Antichrist paying price of shift in Iraqi Shia politics

An Iraqi worker walks past a poster bearing the picture of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, at the premises of Al-Ataa hospital, in Sadr City, Baghdad. (DPA)

An Iraqi worker walks past a poster bearing the picture of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, at the premises of Al-Ataa hospital, in Sadr City, Baghdad. (DPA)
Zarif’s visit lifted the veil on the second act in the drama of the transformation in Iraq’s Shia power balances.
Wednesday 22/07/2020

BAGHDAD – The Shia political scene in Iraq is witnessing a gradual shift in the balance of power and influence, andreligious leader Muqtada al-Sadr and former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are the ones paying most of the price of this shift, as Iran seems to have decided to abandon them and look for replacements.

For years now, Sadr has monopolised the power and unique capabilities to overturn the political balances in the Shia arena, but his role seems to have shrunk during the current phase of political life in Iraq. Sadr spent months wavering between identifying with the demands of the protest movement that erupted in October 2019 and opposing them.

Sadr controls over 50 seats in parliament and usually has a say over who gets to become prime minister and who does not. But in the case of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and the formation of his government, Sadr’s role was minimal

Another problem with Sadr is that his Shia partners have little confidence in his positions because they know that these positions can change in the blink of an eye.

Iran has in the past resorted to using Sadr as a political firefighterof sorts to absorb the anger of the Iraqi street against the successive governments that were controlled by Tehran’s allies in Iraq, but observers say that he can no longer play that role since he and his Sadrist movement have lost the trust of demonstrators and supporters from the poor and marginalised groups, who not long ago used to represent his strongest base

As for Maliki, he is still paying the price of losing the premiership in 2014 by continuing to lose the seats he used to control in parliament, while his political star continues to wane.

Between 2014 and 2018, when his colleague and rival in the Dawa Party, Haider al-Abadi, was in office as prime minister , Maliki lost about three quarters of his political weight. Still, Maliki remained influential enough during that period to almost topple Abadi’s entire government after he succeeded through parliament in bringing down some of its ministers.

Now in the era of Kadhimi’s government, Maliki seems to have lost all of his influence on the political scene in Iraq to the extent that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flatly ignored him during his last visit to Baghdad.

Iraqi politician Ghaleb Shabandar said that Maliki’s office leaked news of Maliki’s disappointment and anger at not being seen by Zarif. So the leader of the State of Law Coalition is hinting now that he will be boycotting Iran from now on, But Shabandar said that, in reality, it was Iran that had dropped Maliki given that he had lost his popularity.

It is true that the Sadrist members of parliament voted in favour of the decision obligating the previous government led by Adel Abdul-Mahdi to work on removing US forces from Iraq, but right now, anti-American rhetoric is not among the priorities of the two Shia leaders (Sadr and Maliki), who also prefer not to talk about Iraqi-Saudi relations.

Zarif’s visit lifted the veil on the second act in the drama of the transformation in Shia politics in Iraq. Instead of seeing Sadr and Maliki, the Iranian official chose to meet two other Shia political leaders, Hadi al-Amiri and Ammar al-Hakim.

Amiri’s newfound political weight comes from the fact that he leads Al-Fateh Alliance, a parliamentary bloc that includes political representatives of the most important Iraqi militias loyal to Iran.

When Iran wants to express its political positions inside Iraq, it turns to Al-Fateh Alliance, whose hardline rhetoric is in line with the vision of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) regarding the future of US forces in Iraq and the ongoing escalation against Saudi Arabia. Observers believe that, for Iran, Amiri is the natural replacement for Maliki.

Hakim, on the other hand, is a different story. The leader of the Al-Hikma Movement rocketed to fame and importance with Kadhimi’s appointment as prime minister. He personally backed Kadhimi’s nomination and spent hours convincing the other Shia forces to support him, arguing for “the necessity to protect the state from collapsing.”

In one way or another, influential Shia forces believe that Kadhimi is Hakim’s man. Not only did the latter fight tooth and nail for the former’s nomination, he also went so far as to engineer a parliamentary alliance of 42 MPs to back him up, especially after Sadr and Amri distanced themselves from Kadhimi’s appointment, and Maliki bluntly opposed it.

Unlike Amiri, Hakim wants to leave the issue of the presence of American forces on Iraq’s soil to the discretion of executive authorities and military leaders who are in a better position to determine Iraq’s security needs. With respect to relations with Saudi Arabia, the leader of Al-Hikma Movement is strongly in favour of strengthening Iraqi-Saudi relations in particular and opening up to the Gulf in general.

Observers believe that the rise of Amiri and Hakim at the expense of Sadr and Maliki in Iraqi Shia politics reflects Iran’s need to deal with clear political positions in Iraq regarding opposing or supporting the current government, the future of American forces in Iraq, and the file of relations with the Gulf states.

