Antichrist-linked Twitter account slams protesters’ slogan as unpatriotic

Sadr-linked Twitter account slams protesters’ slogan as unpatriotic | | AW

Iraqi Twitter user “@trend_althuraa” posted: “We want a homeland devoid of your political parties. We want a country free of your corruption. We want a homeland free of your militias. We want to restore the prestige of the state after you hijacked everything, including our dreams.”

While Iraqis’ reactions varied, most users criticised the political class and its management of state affairs.

Twitter user “@TISHRIN” wrote, “Do you know why the slogan # We_want_a_homeland bothers them? It is because they are fearing to lose their privileges.”

“56 deputies, 6 ministries, the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, 4 governors, more than 120 general directors, armed militia, ambassadors and agents. What reform are you talking about? Give up your self-proclaimed role in reforming people and reform yourselves,” he added.

Online campaigns targeting the Tishrinya, one of the appellations of the Iraqi protest movement, have grown on social media websites. These campaigns, aimed at dispiriting and intimidating protesters, are allegedly being conducted by Sadr’s electronic army and supported Iran-backed militias’ own online operations.

Several hashtags branding protesters as “traitors” have made the rounds in recent days.

The social media influence war is part of religious parties’ efforts to regain influence online after they were sidelined by protesters. The loss of influence threatens the rule of the turbanis or Shia clerics, who have long used social media sites to promote myths of “sanctities” and “resistance.”

The leader of the Sadrist movement allegedly ordered the formation of a group of bloggers to work as part of a “reform project” on social media.

The project, revealed in an official letter sent by Sadr’s private office, is documented proof of his official support for an “electronic army.”

Most prominent Iraqi political and religious figures deny any association with bloggers accused of leading online campaigns against their opponents.

Rifts on social media often reflect Iraq’s sectarian divide.

“The majority of social media users are young people and adolescents who were born after 2003 or a few years before it,” said Irada al-Jubouri, assistant dean of the College of Mass Communication at Baghdad University.”

“Politicians contribute to inflaming emotions to create negative judgments, taking advantage of ignorance,” she said.

“The idea to create a permanent enemy existed for decades to distract citizens from basic issues such as providing security and services and curbing corruption,” she added.

In the past, Iraqis engaged in a large-scale electronic battle against “agents of Iran” in Iraq, especially clerics, whose criticism was a taboo. Many Iraqi Twitter users believe their country has been ruled by thieves and charlatans since 2003 and claim that the only path to recovery is getting rid of Iran’s agents.

Activists’ recent bold rhetoric seems to have annoyed Sadr and his clique. In a televised interview earlier this year, Sadr said protesters had “deviated from the right path and needed an ear-tip,” which many considered a veiled admission of responsibility for violence and killings against demonstrators.

Sadr, whose public statements often draw criticism, rarely appears in popular gatherings or in the media. When he is featured on television programmes, he asks for the interview to be recorded in advance, because, as he put it, he “sifts through speech.”

Sadr resides in the Iranian city of Qom, and is viewed by Iraqis’ as the embodiment of Iranian influence in their country.

The Twitter account linked to him is a striking example of this, with its content derided by activists as exploiting religion and resistance for political gains.

Activists say the turbaned cleric’s tweets no longer fool Iraqis who now largely view him as an “Iranian pawn.”

People familiar with Sadr say he is “of a simple mentality and a limited thinking,” as the man did not complete his education and did not even pass the elementary school stage.

“He cannot formulate an understandable sentence,” one source said on condition of anonymity.

The Antichrist and Iran see Iraq’s leaders pro-US, aim to topple them

Iran sees Iraq’s leaders pro-US, aims to topple them | Hammam Latif | AW

BAGHDAD – A political source in Baghdad revealed that Iran plans to overthrow the three presidents in Iraq ahead of early parliamentary elections scheduled for the summer of 2021, but its ambitions are facing serious difficulties.

