Antichrist Calls for Political Solution to Ending Foreign Presence in Iraq

Sadr Calls for Political Solution to Ending Foreign Presence in Iraq

Saturday, 19 September, 2020 – 05:15

The leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, warned on Friday against dragging Iraq to a “dark tunnel” by targeting cultural and diplomatic centers with missiles and explosives. Instead he called for using “political and parliamentary means” to deal with the US presence in the country.

“Attacking diplomatic and cultural centers will push Iraq to a dark tunnel,” Sadr wrote on Twitter.

The leader of the Sadrist movement called for using political means and resorting to the parliament “to end the occupation” and stop foreign interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.

Commenting on Sadr’s statements, Ihsan Al Shameri, the head of the Political Thought Center in Baghdad, told Asahrq Al-Awsat that the leader of the Sadrist movement is trying to improve his image.

The position of the Shiite cleric came as armed factions continued to attack the Green Zone in Baghdad, where the US embassy is located.

On Friday, an explosion inside the American Institute for Teaching English in central Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad, caused extensive damage to its building.

The Najaf Police Command said initial information indicates that an explosive device blew up at the Institute, without causing any casualties.

Shortly before the Najaf attack, an explosive device detonated on the highway in Al-Musayyib district in Babylon governorate, targeting a convoy transporting equipment for the international coalition by Iraqi transport companies, Iraq’s Security Media Cell announced.

It said the explosion did not cause human losses or material damage.

Also, the Salah al-Din Operations Command announced the explosion of a pile of ammunition in an abandoned building inside the Spyker base, denying rumors of the bombing of a Popular Mobilization Forces warehouse at the base.

The Operations Command stated that the ammunition exploded as a result of poor storage and high temperatures.

The anti-Christ’s followers join Iraq’s first weekly prayers since Covid-19

Thousands join Iraq’s first weekly prayers since Covid-19

By AFP – Sep 12,2020 – Last updated at Sep 12,2020

Iraqis attend Friday prayers for the first time in months since the restrictions were imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at the Kufa mosque affiliated to the Sadrist movement, in the holy central city of Najaf, on Friday (AFP photo)

BAGHDAD — Thousands of supporters of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered at a mosque in east Baghdad on Friday for the first weekly prayers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iraq’s mosques have been closed to gatherings for close to six months, but notoriously outspoken Sadr said on Wednesday that he would hold open-air prayers in his stronghold.

In east Baghdad’s Sadr City on Friday, worshippers put on medical masks and gloves and had their temperatures taken before being allowed into the courtyard of the main mosque, where volunteers were spraying disinfectant.

“We urge everyone to abide by social distancing and protect themselves against this virus,” the imam said in the opening to his brief sermon.

Sadr had issued a list of restrictions on Twitter this week, including that worshippers must stand exactly 75 centimetres apart and sermons must last only 15 minutes.

One worshipper, Qassem Al Mayahi, 40, said he was “happy to finally be able to pray on Fridays, as this is one of the five pillars of Islam”.

“We need to figure out how to live” with the virus, he told AFP. “We may as well pray.”

Other prayers at Sadrist mosques were expected in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Friday.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Iraq hard, with nearly 280,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,800 deaths.

In March, Iraqi authorities shut down airports and imposed total lockdowns to halt the virus’s spread. Top Shiite authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani halted his weekly sermons, and they have yet to resume.

But rules have generally been relaxed, with most airports reopening in July and curfews now only in place overnight.

On Monday, the Iraqi government’s coronavirus crisis cell announced restaurants could seat customers — rather than just providing takeaway services — if they abide by health ministry protocols and that sports events could resume, but in the absence of spectators.

The loosening of restrictions came just a few days after Iraq recorded its highest daily caseload yet, with more than 5,000 new Covid-19 infections recorded on September 4.

The health ministry attributed the spike to recent “large gatherings” that took place without recommended safety measures, including mask wearing and social distancing.

That included the marking on August 30 of Ashura, a Shiite day of mourning that commemorates the killing of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein in Karbala in 680AD.