Indeed, both Amiri and Hakim provide clear positions on the main Iraqi files that occupy the minds of policymakers in Tehran, as the first stands clearly on the Iranian side, while the second supports a government that wants close relations with the Gulf states, the United States, and the West.

In light of the difficulties Tehran faces in dealing with the rest of the world, and the crisis of its chronic relations with the United States and many countries in the region, it must have come to the conclusion that dealing with Amiri and Hakim in Iraq will allow it to keep all of its channels open, as the need for any of them may suddenly arise.

Iran seek to topple Iraqi PM over ties to US

Pro-Iran forces seek to topple Iraqi PM over ties to US

BAGHDAD –Iraqi political and popular forces opposed to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi are working to pressure the government in Parliament and on the street, with the aim of bringing it down. According to some sources, this summer’s confrontations are expected to be quite heated.

The anti-Kadhimi political forces belong to Iran’s close allies in Iraq.

Informed sources in Baghdad said leaders of the Fatah Alliance, the second largest parliamentary bloc in the Iraqi parliament, have had contacts with the leader of the State of Law Coalition Nuri al-Maliki to discuss the future of the Kadhimi government and the possibility of its dismissal in parliament before it could sign binding long-term agreements with the United States, in the context of the dialogue that was set off between the two countries weeks ago.

Because Kadhimi’s government enjoys the backing of two important Shia blocs, one led by Muqtatda al-Sadr and one led by Ammar al-Hakim, Kadhimi’s opponents know that they do not muster enough clout in parliament to bring it down.

Al-Sadr has yet to clarify his final and genuine stance towards al-Kadhimi, and this is why his bloc, Saeroun, is still sending contradictory signals about the government.

Al-Hakim, however, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Kadhimi and his government. He had already taken the initiative to provide political cover for the current government by forming a parliamentary bloc comprising more than 40 MPs all in favour of Kadhimi and his government.

Pro-Iran Shia forces have also to contend with Sunni and Kurdish acceptance of Kadhimi and his government. So, in order to reach their goal, they seem to have decided to experiment with a mixture of different currents in the popular movements that might end up tipping the positions of other political forces towards their project.

The popular mixture targeted by the pro-Iran forces consists of the remnants of the October protests plus recent groups of protesters. The remnant protesters of the October uprising are groups in Baghdad and the provinces that still insist on continuing the protests that began in 2019, despite the major political changes that were introduced because of them. The new protesters are specific groups of individuals recently affected by government decisions aimed at financial reform.

For the past 15 years or so, many large segments of Iraqi society have been benefiting from special privileges and government largesse under the pretext of their involvement in opposing Saddam Hussein’s regime. But these privileges have created feelings of resentment and discrimination among popular circles as they saw one class being enriched at the expense of other classes.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi wearing a protective face mask speaks during a meeting with military officials, in Diyala province, Iraq July 11, 2020. (REUTERS)

Kadhimi and his government took office amid the dreadful economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting oil prices. Drastic austerity measures had to be taken and the government decided to scrap the financial and other material privileges that thousands of Iraqis had enjoyed over several years. Naturally, these measures angered the affected individuals.

Observers said that Iran’s allies are working to combine the die-hard protesters of the October 2019 demonstrations with those affected by the recent financial reform decision. The goal is to form a popular protest current demanding the fall of Kadhimi’s government, while riding the usual wave of summer protests ignited by electricity shortages as summer temperatures soar to 50°C.

Pro-Iranian Shia parties are hoping that the electricity street protests may entice Muqtada al-Sadr to join their ranks, since the latter’s supporters do seem to enjoy a good confrontation with the riot police now and then.

If the plot succeeds, many political forces will follow suit and abandon Kadhimi. The latter, being aware of the plot, has been moving on all fronts to abort this plan.

On Monday, Kadhimi ordered the suspension of pending energy projects and directed the Ministry of Oil to distribute fuel free of charge to private sector electricity power plants, a measure that may have a quick cooling effect.

The electricity power grid in Iraq was completely shattered during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Since then, the country has been suffering from a severe shortage of electricity. As a remedy, the government encouraged setting up local private sector electricity generating stations which would sell electricity directly to consumers.

Over the past years, these private power plants have contributed 50% of the electricity consumed in Iraq.

During the past two weeks, electricity output of public power plants dropped sharply, coinciding with a particularly blistering heat wave across the country. Temperatures soared to 50°C in many Iraqi cities, placing private sector power plants under tremendous pressure.

Always within the context of pre-empting public anger, Kadhimi was in Karbala on Tuesday, where he inaugurated a number of service projects.

“The past periods saw billions of dollars spent on the electricity sector; it was plenty sufficient to build a modern electrical grid, but corruption, financial waste and mismanagement were all factors that undermined solving the electricity crisis in Iraq. The result is worsening citizens’ suffering in summer,” the Prime Minister said.