Since the ousting of Iran’s ally and former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and his government following massive and unprecedented protests that began in October 2019 and lasted for months, Iran has branded his replacements, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, President Barham Salih and Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi as allies of Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The sources expect that the Iranian plan to overthrow the three presidents in Iraq will be revitalised once the results of the American presidential election are known.

The source familiar with the scenes of the political movement that has been taking place for days said “Iran is working according to the principle of ‘what cannot be fully achieved, should not be totally abandoned’, meaning that it will accept any partial victory resulting from this plan.”

Iran believes that the popular protests unfairly toppled its ally Abdul-Mahdi but ignored Salih and Halbousi; and that to add insult to injury, they put forward its old opponent, Kadhimi as the new head of government.

Iran-affiliated Iraqi politicians, analysts and writers are publicly expressing this vision in the media and on social media, and are working hard to rally Shias behind this hypothesis, but to no avail.

Sources said that Tehran was betting on the anger of some political parties for not being represented at the three highest positions in the country in order to effect major change. It is, for example, fuelling the anger of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani against Salih, feeding the anger of the Sunni Islamic Party against Halbousi and feeding the anger of its followers within extremist Shia wings against Kadhimi.

This hypothesis developed in light of the emergence of a Sunni political movement supported by Iran and Turkey to dismiss Halbousi, who represents the second generation of Sunni politicians and is adopting a liberal model while being open to relations with Arab Gulf states, the West and the United States.

A coalition front made up of the Turkey-backed Arab Project Party led by Khamis al-Khanjar and the Salvation Front led by Osama al-Nujaifi, in addition to the Masses Party led by Ahmed al-Jubouri “Abu Mazen” and supported by Nuri al-Maliki, one of Iran’s most prominent men in Iraq, have joined the efforts of the Islamic Party led by Rashid al-Azzawi, to remove Halbousi, in conjunction with a green light from Kurdish leader Barzani and Shia leaders to replace Salih and Kadhimi.

The Islamic Party, the arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, has become a reliable ally of Iran ever since Azzawi became its top man.

Azzawi, a Sunni, spent nearly half his life as a refugee in Iran, got married there and built extensive relationships with Iranian political and military leaders before returning to Iraq after 2003.

The sources said that the leader of the Badr Organisation, Hadi al-Amiri, and the leader of the State of Law coalition, Nuri al-Maliki, share roles within the Iranian plan. The first takes the role of the “good cop” in the game, appearing cool and wise, while the second plays the role of the “bad cop,” leading sustained political pressure operations through the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) to mobilise the crowd with the aim of toppling Halbousi first, and Kadhimi and Salih if possible.

Maliki cannot forget that Halbousi insisted on passing the election law in a multi-district formula that lies at the heart of the demands of the October protesters.

Maliki wants every Iraqi governorate to be a single district so that it will be easy for him to obtain seats in central and southern governorates, where most of his supporters are, but difficult for him to compete if they are divided in many smaller districts.

Maliki is seeking to appease his fierce Shia opponent, Muqtada al-Sadr, in order to unify Shia efforts against Halbousi, Kadhimi and Salih, but Sadr prefers to “stay on top of the hill” for the time being, according to observers.

For the first time in years, Maliki announced that he did not object to coordinating political efforts with Sadr, who sponsors a parliamentary bloc of 52 MPs, which was considered by many as an indication of the intentions of the leader of the State of Law Coalition to make concessions in exchange for building an alliance against the heads of arliament, the government and the republic.

Observers say that Iran prefers to overthrow the three presidents months before the date of early elections so that its allies can arrange their cards and regain absolute control over political life in the country.

But achieving this goal seems very difficult given the complex intertwining of internal and external lines.

While Barzani seems to want to take the presidency from Salih because he thinks it is a personal right for his family, the veteran Kurdish leader still remains a prominent ally and personal friend of Kadhimi.