Usually, millions of pilgrims from around the world travel to Karbala to mark Ashura, but this year Iraq did not grant visas to religious tourists and kept borders with neighbouring Shiite-majority Iran closed.

But concern is already building over Arbaeen, which comes 40 days after Ashura — on October 8 — and typically sees even larger numbers converge at Karbala.

Iraq’s interior ministry told AFP any foreign national without Iraqi residency would not be granted entry until after Arbaeen.

Hospitals in Iraq have already been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines, hospital beds and even protective equipment for doctors.

COVID-19: Antichrist resumes Friday prayers

COVID-19: Muqtada al-Sadr resumes Friday prayers, as Iraq records over 4,200 new daily infections

Workers spray supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr with disinfectant, as they take part in the Friday prayers in Sadr City, east of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Sept. 11, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq’s mercurial and populist Shi’ite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, resumed Friday prayers for his followers, as the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment announced over 4,200 new daily infections for the coronavirus.

Iraq has been experiencing a rapid increase in coronavirus cases. It is one of the hardest-hit countries in the Middle East, and on September 4, it recorded over 5,000 cases in a single day—the highest figure, since the disease first appeared in Iraq last February.

Iraq now ranks number 20 in the world in terms of its reported coronavirus cases, according to the highly regarded Johns Hopkins University data base (Iran, the epicenter of the disease in the Middle East, ranks number 12.)

Nonetheless, Sadr announced on Wednesday that he would conduct communal prayers on Friday. Iraq’s health care system is strained from decades of conflict and neglect, and Sadr’s followers are among the poorer segments of society. They are likely to suffer most, as the virus spreads. Still, thousand of worshippers attended his sermon earlier today.

Some six months ago, the Iraqi government prohibited the holding of Friday prayers, because of the coronavirus. The government has not changed that order, but Sadr, and his followers, chose to disregard it.

Latest Iraqi Statistics

The Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment announced over 4,200 new daily infections on Friday. It reported that it had conducted 23,168 tests over the past 24 hours, making for a total of 1,864,099 tests conducted since the first case in Iraq was confirmed in February.

According to the ministry’s statement, the total number of people across the country who have contracted the disease has reached 282,672, 7,881 of whom have died.

The resumption of sermons by the Sadrists comes at a time, when Iraqi health authorities have warned that they are in danger of “losing control” over the virus, following the religious rites for Ashura, the Shi’ite holiday that marks the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson.

Iraq has been experiencing a high daily infection rate, ranging between 4,000 and 5,000 new cases.

Nonetheless, it has recently begun to take steps towards returning life to a semblance of normality by removing some of the coronavirus health restrictions. Health officials around the world have warned that such moves must be made with extreme caution, if further mass outbreaks are to be avoided.

Even countries with advanced medical systems, like Spain and France, have experienced great difficulties, as they try to re-open, without triggering a spike in cases. On Thursday, Israel, which has faced the same problem, announced that it would impose a second, nation-wide lockdown next week.

Editing by Laurie Mylroie

The antichrist’s followers join Iraq’s first weekly prayers since Covid-19

Thousands join Iraq’s first weekly prayers since Covid-19Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr maintain social distancing as they attend Friday prayers for the first time in months. (Reuters)

Thousands join Iraq’s first weekly prayers since Covid-19

  • Iraq’s mosques have been closed to gatherings for close to six months
  • The coronavirus pandemic has hit Iraq hard, with nearly 280,000 confirmed cases