He viciously attacked the government of his predecessor, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, for not implementing “the maintenance projects devoted to the electricity sector, and that has exacerbated the problem, especially in these tough economic conditions for Iraq due to the collapse of oil prices globally as a result of the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As a relief measure, Kadhimi directed the Ministry of Oil “to provide fuel free of charge to the owners of private electricity generators, in exchange for lower electricity prices and increased supply hours.”

Observers said that the Iran allies’ strategy of focusing on igniting popular anger in Baghdad specifically aims at keeping the Prime Minister busy with the protests and consequently divert his attention and efforts from pursuing Shia militias involved in theft, extortion, kidnapping, weapons and drugs smuggling, and participating in armed conflicts abroad.

They also expect that the coming confrontations will have consequences for the Iraqi government’s approach to building a future partnership with the United States.

Kadhimi has plans to visit Washington soon, in preparation for the second round of dialogue between the two countries, which opened last month via closed-circuit television.

Antichrist’s Men Accused of Killing Key Iraqi Researcher

Map of Iraq

Iran-linked Militia Accused of Killing Key Iraqi Researcher

By Namo Abdulla
July 08, 2020 09:46 PM

WASHINGTON – Weeks before he was fatally shot in Baghdad, Husham al-Hashimi, a prominent Iraqi writer and leading expert on extremist groups, sought advice from a friend after allegedly receiving a chilling message from Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah (KH).

His friends are now questioning whether theShiite militia is responsible for the killing. His death has been widely mourned in Iraq, prompting many to speculate on the future of the country amid Iran’s network of influence.

“I told him to leave Iraq immediately,” said Ghaith al-Tamimi, an Iraqi researcher and a close friend of Hashimi.

“Husham told me that he had received information from an important and well-informed source, whom he described as honest, that Kataib Hezbollah had intended to physically eliminate him,” al-Tamimi told VOA.

In addition to al-Tamimi, other colleagues of Hashimi have accused KH of the killing.

KH is an Iraqi militia and Iran proxy designated as a terrorist organization by the United States for its involvement in attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq.

Hashimi was a nonresident scholar at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Policy (CGP) and a member of the Baghdad-based Iraq Advisory Council (IAC). While his analytical essays largely focused on jihadist groups such as Islamic State, he often condemned Iran-linked armed groups flouting the Iraqi law and killing anti-corruption protesters.

A day before his death, he tweeted a picture of a small child wounded in a rocket attack targeting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. KH is believed to have fired the rocket, which reportedly landed in a civilian area nearby.

Both Iran and the Popular Mobilization Forces, which include KH, denounced the killing.

In a statement issued Tuesday, KH denied involvement in Hashimi’s killing, calling the accusations U.S. propaganda.

“The continuous targeting of those who resist the U.S. presence through defamatory accusations became clear in the way the media outlets hostile to the Iraqi people [reported the killing],” read the statement.

The U.S. said Hashimi had received multiple threats from pro-Iran militants in recent days.

“In the days leading up to his arrest, he was threatened by Iran-backed armed groups,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a news conference Thursday, adding that “Hashimi had devoted his life to a free and sovereign Iraq.”

Iraqi response

Hashimi’s death came just days after the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, in a rare raid on the headquarters of KH in Baghdad, arrested 14 members of KH before their release hours later. The government said the raid was based on intelligence reports that the group had planned an imminent attack on the U.S. Embassy.

Al-Kadhimi has vowed to not let Hashimi’s death be in vain.

“Iraq will not sleep until the killers have faced justice for the crimes they have committed,” he said during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, according to excerpts posted by his office’s Twitter account. “We will not allow anyone to turn Iraq into a mafia state.”

Political support

In the meeting Tuesday, al-Kadhimi mentioned that he did not have a loyal political party of his own in parliament, a fact that many analysts see as a weakness of his government.

An independent statesman, he was head of Iraq’s intelligence services before he was picked as a compromise candidate in May after months of internal political gridlock.

Despite that, he appeared to enjoy support across the political spectrum in seeking justice for Hashimi’s death.

Iraq’s Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani called the killing an act of “terror.”

Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shia cleric who leads a strong parliamentary bloc, called Hashimi a “martyr” whose death should not pass with impunity.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the killing was an attempt to undermine the Iraqi state.

“Whose interest does the weakening of state, the intimidation and terrorizing of the people serve?” he asked on Twitter.

According to al-Tamimi, the death of the popular Iraqi analyst may have well enhanced al-Kadhimi’s ability to rein in armed groups operating outside state security forces.

“There is large popular support for the government to announce a comprehensive plan to confront the militias and enforce the rule of law,” he said.

Echoing similar views, Michael Knights, a senior Iraq analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told VOA, “The Iraqi people have a thirst for a strong prime minister who will act against militias.”