Given Sadr’s unclear stance towards Kadhimi, achieving a Shia consensus to overthrow him does not seem easy, and Halbousi’s close relationship with many Shia and Kurdish political parties also makes it difficult to come to an understanding on his removal.

Antichrist Sadr cannot resist temptation to exploit cartoon outcry

Sadr cannot resist temptation to exploit cartoon outcry

BAGHDAD –Iraqi powerful Shia cleric and leader of the Sadrist movement Muqtada al-Sadr joined this week the ranks of Islamist politicians who have been using the campaign of support for Islam’s Prophet Mohammed to score political gains and win new supporters.

Sadr on Thursday called on Muslims around the world to travel to Saudi Arabia, at a time when the MENA region is facing a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic which is proving more dangerous than the first one, with countries announcing closures to contain a much-feared health disaster.

Sadr’s supporters launched the hashtag #Invitation_to_Saudi Arabia, based on a statement published by the Shia cleric on his Twitter account, in which he said, “From the standpoint of unity and strength, I call for the support of the Messenger of humanity through several actions. First and foremost, I call on Saudi Arabia to allow visitors from all over the world to flock to the shrine of the Prophet in Medina.”

In the statement published on Thursday, Sadr also called on Muslims to visit the grave of the Prophet during the week of birth (Mawlid) from 12 to 17 Rabi` al-Awwal of this year and every year.

Many Iraqis responded to Sadr’s statement with sarcasm and mockery, considering that the Shia cleric’s call showed he was clueless and out of his mind.

They considered that Sadr, like other Islamist politicians, was trying to take advantage of the latest controversy to promote his image and win new supporters, even if that meant causing new chaos and trouble for the country.

“He calls for peace but he has an armed militia,” a Twitter user reacted sarcastically to Sadr’s statements.

Another user tweeted, “Saudi Arabia and its people should ignore these statements because, my dears, this is nonsense and foolery.”

Many other activists on social media said that Sadr’s so-called appeal for love and humanity was but a new incitement against Saudi Arabia that prevented the entry of foreign pilgrims to perform hajj and Umrah in an attempt to contain the pandemic.

On the other hand, many Shia clerics, the activists added, had rallied supporters to visit shrines, unconcerned with the health repercussions of massive gatherings. This, according to the activists, has caused the coronavirus pandemic to spread and threaten many lives in Iraq and elsewhere.

Other Iraqis on social media warned that whoever caused the killing of demonstrators and young activists in Iraq, cannot be trusted.

“To our people in # Saudi Arabia, this call was raised by the supporters of the Sadrist movement who killed protesters in the October Revolution. You and the whole world were witness to that… You are the decision-makers. Do not give them a way to communicate with you… These are the leaders of the terrorist Khamenei militia,” an Iraqi Twitter user warned.

The Sadrists’ hashtag was not without misinformation, rumours and fake news, as some of supporters of the Shia movement claimed that Saudi Arabia had agreed to Sadr’s call to allow the visit of foreign pilgrims.

The claim was of course groundless because the Saudi authorities had already announced on Thursday  a new plan to receive visiting pilgrims, taking into account social distancing and required measures to contain the virus.

Saudi efforts 

Saudi media had earlier reported that the kingdom will open the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims from other countries from November 1 as part of the third phase of gradually allowing the pilgrimage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kingdom reopened the Holy sites on October 4, first for Saudi citizens and expatriates living inside the country with a 30 percent capacity. It then expanded the capacity to 75 percent on October 18.

“The Umrah pilgrimage is allowed for Muslims from across the world,” Saudi state TV said, citing a statement from the Ministry of Pilgrimage.

In the third phase, Umrah pilgrimage will be allowed with 100 percent capacity limit that ensures adherence to coronavirus precautionary measures, which translates to 20,000 Umrah pilgrims per day and 60,000 worshippers per day, the ministry said.

The same capacity limit will be enforced in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

“The arrival of pilgrims and visitors from outside the Kingdom will be gradual, and from countries that the Ministry of Health determines as posing no health risk with regards to the coronavirus,” the statement of the ministry added.