BAGHDAD: Thousands of supporters of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered at a mosque in east Baghdad on Friday for the first weekly prayers since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Iraq’s mosques have been closed to gatherings for close to six months, but notoriously outspoken Sadr said on Wednesday that he would hold open-air prayers in his stronghold.
In east Baghdad’s Sadr City on Friday, worshippers put on medical masks and gloves and had their temperatures taken before being allowed into the courtyard of the main mosque, where volunteers were spraying disinfectant.
“We urge everyone to abide by social distancing and protect themselves against this virus,” the imam said in the opening to his brief sermon.
Sadr had issued a list of restrictions on Twitter this week, including that worshippers must stand exactly 75 centimeters apart and sermons must last only 15 minutes.
One worshipper, Qassem Al-Mayahi, 40, said he was “happy to finally be able to pray on Fridays, as this is one of the five pillars of Islam.”
“We need to figure out how to live” with the virus, he told AFP. “We may as well pray.”
Other prayers at Sadrist mosques were expected in the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Friday.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Iraq hard, with nearly 280,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,800 deaths.
In March, Iraqi authorities shut down airports and imposed total lockdowns to halt the virus’s spread. Top Shiite authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani halted his weekly sermons, and they have yet to resume.
But rules have generally been relaxed, with most airports reopening in July and curfews now only in place overnight.
On Monday, the Iraqi government’s coronavirus crisis cell announced restaurants could seat customers — rather than just providing takeaway services — if they abide by health ministry protocols and that sports events could resume, but in the absence of spectators.
The loosening of restrictions came just a few days after Iraq recorded its highest daily caseload yet, with more than 5,000 new Covid-19 infections recorded on September 4.
The health ministry attributed the spike to recent “large gatherings” that took place without recommended safety measures, including mask wearing and social distancing.
That included the marking on August 30 of Ashura, a Shiite day of mourning that commemorates the killing of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein in Karbala in 680 AD.
Usually, millions of pilgrims from around the world travel to Karbala to mark Ashura, but this year Iraq did not grant visas to religious tourists and kept borders with neighboring Shiite-majority Iran closed.
But concern is already building over Arbaeen, which comes 40 days after Ashura — on October 8 — and typically sees even larger numbers converge at Karbala.
Iraq’s interior ministry told AFP any foreign national without Iraqi residency would not be granted entry until after Arbaeen.
Hospitals in Iraq have already been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines, hospital beds and even protective equipment for doctors.

Iran’s continued hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

Iran’s influence in Iraq strong despite regime fears

US President Donald Trump welcomes that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the White House on August 20, 2020. (AFP)

Iran’s regime is concerned about the direction the Iraqi government is taking and the repercussions this shift might have on Tehran’s influence in Baghdad.

Two major issues particularly worry the Iranian authorities. First, the theocratic establishment is uneasy and dissatisfied with some of the policies that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has been pursuing.

Since top political figures, rather than governmental organizations, play an important role in dictating Iraq’s politics, Tehran has always attempted to control and influence high-level officials within the Arab state. But Al-Kadhimi this month enraged Iran when he paid a visit to the US and met President Donald Trump. After the meeting, the US and Iraq “reaffirmed their commitment to a robust and productive bilateral relationship.” A joint statement said officials took part in separate sessions covering “economics, energy, health and environment, political and diplomatic issues, security and counterterrorism, and education and cultural relations.”

The visit was considered a major blow to the ruling clerics of Iran because it was only in January that the US killed its top general, Qassem Soleimani, and several Iraqi Shiite militia leaders in Iraq under a direct order from Trump. Iran is still searching for ways to retaliate, as it is not satisfied with the missile attacks it launched on US targets in Iraq in the days following Soleimani’s death. In a meeting with Iraqi leaders last month, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei once again brought the issue to the attention of the authorities, stating: “The US’s crime in assassinating general Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis is an example of the US’s presence. They killed your guest in your home, and they blatantly confessed to this crime. This is not a trivial matter.” Khamenei again warned that retaliation was on the way, saying: “The Islamic Republic of Iran will never forget the martyrdom of Hajj Qassem Soleimani and will definitely strike a reciprocal blow to the US.”

The Iranian regime has long spread the false narrative that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds Force have been saving the Iraqi government from collapse. As a result, Iraqi politicians must take Iran’s side. For example, the Asr Iran news site wrote to Al-Kadhimi last week: “If it was not for Iran, there would not be a prime minister named Mustafa Al-Kadhimi in Baghdad. Instead a caliph named (former Daesh leader) Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi would be ruling the country.”