Knights described Hashimi as “a casualty and a martyr in the war to give the Iraqi people a state.”

Regardless of Iraqi officials’ vow to seek justice for Hashimi’s killing, some experts on the region say it is unlikely the perpetrators could be brought to justice. They say that even if the widespread accusations against KH are true, it would be a major challenge for al-Kadhimi’s Cabinet to hold the group accountable.

“Justice and accountability are rare in these cases,” tweeted Karim Sadjadpour, a senior Iran scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, “because team Iran is usually experienced enough not to leave clear fingerprints.”

Betting on the Iraqi Horn (Daniel 8:4)

Betting on the Iraqi army

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s firing of National Security Agency head Faleh al-Fayyad, who is known for his close ties with Iran, is a very important development on the Iraqi scene.

At the same time, Kadhimi ordered the formal separation of the position of head of the National Security Agency and national security adviser. Fayyad had a monopoly on both positions, which had prompted Iran to consider him for prime minster of Iraq. Kadhimi’s moves, however, constitute another notch on the scale of wrestling power in Iraq from Iran’s grip, especially in the management of the security apparatus, which not so long ago was completely under Tehran’s control.

There is evidence that the dismissal of Fayyad is a positive development. The new head of the National Security Council is Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, a career officer in the Iraqi Army. Asadi participated in the Iraq-Iran war between 1980 and 1988, but on the Iraqi side this time, and not like many other post-regime change officials who were loyal to Iran instead of their home country.

It is clear, however, that Kadhimi is not completely free of the usual pro-Iran restraints. The evidence of this is his appointment of Former Interior Minister Qassim al-Araji as national security adviser. The problem with someone like al-Araji is that he belonged to the Badr Brigade, one of the militias affiliated with Iran whose leading members had returned to Baghdad from Tehran on the back of an American tank in 2003.

Fayyad was an important figure in the Iraqi system. In addition to serving as both head of the National Security Agency and a national security adviser since 2014, he has also chaired the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) since 2018. This authority is nothing less than a bunch of sectarian militias known to be loyal to Iran.

It is no secret that the PMF has been an Iranian project from the beginning. Its aim has always been to establish an Iraqi regime similar to that of the “Islamic Republic” in Iran, where the real authority is in the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which in turn gets its orders directly from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s ambition was, and still is, for the PMF to become a branch of the IRGC in Iraq so that Iraq becomes a true Iranian colony. But this is exactly what an overwhelming majority of Iraqis are rejecting, including Arab Shias who rose up late last year and virtually toppled the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

Even though they paid a heavy price, they nevertheless proved that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis reject Iran’s guardianship in all its forms. The best proof of this rejection was the burning down of the Iranian consulate in Najaf and forcibly countering Iranian attempts to impose a pro-Tehran prime minister to replace Abdul-Mahdi.

Kadhimi’s battle to wrestle back the Iraqi state from the clutches of Iran’s proxies is still in its infancy. He is advancing sometimes and retreating at other times, as happened when he had members of the pro-Iran Kata’ib Hezbollah militia arrested and then released. These individuals had in their possession missile launchers they intended to use against various American targets in Baghdad.

Fayyad’s dismissal was certainly a big bite out of Iran’s influence inside Iraq. But it is evident that Tehran still holds plenty of playing cards in the country. This is why we see persistent Iraqi efforts to restore to Iraq the institutions of the Iraqi state.

No sane person will deny that Iran and its expansionist project are shrinking daily. This is not only due to the loss of the infamous Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force who was assassinated soon after his arrival at Baghdad airport with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the PMF, but there is also another factor that plays a role in making the 2020 Iran different from the one that had full control over Iraqi decisions, especially in the security sector.

There is no longer an Iranian High Commissioner in Iraq. The last time Esmail Qaani, Soleimani’s successor, visited Baghdad, he had to secure a visa to enter the country. In other words, Qaani does not have Soleimani’s capacity to impose his will on Iraq and manage its affairs. He does not have his network of personal relationships with the leaders of the sectarian militias that make up the PMF and does not speak Arabic. But most important of all, Iran has begun showing its truly weakened state after US sanctions seriously damaged its economy.

We can soon be surprised to learn that the fires and explosions that recently targeted certain strategic sites in Iran were important messages telling Iran that it won’t be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon and that the days of the administration of former US President Barack Obama are over, whether Donald Trump remains president or not.

It is not a necessary condition that Iran must first regress for Iraqis to recover their country. Surely, other great challenges stand in the way of Kadhimi’s government. At the forefront of these challenges is the miserable economic situation that the country has reached in the shadow of corruption and its dependence on oil and nothing other than oil. In addition, there is a need for the Iraqi government to revive the one thing with which it can face up to the PMF, which aspire to replace the Iraqi armed forces, namely the Iraqi army that the Americans committed the crime of dissolving in the wake of their 2003 occupation of Iraq.