Worshipers perform the prayers with full commitment to preventive measures, and the paths designated for worshipers to enter the Grand Mosque have been facilitated by the authorities who have specified areas for performing prayers.

In the fourth phase, the kingdom will allow citizens and nationals inside and outside the Kingdom to perform Umrah pilgrimage, visit the Rawdah in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, and pray in Two Holy Mosques, with 100 percent of the natural capacity of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.

The fourth phase, however, will only begin once the Saudi authorities decide that the pandemic’s risks are neutralised.

In media statements, Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, said that the mechanism for organising Umrah of foreign pilgrims requires specific procedures, including submitting a request to perform Umrah with all personal and health data, with a maximum of 50 people per group from the permitted countries, and the need for a foreign Umrah agent.

Under the mechanism, there is a need for high-quality integrated Umrah packages and flight reservations will be based on supply and demand from each country, in addition to strengthening the marketing platforms for the purchase of services.

The countries, which are sending pilgrims, will be classified on the basis of periodic review of the latest developments with regard to the coronavirus situation in those countries.

Maddah stated that the protocols issued by the ministry for the foreign pilgrims include that their age shall be between 18 and 50 years and that they must remain three days in quarantine upon their arrival in the Kingdom.

According to the regulations, pilgrims must have a PCR medical test certificate showing that they are free from coronavirus, issued by a reliable laboratory in their country, not more than 72 hours from the time of taking a sample until the time of departure to the kingdom.

The Clout of the Antichrist’s Men Grows

One year after Iraqi protests, pro-Iran militias’ clout is growing | Hammam Latif | AW

BAGHDAD – An Iraqi politician opposed to Iran’s presence in his country spoke of how hard it will be for the popular protests, which have returned to public squares in Baghdad and other provinces, to achieve what he referred to as liberating “kidnapped Iraq” from its Iranian abductors.

Popular protests demanding the restoration of Iraq’s sovereignty  have returned to Iraqi streets on the first anniversary of the largest wave of protests that erupted in various parts of Iraq on October 25 last year.

In this context, the Iraqi politician told The Arab Weekly that “the kidnapped will eventually be freed from the kidnapper, but I do not expect that the current uprising will be able to do that just now. It will be the blood already spilled and which is going to be spilled in the future that will pave the way for the next wave of anger that will free the kidnapped from the kidnapper’s grip.”

The politician, who heads a parliamentary bloc, wondered aloud: “When and how kidnapped Iraq will be freed” and then answered wishfully, “it won’t be long.”

On Sunday, Tahrir Square in the Iraqi capital filled up once again with demonstrators who flocked from different parts of the capital and other  provinces from the early hours of the morning. Minor skirmishes took place between protesters and security forces in two secondary sites where demonstrators had gathered, near Allawi Garage and al-Sinak Bridge in central Baghdad.

The protest sites were filled with pictures of many politicians, with an “X” mark plastered on them to mark protesters’ opposition to them continuing to be at the forefront of the Iraqi scene. Groups of students flocked to Tahrir Square, in scenes reminiscent of a year ago when thousands of youth in university uniforms marched demanding the return of their homeland.

Although the October protests toppled the government of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and forced the pro-Iranian Shia political forces to let go of their traditional control over appointing the prime minister, allowing Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a non-partisan figure, to head the government, the resulting vacuum turned into an opportunity for new Iranian hegemony over Iraq, represented this time by the growing influence of militia leaders, most of which came under the banner of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

At some point, the October 2019 protests seemed to have forced the leaders of the pro-Iranian militias providing a safety belt for Abdul-Mahdi’s government to take one step back. This was confirmed by the emergence of Kadhimi, a person from outside the circles of the political class, which is accused of corruption, mismanagement and embezzlement of public money, as a candidate for the most important position in the country.