But it is worth noting that Iran has been exploiting Iraq in order to skirt US sanctions, strengthen its Shiite militia groups, and profit from the Iraqi market. Iran’s exports to Iraq increased 37 percent to about $13 billion in 2019, according to the Head of the Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce Yahya Ale Eshaq. And Iran has reportedly discussed with the Iraqi government a plan to boost Tehran’s exports to its neighbor to $20 billion.

Iran has been exploiting Iraq in order to skirt US sanctions, strengthen its Shiite militia groups, and profit from the Iraqi market

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The Iranian regime was also expecting that Al-Kadhimi would quickly expel US forces from the country, since the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of such a move after the killing of Soleimani. Kayhan newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Khamenei, expressed the regime’s fury by writing: “The Prime Minister of Iraq, ignoring the resolution of the parliament and the anti-American feelings of the people of his country, claimed that Iraq needs the United States.”

The second issue that is concerning Iran is related to the Iraqi public’s increasing resentment toward the regime and its interference in the country’s domestic affairs. Protests against Tehran started in October 2019, when people shouted slogans and some even burned down the Iranian consulate in Najaf. Last week, following the reported assassinations of several human and social rights activists, protesters stormed buildings linked to the Iranian regime’s proxy groups in the southern cities of Iraq.

Nevertheless, while the Iranian regime is facing some obstacles in Iraq, its influence there remains intact. The bilateral agreement between Al-Kadhimi and the US does not mean that the prime minister is entirely against Iran. In fact, before visiting Washington, Al-Kadhimi’s first foreign visit was to Tehran. He also told the US ambassador to Baghdad that “Iraq will not be a ground for settling accounts and launching attacks on any neighboring or friendly country.” Al-Kadhimi is more likely performing a balancing act between Iran and the US, rather than fundamentally shifting Baghdad’s policy against Tehran.

Furthermore, Iran wields significant influence in Iraq through its network of Shiite militia groups, which pose a threat to any official who dares to significantly undermine Iran’s role in Iraq. Through its influence in the Iraqi government, the Iranian regime has pushed the state into recognizing these militias — including the conglomerate known as the Popular Mobilization Forces — as legitimate groups, incorporating them into the state apparatuses and making the Iraqi government allocate wages and ammunition for them.

Overall, the Iranian regime still exerts significant influence in Iraq and this trend will likely continue as long as the ruling clerics remain in power.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

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

Antichrist’s recommendations on Muharram ceremonies

Muqtada Sadr’s recommendations on Muharram ceremonies

Muqtada Sadr’s recommendations on Muharram ceremonies

  

Senior Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has made a number of recommendations on how to commemorate the mourning months of Muharram and Safar this year given the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Senior Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has made a number of recommendations on how to commemorate the mourning months of Muharram and Safar this year given the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a post on his Twitter account on Monday, Sadr called for helping those in need, raising flags of mourning and covering public and private places in black, increasing acts of worship and reciting the Quran, and visiting pilgrimage sites while observing the health protocols.

He also called for easing sectarian and political tensions and moving toward unity.

Shia Muslims around the world mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS), the Sayyid-ul-Shuhada (master of martyrs), in Muharram, the first month in the lunar Hijri calendar.

The third Shia Imam (AS) and a small group of his followers and family members were martyred by the tyrant of his time – Yazid Bin Moaweya, in the battle of Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram (known as Ashura) in the year 680 AD.

The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has infected over 20 million people around the world and killed over 734,000.

The outbreak has had a major impact on global sporting, cultural, religious and political events, with a host of events canceled or postponed.

…………………………………….

End/ 257

Tensions Rise between Antichrist’s Men, Protesters

Tensions Rise between Sadrists, Protesters in Iraq’s Nasiriyah

Tensions were high in Iraq’s Nasiriyah city between anti-government protesters and supporters of the Sadrist movement, led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

According to activists, tensions broke out between protesters, who have been present at Al Habobi square for months, and Sadrists who arrived at the scene.