The PMF are currently plagued by deep internal divisions, especially in light of their Iranian master’s disability, marked by Tehran’s inability to fund certain Iraqi militias who survive on Iranian handouts, and by its inability to force the Iraqi government to provide more funds for sectarian militias. Could this important development signify the beginning of the rehabilitation of the century-old Iraqi military institution, and what that means in terms of the impossibility of any coexistence between the sectarian militias and this venerable institution?

There is no place for any sectarian militia in a country that respects itself and wants to be a state. We have an example of that in the events rocking Lebanon right now, where a longstanding civilised and modern country is collapsing because of Hezbollah and its weapons. Can Iraq do better than Lebanon? All indications are that it can succeed in getting rid, albeit with difficulty, of Iran’s illegal weapons, but the biggest problem will remain rampant corruption and Kadhimi’s government’s ability to come up with a viable economic plan to restore Iraq’s dignity.

This would be possible if the military establishment ultimately settles the situation in the interest of Iraq first and foremost … and not in the interest of Iran’s interests in Iraq. So, who then in Iraq will have the upper hand in the end to rescue the country from the disastrous effects of illegal weapons? And is betting on the Iraqi army to do just that still possible?

Iraqi PM Opens Baghdad Hospital Established by Antichrist’s Men

Iraqi PM opens Baghdad hospital established by Shiite militia

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Sunday opened a hospital for COVID-19 patients established by a Shiite militia linked to the deaths of hundreds of people in anti-government protests. 

Kadhimi’s media office announced that the PM officially opened al-Ataa hospital, which was converted from militia headquarters to a medical facility by Saraya al-Salam, a militia headed by the prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The hospital is in Sadr city, formerly known as Al-Thawra, a suburb northeast of Baghdad.

“Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi opened al-Ataa Hospital in Sadr City for patients infected with corona, which was established by Saraya al-Salam brigades in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Environment,” the PM’s media office tweeted on Sunday.

Saraya al-Salam, or “Peace Brigades,” is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known in Arabic as Hashd al-Shaabi, a network of predominantly Shiite Muslim militias formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State (ISIS).

The group is  accused of torturing and killing Iraqi protesters in the wave of demonstrations that started in October 2019.

In another tweet, Kadhimi thanked Saraya al-Salam and Muqtada al-Sadr for their efforts in converting one of their headquarters into the hospital.

“Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi appreciates the efforts of Saraya al-Salam for establishing a hospital to provide services for the public, and thanked his eminence Muqtada al-Sadr,” the tweet read.

The government-funded Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) released a statement on Sunday commending the militia for its “humanitarian work.”

“The IHCHR has appreciated the great humanitarian role played by Saraya Al-Salam through Mercy Campaign to support poor families  during the Corona pandemic, as well as its humanitarian work to convert the headquarters of Saraya Al-Salam and equip it with the latest medical equipment,” the statement read.

Iraq continues to record thousands of new COVID-19 cases a day, with 2,125 new infections announced on Sunday.

Iraqi protesters first took to the streets of Baghdad and the mainly Shiite-majority provinces of the south in October 2019 to protest against rampant corruption and the political system.

They have been met with deadly violence, including live ammunition and military grade tear gas canisters. More than 600 protesters died and at least 18,000 were injured, according to Amnesty International.

“We promised that those involved in [spilling] the blood of Iraqis will not sleep at night. We will keep this promise. Peaceful protest is a common obligation and everyone should follow it,” the PM said in May.

The opening of al-Ataa hospital comes at a time when pro-militia coalitions and political parties have accused Kadhimi of being against the PMF.

The accusations came after Kadhimi ordered the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (ICTS) to raid the headquarters of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, part of the PMF, in Baghdad on June  26. At least 14 fighters were detained in relation to recent rocket attacks in Baghdad, the Iraqi Joint Operation Command announced.

Following the raid, senior Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Ali al-Askari issued a scathing attack on Kadhimi, who is also commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, for what he claimed was carrying out US bidding.

“Kadhimi once again followed his American master’s orders, and implemented another plan of theirs in Iraq, after he was involved in the assassination of the two martyrs [Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis], while the fighters of the Hashd immediately gathered and released their fellow fighters in custody,” Askari published on his official Telegram channel on Friday.

One day after the raid, Secretary General of Iran-backed militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Qais al-Khazali accused Kadhimi of following western agendas to target the PMF.

“A piece of advice for Kadhimi, do not stand against the PMF fighters, as they have the support of the people,” Khazali said on June 27.

Iraq – the Antichrist Will Fill The Vacuum

Iraq – Who Will Fill The Vacuum?

The nation- wide anti -establishment protests that had started in Iraq in October 2019 have still not abated. The movement has suffered a fracture primarily because of the machinations of Moqtada Al Sadr. When the movement started thousands of his supporters joined the non Sadrist protestors calling for the Prime Minister—-to step down.