Although Kadhimi’s appointment raised hope for change, his experience at the helm of the government has so far proven that change in Iraq is difficult to achieve. Events during his term have revealed the scope of pro-Iranian militias’ influence and the grave dangers involving open confrontation with them.

Since the formation of the Kadhimi government last May, Iraqis have been waiting for action to be taken against the militias allied with the most corrupt leaders in order to restore the country’s sovereignty, but this has yet to happen.

The problem is that pro-Iranian militia leaders, such as Qais Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, Abu Ali al-Askari, leader of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, Akram al-Kaabi, leader of the Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militia and Abu al-Wala’i, leader of the militia of the Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Brigades, have succeeded in filling the vacuum left by the departure of the traditional Shia political figures, such as Nuri al-Maliki, Muqtada al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim, who faded into the background ounder pressure from the October protests.

A female Iraqi demonstrator takes part in  a gathering to mark the first anniversary of the anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, October 25. (REUTERS)

When Kadhimi tried to act in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and deal militarily with the militia groups that were firing Katyusha rockets at foreign missions, airports and army camps in various parts of Iraq, Khazali advised him to “look the other way,” in a clear indication that the chief executive in Iraq must know his limits.

But Kadhimi ignored Khazali’s advice and ordered a counterterrorism force to raid a militia headquarters near Baghdad Airport used for launching Katyusha rockets, where they caught a group of militia members planning to attack the US Embassy red-handed.

This operation was an indication of Kadhimi’s defiant approach but it was a short-lived victory. In an impressive show of force, the militias threatened to liquidate the families of the officers and investigators who were dealing with the case, and the arrested individuals eventually walked free.

The whole incident was a telling example of the growing influence and power of the pro-Iranian militias and of the impossibility of dealing with them with the tools at the government’s disposal.

Those events occurred during the first few weeks of Kadhimi’s premiership, and since then all hope for profound change in Iraqi politics has gradually faded, in parallel with militias’ transformation into the most powerful representative of political Shi’ism in Iraq, supported by Iranian momentum fuelled by Tehran’s need for a violent ally in Baghdad to serve the purposes of its showdown with the United States.

Analysts believe that the current real confrontation in Baghdad is not between the demonstrators and the government, against which they are supposed to protest, but between the government and the militias that insist on keeping their weapons outside the framework of the state, threatening diplomatic missions, controlling government projects and the allocation of their related contracts and implementing demographic change projects in many regions of the country.

In the protest squares now, confusion prevails regarding the nature of the demands that the renewed protest movement must adopt.

Over the past year, it has become clear that a change from within the regime will not be the solution to Iraq’s piled up crises, making the protesters certain they were right to have demanded the end of the whole regime. All Iraqis agree that their country is under Iranian domination. Iran, for its part, has dealt with the Kadhimi government as a front to move to a new stage of its hegemony, which ushers in the rise to power of militias as a substitute for political parties.

Observers considered that the truce between the Kadhimi government and the militias reflects the prime minister and his government’s acknowledgement that they operate in one space while the militias have the right to move freely in another space, which is the state and all of its institutions. The upshot of this arrangement is that the government is effectively stripped of its ability to run the state and driven by fear of being overtly overthrown by the militias

Iraqi leader battles pressure from the Antichrist

Iraqi leader battles pressure from friends and foes in security crackdown

Syndicated ContentOct 21, 2020 6:18 AM

Oct 21, 2020 6:18 AM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – It was a series of intercepted phone calls on a tense night in June that made Iraq’s new prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi fully realise how few friends he had.

During one call, a senior Iraqi leader with strong ties to Iran instructed the security chief for Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which hosts government buildings and foreign embassies, not to stand in the way of militiamen who were storming the area, two Iraqi security officials said.

The militiamen were angry at the arrest of comrades accused of firing anti-U.S. rockets. During the hours-long standoff, the militia detained several members of a U.S.-trained counter-terrorism force, according to the security officials and two militia sources.

