we are sure that Pope Francis’s visit will bring hope to all Iraqis, not just Christians.”
Pope Francis’s visit comes at a time when many experts and observers fear that it is only a matter of time before Christianity disappears from the Middle East entirely.
In Iraq alone, hundreds of thousands have left in recent years as a direct result of war, discrimination, violent persecution, and poverty. As of 2003, there were roughly 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, while today that figure is closer to just 300,000.
In his comments, Yaldo said that when the pope visits the villages burned and pillaged during the ISIS insurgency on the Nineveh Plain, he will bring the solidarity of the entire Church with him, and a prayer for unity.
All papal events, he said, will show that the pope is coming “for all the people of Iraq, without any distinction.”
Sadr slams ‘interference of neighboring states’ following Turkish threats of Shingal operation
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday slammed foreign interference in Iraq, calling on the government to pay close attention to the northern district of Shingal (Sinjar), following threats by Turkish officials to launch a military operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the area.
“I will not accept the interference of neighboring states of Iraq in the Iraqi affairs, or an assault on beloved Iraq, just as I don’t ever accept Iraq to be a launchpad for attacks against neighboring states,” the head of the Sadrist movement tweeted on Wednesday.
Three brigades of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) were deployed to the Shingal region on Friday after the Turkish threats.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, visiting Baghdad and Erbil in January, said he discussed the PKK presence in Shingal in his meetings with Iraqi and Kurdish officials. “We told the parties that Turkey is ready to provide support for eliminating terrorists in Iraq’s Sinjar region if they seek any help or support,” he said, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin reiterated this stance in an interview last week.
Turkey launched a fresh offensive, dubbed Operation Claw-Eagle 2, on Mount Gara on February 10 with the purpose of targeting suspected PKK positions there. The operation ended on Sunday. Turkey claims to have killed 51 PKK fighters and arrested two during the offensive, while the armed group claims only 15 of its own died in the operation.
Turkey has previously carried out airstrikes on alleged PKK targets in Shingal.
Sadr also condemned Monday’s missile attacks on Erbil, where 14 rockets have been fired at the Kurdistan Region’s capital, killing one and injuring several others.
“Perhaps the escalation in Sinjar, the unjustified attack in Erbil and the siege on some airports in the south [of Iraq] may be a pretext to cancel the papal visit to Iraq, all this is done via internal and external interference,” Sadr added.
Pope Francis will visit Iraq in March, according to a statement by the Vatican, marking the first papal visit to the land revered by Christians for its featuring in the Bible.