But after the assassination of Iranian General Soleimani in early January 2020, possibly sensing an opportunity to increase his influence and power, al Sadr adopted and on again off again approach towards the demonstrations. He first told his supporters to keep away from the anti government protests. Sadr’s followers, who had earlier protected the protestors from the security forces, left the protest camps and targeted the non Sadrists.

The attacks against the non Sadrists even occurred in Najaf the home of Grand Ayatollah Sistani where eight protestors were killed. Sistan in a Friday sermon condemned the security forces for failing to protect the protesters.

Shortly after Sadr told his protestors to rejoin the protestors but to cleanse them of alcohol and other vices. The camps however remained divided with the non Sadrists no longer trusting Moqtada and declaring that he was out to kill them. In Baghdad the two factions who had earlier made Tahrir square a headquarters for the protests were now divided with the Sadrists occupying a Turkish restaurant and manning checkpoints and the other protestors congregating at the Freedom Monument with the Tahrir square becoming the demarcation point.

While Moqtada al Sadr appeared determined to ensure that his political power, within the existing system, increased, the non Sadrists remained determined that they would be content with nothing but the overthrow of the system; that they would not accept any Prime Minister from within the existing elite; and that they wanted an end to the “muhasasa”, the system introduced after the US-led invasion in 2003 that provides proportional government representation to Iraq’s various ethno-sectarian groups.

The latest casualty of their determination and of the self interest of the existing elite in Parliament, was Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the person chosen by President Barham Salih to be the new Prime Minister in place of caretaker PM Mahdi, who had resigned on December 1,2019 after Ayatollah Sistani endorsed the demands of the protestors. A former exile Allawi had joined the secular Iraqiya party- with a membership of Sunnis, Shias, Christians and women- set up by his cousing Iyad Allawi, who was the interim prime minister in 2004. Though the party had few seats in Parliament and despite its secular nature and his endorsement by Sadr and a grouping of Iran-backed parties, the anti-government demonstrators rejected the choice on the grounds that Allawi was too close to the elite that they were trying to get rid of.

In a televised speech after his nomination Allawi said if he won the vote of confidence in Parliament his government’s first act would be to investigate the killing of protesters and bring the perpetrators to justice. He also promised to hold an early election free from “the influence of money, weapons, and foreign interference”. Allawi also planned to have a cabinet of independent individuals and technocrats who could address some of the protestors demands and undertake reforms to end the political crisis—an approach that would adversely affect members of the elite in Parliament.

In discussions with the other parties in Parliament he insisted that he would select his own ministers much to the chagrin of the Kurdish and Sunni parties who voiced threats of a boycott. There was also some concern that his choice of the cabinet had been influenced by Moqtada al-Sadr, whose endorsement of Allawi was coupled with his threat that he would call a “million-strong” rally to pressure parliament to approve Allawi’s cabinet. Despite this Allawi lost the vote of confidence twice and rather than try again resigned on March 1st 2020 leaving a vacuum that the President would have to fill by naming another person –with some observers saying he would like to name intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kazimi.

Caretaker PM Mahdi had been supported by an alliance between rival factions — Saeroon, lead by Moqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, headed by Hadi al-Ameri. But neither bloc had been able to select a consensus candidate to become the new Prime Minister. Moqtada al Sadr’s endorsement of Allawi came after discussions in Iran where he was studying at Qom. With the death of their mentor, Iranian General Soleimani, there had been dismay and disarray among the Shia militias.

A concerned Iran had turned to its proxy, Lebanon based Hezbollah to manage the Shia militias. Iran and Hezbollah officials instructed pro-Iran militia leaders to put aside their differences with Sadr. The two sides had clashed in parliament in an intra-Shi’ite power struggle. The militia leaders met Moqtada al Sadr and entered into an agreement with him—the price being that he would have the freedom to choose the next government and be able to block the Iran-backed parties’ preferences.

The task of sustaining the morale of the Shias and protecting Iran’s interests was undertaken by Sheikh Mohammad al-Kawtharani, the Hezbollah representative in Iraq, who organized a meeting of the militias and urged them to present a united front in picking a new Iraqi prime minister. Kawtharani had persuaded Moqtada al-Sadr, to support Allawi and Sadr agreed a development welcomed by Iran and accepted by the militia-linked parties it backed.

The assassination of Soleimani and the Iranian retaliation had caused concern among Iraqis that being seen to be adhering to the Iranian agenda could cost their country which could be subjected to US sanctions. This sentiment was particularly noticeable in the youth including Shias. Anti American marches had taken place with the marchers holding signs reading “No America, no Israel, no colonialists”. While the Iraqi Parliament had adopted a non binding resolution calling for the departure of American troops, there was one leader, Masrour Barzani,the President of Iraqi Kurdistan who had been arguing that the Americans needed to find a way to maintain a troop presence in Iraq.