Activist Raad Mohsen said quarrels erupted between the two sides after Sadrists raised a poster of the movement’s leader during a demonstration demanding to bring the killers of protesters to justice, starting with Gen. Jamil Al Shammari.

Mohsen, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, confirmed that the protesters are used to holding at least one demonstration a week to reaffirm their demands, which include holding the killers of demonstrators accountable.

The raising of Sadr’s poster at the square prompted tensions, with activists explaining that images of party and religious leaders are prohibited at the square.

Moreover, Mohsen said the protesters chanted slogans that denounced Sadr and other political leaders. This led to the buildup of tensions, but security leaders and prominent protesters intervened to contain the situation.

Tensions between the protesters and Sadrists have been on the rise for months. The latter has been accused of killing and using violence against the protesters, especially in Baghdad, Najaf and Nasiriyah.

The tensions are also playing out on social media.

Demonstrators at Al Habobi square issued a statement demanding the revelation of names of those involved in oppressing the November protests in Nasiriyah.

According to Mohsen, the statement called on the central government to quit its evasiveness and reveal the names of those responsible for killing dozens of protesters.

Antichrist’s Men not worried about Al-Kadhimi

Iraq’s powerful militias not worried about Al-Kadhimi

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is set to visit Washington soon, although he does not yet have a date or an invitation, so he is scrambling to say all the right things in order to secure a meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Iraq is worse off than it was two weeks ago and this last week has propelled two items to the top of the list for Al-Kadhimi’s visit to the US: Kata’ib Hezbollah’s continued attacks on the US and Iraqis, and calls by Al-Kadhimi for early elections that Kata’ib Hezbollah and its allies in Iraq’s Council of Representatives won’t allow to happen.

The top agenda item for Trump is for Al-Kadhimi to do something about the militias that he supposedly commands as Iraq’s commander in chief. The militias that fall under the government’s security apparatus are attacking US personnel in Iraq, which are there to partner with the Baghdad government to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh. The militias have now become more of a threat to the US and Iraqis than Daesh.

Trump wants to know if the US has a partner in Iraq. The president is willing to pull US forces out of Iraq if this “partner” continues to disappoint. Republicans and Democrats are looking for a reason to end this experiment. And it won’t be without costs to Baghdad and Tehran.

Two actions by the Democrat-led House of Representatives point to a breakup if nothing changes. Democrats voted to cut funding for the US mission in Iraq by $145 million and Republican Rep. Joe Wilson was able to get two amendments passed that would ensure no US dollars go to any institution in Iraq where the militias have access to the funds — that would mean the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior would be most affected.

The US is in Iraq to deal with Daesh under a UN mandate but the biggest threat to American forces is from militias, which the Iraqi government pays and supposedly controls. Kata’ib Hezbollah is a designated terrorist group that attacks Americans, kills Iraqis, and is now threatening Al-Kadhimi with assassination. It vowed to hold the prime minister responsible for the deaths of Qassem Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis — both killed simultaneously in a US drone strike in early January.

Al-Kadhimi has brushed off the threats to his life but is not willing to confront the powerful militia. Most Iraqis believe and the evidence points to Kata’ib Hezbollah as the militia responsible for killing the PM’s adviser and expert analyst Hisham Al-Hashemi last month. Some Iraq watchers say that it would put Al-Kadhimi in danger if he even hinted that Kata’ib Hezbollah was responsible for Al-Hashemi’s targeted assassination.

It is the parliament, not the prime minister, which will decide if there is to be electoral reform and early elections.

Michael Pregent

This is exactly why Al-Kadhimi has to take on the militias; an entity within the Iraqi security forces cannot openly threaten to kill the prime minister without repercussions. If that’s where we are at in Iraq — a place where the commander in chief cannot use the Iraqi security forces to take on a rogue militia beholden to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force — then the US should withdraw all support and place the Iraqi government in economic disfavor, while continuing to support traditional and new allies in greater Iraq.

Withdrawing US financial support for the Iraqi government and sanctioning Iraq’s institutions, where groups like Kata’ib Hezbollah funnel US dollars to Tehran, will impact Iran and its political parties in Iraq. The protesters are demanding Al-Kadhimi go after the militias. They want the US to end its support for the status quo. They want new elections in order to end Iran’s vote on what Iraqis do, and they want them now.