On the June 25 call, the leader with ties to Iran warned the Green Zone security chief, Shihab al-Khiqani, that “a clash would open the gates of hell” between the militias and the forces guarding the area, according to one of the security officials, who viewed a transcript of the call. The second security official and the two militia sources corroborated that call and said Khiqani was told by militia commanders in other phone conversations that night to avoid any standoff with the paramilitaries.

Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief and U.S. ally who had been in the Green Zone that night, learned of the conversations around a week later, after launching an investigation into the events, the two security officials said. They said it shook him, serving as a stark lesson about his enemies’ power.

Kadhimi fired Khiqani immediately after the investigation and embarked on a wide-ranging purge of top state security posts that he presses on with – now under renewed U.S. pressure.

The communications intercepted by Iraqi security services on the night of June 25 brought home the stark reality for Kadhimi that despite being backed by Washington, he could not even trust Iraqi government forces to stop Iran-backed militias running rampant outside his offices.

It set the tone for Kadhimi’s premiership, which has been marked by attempts to exert control over a fractious Iraqi state while placating both an unpredictable White House and the anti-U.S., Iran-aligned groups that want him to fail.

Since taking office in May after being Iraq’s third prime minister-designate in 10 weeks, a key part of Kadhimi’s policy is to reduce the stranglehold Iran-backed militias have developed on large parts of Iraq’s security forces since the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

But he operates in a complicated political reality that limits his ability to make changes, say security officials, militia leaders, senior politicians and Western diplomats.

They say Kadhimi’s approach might work but question whether his interim cabinet can make a difference before a general election expected as early as June.

The prime minister has recently had to contend with a threat from Washington to close its embassy if he cannot stop anti-U.S. rocket attacks by pro-Iran militias, and demands from the militias that he boot out American troops or they will escalate attacks on Western targets.

“The Americans want Kadhimi to go further and faster. He’s saying I can’t without toppling my government or starting a civil war,” one Western diplomat said.

Iraqi government spokesman Ahmed Mulla Talal said the prime minister had implemented many changes in the leadership of the security forces but that it was unrealistic to expect total reform within five months. “You can’t describe the big changes Kadhimi has made as being slow” because of the mismanagement of the security system by previous governments over the past 17 years, he said.

He described the U.S. talk of closing its embassy as “a worrying step for the Iraqi government” but said “there is no pressure from any side to move faster on any step.”

The spokesman didn’t respond to specific questions about the June 25 call or Kadhimi’s response to it.

Kadhimi, a former journalist who regularly removes his tie to jump into helicopters and tour different provinces, has talked candidly about many challenges facing his government but has avoided mentioning specific militias that stand in his way. “I will not tolerate rogue groups hijacking our homeland to create chaos,” he tweeted days before the Green Zone incident.

In response to questions about U.S. pressure and Kadhimi’s record, a U.S. embassy official said Iraq had a “duty to protect diplomatic premises … but overall we are pleased that Iraq is taking steps to strengthen security for diplomatic missions in Baghdad.”

BOLD MOVE

Iraqi lawmakers chose Kadhimi as prime minister, with nods from both Iran and the United States – two countries that have repeatedly clashed in Iraq. His predecessor resigned last year as anti-government protesters took to the streets in their thousands, demanding jobs and the departure of Iraq’s ruling elite. Protesters blame many of Iraq’s ills on Iran-aligned militias and parties.

Kadhimi’s team, through frequent social media messaging, portray him as an uncompromising leader who will stop at nothing to wipe out rogue groups.

It was his first bold move against the militias that triggered that tense night in June. He ordered the U.S.-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) to detain 14 members of the most powerful Iran-aligned faction, Kataib Hezbollah, in response to rocket attacks on U.S. targets.

Militiamen led by Kataib Hezbollah’s top commander circled the Green Zone with guns in pick-up trucks and detained the CTS members. To pull the paramilitaries off, Kadhimi had to turn to his rivals, calling the same commanders and senior Iraqi leader tied to Iran who he later learned had told Khiqani to stand down that night.