The rationale behind his urging was that the U.S. killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had not affected the group’s ability to operate and that the organization was “regrouping” and mounting attacks in northern and western Iraq. There had been sporadic attacks in Iraq with rockets hitting an Iraqi base in the province of Kirkuk where US troops are stationed and the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. The U.S. State Department said it had designated Ahmad al-Hamidawi Secretary General of Kataib Hezbollah as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist , holding the group responsible for the attacks.

So what could be the likely outcome of the current impasse. While the protestors have been demanding a complete reform of the system, the chaos that would be associated with such a strategy would not be to the liking of Ayatollah Sistani who-while not in favour of the Iranian system of clerics interfering in politics- has the clout to call on the protestors to ease up to keep Iraq viable. Iran is quite preoccupied with the coronavirus and its economy while thumbing its nuclear nose at the USA.

The elections have seen the conservatives come to power and they would definitely like their man to succeed the old and ailing Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq-something that they have not been able to do so far. Moqtada al Sadr has been playing all sides—but it is unlikely that he could combine a religious and political role for himself as long as Sistani is alive. But with Sistani’s approval he could suggest a name, unlinked to Iran, not too cosy with America, that could bring all the parties in Parliament on board without overtly threating their space like Allawi would have.

It is now a game of wait and see and it would be at least a month before there is any chance of a new government being established. In most likelihood it will take much longer given the political performance of the past months.

Who is the Antichrist? (Revelation 13)

who is muqtada al-sadr karadsheh jsten orig_00004724Who is Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr?

(CNN)Muqtada al-Sadr isn’t an ayatollah.

He’s not a general and he’s not a politician, at least in the conventional sense. But with a single speech he can spark a protest that ends up in with hundreds of Iraqi Shiites storming their parliament. He’s commanded a militia of thousands, some who fought and killed U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. And he’s been on TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people on the planet.

Iraqi protesters overrun green zone
This is how he’s managed to gain such prominence — and retain it.

The Sadr family

Sadr was born in 1973 in the Shiite holy city of Najaf to a prominent family.
The city, which is about 100 miles south of Baghdad, is home to the Imam Ali shrine, where the eponymous cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad is buried. Shiites believe that Ali was the rightful successor to Muhammad.
Sadr’s father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was an important Shiite figure in Iraq who openly spoke out against Saddam Hussein and his ruling Baath party.
The elder Sadr and two of his sons were assassinated in 1999 in Najaf, and many believe that he was killed either by the dictator’s forces or Sunnis loyal to him.
Despite the cult of personality Muqtada al-Sadr has developed in recent years, he is still a relatively private man. He does not appear in public often and his exact age was not known until recently.

The Mehdi Army

Sadr is best known to Western audiences for his role leading the Mehdi Army, which he formed in 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The militia is considered the armed wing of the Sadrist movement, which followed the teachings of Sadr’s father. Its power base was in Najaf and the massive Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, which is home to more than 2 million Shias.
Sadr himself opposed the presence of outside forces in Iraq — be they al Qaeda’s Sunni fighters or U.S. forces — and hoped to establish Islamic rule within the country, clashing with the Iraqi Army, U.S. forces and fellow Shias.
By 2004, forces loyal to Sadr battled the U.S. for control of Najaf. President George W. Bush labeled him an enemy and ordered the U.S. military to take him out.
“We can’t allow one man to change the course of the country,” he said, according to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
Within a week, Bush changed course and decided not to go after him.
“That reversal was the turning point in al-Sadr’s rise to power,” Sanchez, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said. “It gave him legitimacy and enhanced his stature within the broader Iraqi community.”
Later that year, Sadr made peace with the most powerful Shia religious figure in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who brokered a truce between U.S. forces and the Mehdi Army. The deal brought together the unquestioned spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shia population and the man who could mobilize the Shia “street.”
As part of the agreement, the Iraqi government agreed not to press charges after a judge issued an arrest warrant for Sadr in connection with the killing of another prominent Shia leader, Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei.
But the Mehdi Army became even more deadly as the war dragged on.
The militia was linked to much of the sectarian violence that reached fever pitch in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. It was accused of running death squads, killing Sunni Arabs and fighting with rival Shiite factions, though Sadr would denounce the violence from time to time.
After more than 200 people were killed in an attack on Sadr City in 2006 — one of the deadliest periods in the Iraq war — Shiite militants responded by burning people to death and attacking Sunni mosques.
By the end of the year, Pentagon leaders assessed that the Mehdi army had replaced al Qaeda as “the most dangerous accelerant” of sectarian violence in Iraq.
But the Mehdi Army also clashed with other Shiite militias. The group often clashed with Badr Brigades for control of parts of Iraq’s Shiite-dominate south. At one point the Badr Brigades partnered with Iraqi security forces to fight the Mehdi Army.
However, the Mehdi Army’s power and influence began to subside by the end of 2007, in part due to the U.S. troop surge.