A key component of Al-Kadhimi’s interim status as prime minister is to call for new elections, arrest those responsible for killing Iraqi protesters, and rein in the militias beholden to Tehran. He has said the right things, but his actions and inaction are all that matter.

Let’s look at Iraq ahead of Al-Kadhimi’s US visit. Protesters are once again on the streets demanding free and fair elections, water and electricity, jobs, and an Iraq free of Iranian interference. Iraqi protesters are still being killed, tortured, kidnapped for ransom, disappeared, and detained by militias and the security forces. By design, the forces under the command of Iraq’s commander in chief are operating outside of his control.

Al-Kadhimi has demanded investigations into the violence used against protesters and, on two occasions, has detained militia members using Iraq’s special forces, only to release them within 48 to 72 hours. Their release came after immense pressure from Tehran, Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Fatah alliance led by the Badr Organization’s Hadi Al-Amiri.

The prime minister is in a predictable position: He has no power to do anything against those that put him in power. Iran has had control of Iraq’s parliamentary system since the 2018 elections. It had loose control with the Dawa Party under Nouri Al-Maliki, but this was solidified with the militias that came to power in 2018, when Fatah came in ahead of then-Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s Nasr party.

Abadi, commander in chief during the Daesh campaign, lost out on the credit for defeating Daesh to the militias commanded by Soleimani through Al-Muhandis and Al-Amiri. Ironically, the moniker “Our guy in Baghdad” has been given to Al-Kadhimi by Tehran, Riyadh, and, yes, Washington.

The 2018 elections gave political parties tied to Tehran control of the Iraqi Council of Representatives. Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Sairoon alliance may have come in first, but Tehran was not concerned as it has always demonstrated an ability to push Al-Sadr to support its position. Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and Al-Amiri’s Fatah corralled Al-Sadr, Abadi and Ammar Al-Hakim of the Hikma party to form the largest bloc in parliament — the bloc known as Al-Bina’a.

The militias wear suits in the Council of Representatives; they have control and they have primacy. It is the parliament, not the prime minister, which will decide if there is to be electoral reform and early elections. The militias supported Al-Kadhimi for a reason: They are not worried about him as they have all the power.

Both the US and Iraqis want free, fair and early elections, but Iran does not. Iraqis are willing to die for freedom from corrupt political and religious parties that prioritize Tehran’s concerns above theirs. The US needs to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those Iraqis wanting sovereignty from Iran by shedding a spotlight on the atrocities committed by the militias and the Iraqi security forces.

Washington and Baghdad also both want Al-Kadhimi to take on Iran’s militias, while Iran does not. Gone are the weak arguments that taking on Iran’s proxies will rally Iraqis round the flag in support of the militias. This line of reasoning is old, tired and was debunked with the deaths of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis. Iraqis did not rally round the flag; instead they demanded more militia leaders be targeted by the US.

The US must demand Al-Kadhimi take on the militias that are threatening its troops and Iraq’s sovereignty. And the White House must demand that Al-Kadhimi holds free, fair and early elections. In both cases, Iran has a stronger position than the US. Iran has a say through its militias’ penetration of Iraq’s political and security apparatus. The US does, however, have economic leverage that could decimate Iraq’s economy and end Tehran’s use of Iraq as an economic life support system.

Al-Kadhimi must use a trusted group within the Iraqi security forces that is willing to take on the militias, arrest their leaders and, most importantly, keep them in custody despite the pressure from Iran and its Iraqi partners. This will grow his support in Iraq and give him leverage against Fatah in the Council of Representatives. If Al-Kadhimi does not take action, the US must make it a costly decision for the Iraqi government.

Al-Kadhimi has two options: Tilt Iraq away from Iran or be treated like Iran. And the US also has two options: Stay blind to Iran’s takeover of Iraq or listen to the Iraqi people who want to help it get Iraq right.

• Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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

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.