The militiamen left, but not before getting guarantees their comrades would be let go. Over the coming days, they were.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asked Reuters not to name the senior Iraqi leader and commanders because it would also identify them. Their accounts were corroborated by the five militia sources and political insiders with knowledge of the incident.

A Kataib Hezbollah spokesman denied involvement in any recent rocket attacks against Western targets. He said the group was not directly involved in the Green Zone storming, and that it was carried out by supporters of Iraq’s state paramilitary forces.

Khiqani could not immediately be reached for comment.

APPOINTMENTS AND APPEASEMENT

Kadhimi has in recent months announced a raft of new military and security appointments.

His pick to succeed Khiqani as chief of Green Zone security, appointed last month, is an officer trained at Britain’s Sandhurst military academy.

Other key appointments by Kadhimi include the reinstated and popular CTS commander Abdul Wahab al-Saidi and Interior Minister Uthman al-Ghanimi, both viewed by the West as competent and free of party political ties.

But some appointments have appeased political parties, including groups Kadhimi needs to counterweight the pro-Iran camp, and even some Iran-aligned figures, Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats say.

Interior Minister Ghanimi’s new deputy, Hussein Dhaif, belongs to the party of populist and unpredictable cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who generally opposes Iranian influence but acts in his own interest and has sided with Iran when it has suited him.

National Security Adviser Qasim al-Araji, a former interior minister, is a member of the Iran-aligned Badr Organization that has long dominated the interior ministry.

Kadhimi is under enormous pressure from all political blocs which keep insisting on certain jobs. He’s trying to push back but can’t ignore them completely, so he’s had to take on appointments he perhaps wouldn’t have chosen,” the Western diplomat said.

BALANCING ACT

Kadhimi has had to play a similar balancing act abroad.

During his first foreign trip to Tehran in July, Kadhimi pledged not to let Iraq be used as a launch pad for aggression against its neighbour Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pressed the Iranian demand that U.S. troops leave Iraq.

On a visit to Washington the following month Kadhimi stressed that U.S. troops would long be needed to train Iraqi forces – a response to President Donald Trump’s assertion that America would eventually “obviously … be gone” and that the United States would continue to reduce the presence of its 5,000 remaining troops.

A key U.S. demand is for Kadhimi to force militias out of the Green Zone and stop rockets and roadside bomb attacks against diplomats and troops. Washington’s threat last month to close its embassy in Baghdad if attacks continued was a move Western diplomats said could pave the way for U.S. air strikes. A U.S. strike killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad in January pushing the region to the brink of conflict.

Iran-backed militias who are still spoiling for revenge for those deaths have paused attacks for now – partly thanks to the U.S. embassy threat – but are asking Kadhimi to make U.S. forces leave, or they will resume fire.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Iraq was doing more to protect diplomats in the Green Zone but declined to comment on whether Washington was still considering shutting its embassy.

The Kataib Hezbollah commander who led his men through the Green Zone in June, Abdul Aziz al-Mohammedawi, alias Abu Fadak, still occupies the office inside the zone of his slain superior Muhandis, according to militia officials, creating an uneasy presence of both his fighters and the U.S.-trained CTS counter-terror force.

No successful prosecutions over rocket attacks or killings of pro-democracy activists, a key promise by Kadhimi, have been made since he took office.

(Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)

Antichrist’s men defy government, expand networks and pressure

Iraqi militias defy government, expand networks and pressure

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

Ali Mamouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antichrist threatens an Iraqi politician who wants peace with Israel

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

eg24.news2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Antichrist’s men announce conditional ceasefire against US troops

Iraqi militias announce conditional ceasefire against US troops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No injuries or damage were reported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated: October 12, 2020 12:11 PM

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

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

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Last modified on Thu 8 Oct 2020 14.34 EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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