Kingmaker

Sadr’s capacity to reinvent his role in Iraqi politics, and to tap into a strong vein of Shia protest, has helped him survive and outmaneuver many rivals over the past 13 years. His latest initiative reinforces his place as one of the most influential figures in Iraq.
He and the Iraqi government signed a ceasefire in 2008, and later that year he formally disbanded the Mehdi Army.
The organization is now called Saraya al-Salam, which means the Peace Brigades.
His plan was to transition it into a socio-political populist movement to help Iraq’s poor Shiites through a combination of political and grassroots activities — following a similar model to the structure of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Sadr would move to Iran later that year for religious study. Some believed that he hoped to achieve a higher religious standing, like Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, in order to strengthen his leadership position.
He returned to Iraq permanently in 2011 — more than three years later — without a new title, but with ambitions to become an Iraqi nationalist leader who could make a difference by growing his movement and pushing his followers to the ballot box.
“We have not forgotten the occupier. We remain a resistance,” he said in one of his first speeches back. Sadr did strike a conciliatory tone with fellow Iraqis: “Whatever struggle happened between brothers, let us forget about it and turn the page forever and live united,” he said. “We do not kill an Iraqi.”
Though Sadr rarely makes public appearances, his plan seems to have worked so far.
During Iraq’s 2010 elections, his supporters were key to helping then-Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki secure a second term; today they make up the second-largest bloc in Iraq’s Parliament.
But Sadr and Maliki have since had a nasty falling out, and now are considered rivals in Baghdad.
After the 2010 election, Sadr referred to Maliki as a “dictator.”
He often called for the government to better include moderate Sunni elements, a faction that most say was marginalized by the Maliki government, which led to his ouster (and in part contributed to the rise of ISIS).
Long-time U.S. enemy threatens ISIS leader
His support for Iraq’s current Prime Minster, Haider al-Abadi, is lukewarm at best.
Sadr is now focusing his efforts on reshaping Iraq’s government — he wants more technocrats appointed and to go after corrupt politicians.
Sadr’s supporters held massive protests earlier this year to push Abadi to form a new government and enact reforms. The demonstrations were called off after Abadi trimmed the size of his Cabinet and submitted a new list of nonpolitical ministers for approval by parliament.
And it was Sadr’s impassioned speech late April that spurred protesters to occupy the Iraqi Parliament and Baghdad’s Green Zone, a normally off-limits area housing government buildings and foreign embassies.

Antichrist Urges US Withdrawal After Rocket Strike In Baghdad

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Iraq’s Sadr Urges US Withdrawal After Rocket Strike In Baghdad

With concerns that another rocket attack in Baghdad is going to fuel another round of US attacks on Shi’ite militias, key Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement demanding the US remove its “occupying forces” from all of Iraq.

The rocket in this case hit a base near Baghdad airport, wounding four US troops. It’s not clear who did this, but the US has in the past used it as a pretext to move against Shi’ite factions inside Iraq. Sadr, who is a powerful Shi’ite cleric, clearly doesn’t want that.

But more importantly, Sadr is a major political player in Iraq, and the Iraqi parliament wants the US out of the country. Pushing this position is an obvious position to take, and one that makes clear that a violent US reaction would be unwelcome.

It is unlikely that the US will publicly respond to the comments from Sadr, as generally the US ignores anything that would involve considering leaving Iraq. Negotiations are planned at some point on the future of US deployment in the country, though this is likely on hold with the coronavirus.

Antichrist calls to ban large gatherings over COVID-19

Leader of Iraq’s Sadrist Movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr [Twitter]

Iraq Shia leader calls to ban large gatherings over COVID-19

June 9, 2020 at 11:19 am

Iraq’s Shia political leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr, has called on authorities to prevent all gatherings and demonstrations in the country to confront the coronavirus outbreak.

Al-Sadr’s call came after protests in the southern governorates of Diwaniyah, Dhi Qar, Muthanna and Najaf grew demanding the departure of provincial officials over financial and administrative corruption, poor management of state institutions and lack of services.

Al-Sadr called on authorities to prevent all gatherings including demonstrations.

As of Sunday, the total number of coronavirus infections in Iraq reached 12,366 cases including 346 deaths and 5,186 recoveries.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi ordered a review of the performance of governors and service institutions in the country.

Antichrist Stresses Withdrawal of US Forces from Iraq

Muqtada al-Sadr Stresses Withdrawal of US Forces from Iraq

In a statement on Monday, Sadr accused Washington of trying to intimidate others into surrender through wars, terrorisms and other means, RT Arabic reported.

He added that the US has to change its approach and withdraw its occupying forces from all countries, especially Iraq.

Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill on January 5, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq’s PMU, and their companions in a US airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport two days earlier.