Antichrist’s men envision role as broker of next government

Iraqi supporters of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr raise flags of their "Marching Toward Reform" electoral alliance during a campaign rally in the capital, Baghdad, on May 4, 2018.

Iraqi Sadrists envision role as broker of next government

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty ImagesOctober 8, 2021

Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon political bloc pledged on Sept. 30, to implement its program for state administration within three years if it wins the post of prime minister in the October 2021 elections. The pledge was made in front of Sadr’s residence in Kufa. The program includes building schools and hospitals, restricting arms to state institutions, ensuring social security, and advancing the agriculture and industry sectors.

The Sadrist movement has been sending to its opponents since Nov. 27 the message that it has the largest popular base and can mobilize its supporters in a demonstration calling for the movement to be tasked with forming a government.

On the external level, Sadr is seemingly seeking to show that his movement is a moderate and active political force.

However, Sadr’s enthusiasm is not devoid of concern and hesitation. And if the Sadrist movement is to be tasked with forming a cabinet, he said he does “not want to sacrifice the reputation of my fathers” — given that he comes from a Shiite religious family.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Sattar Jabbar, a member of parliament for Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance, justified his alliance’s quest. “Sairoon has been the largest bloc in all cycles, and we will be the largest bloc par excellence in these elections as well. This is what the street tells us. That is why the premiership needs to be a 100% Sadrist, and all necessary measures have been taken to make it a success domestically and abroad,” he said.

Political Leadership and Governance Development Academy head Abdul Rahman al-Jebouri, speaking to Al-Monitor, questioned the Sadrist movement’s ability to run a successful government. He said, “The internal reform that the Sadrist movement is calling for, and the recently announced program that is not up to the aspirations of the bloc’s supporters and members, does not offer the rest of the Iraqis the state of safety, freedoms and prosperity they aspire for.”

He added, “The Sadrists do not have the experience to manage the complex and thorny domestic situation. For many years, they have benefited from the state and have mastered blaming the governments for corruption, although a third of the state employees in charge of managing the institutions are affiliated with them. That is at the local level. Internationally, foreign relations involve the management of mutual interests between Iraq and the world, and the representation of a complex state in which the interests of the East and the West are intertwined and conflicting, let alone the interests of each of the Iraqi components. All of these are not tailored to the taste of the Sadrists.”

Jebouri noted, “We have not seen any Sadrist politician, parliamentarian or executive who excels in foreign relations so far. The movement’s positions are improvised.” He said “all of the above-mentioned reasons would result in a Sadrist government that is internally besieged and isolated from the outside world if they insist on leading it.”

However, Sadrist parliament member Sabah Akili told Al-Monitor there are no obstacles that would prevent the movement from being in charge of forming a cabinet. “The Sadrist movement is focusing on the premiership, considering it the way to reconstruction and ending corruption,” he said.

Commenting on the movement’s tactics, he stated, “We rely on our large popular base, our influence on the Iraqi arena and our relations with our future allies that we are coordinating with.”

Akili added that “the movement’s demand is not unfounded. It has 4 to 5 million supporters. It is a right that any party has the right to claim.”

“The movement worked on this goal long before the elections. Today, he is qualified to have the post of prime minister so as to bring about a radical and comprehensive change,” he said.

Yet things are not that simple, said Abbas Abboud, editor-in-chief of Iraq’s al-Sabah daily. He told Al-Monitor, “The chances of the Sadrist project’s success are subject to calculations. The designation of the prime minister in Iraq does not depend on the size of the parliamentary bloc. Rather, it depends on the alliances after the elections and a consensus between Tehran, Washington and Najaf.”

Commenting on the Sadrist movement’s claim for the post of prime minister, Ihsan al-Shammari, who heads the Iraqi Political Thinking Center, told Al-Monitor, “It is part of an electoral propaganda and messages sent to Shiite forces that they need to take into account the opinion of the movement regarding the figure that will be designated in this post.” Shammari added, “It is also a message to the Sunnis, the Kurds and the outside that the movement is an active force and that it is on the threshold of a new stage.”

“The Sadrist movement senses that there is an undeclared alliance seeking to disregard its opinion when choosing the prime minister,” Shammari said, adding, “The next prime minister will be selected based on a consensus.”

He noted that “the Sadrists are talking about reforms, but this program did not include any timeline or a work plan to do so. It is similar to all previous programs of other forces. This will not succeed unless there is a political will in favor of the next cabinet’s program.”

Ostensibly, the Sadrist movement is flexing its muscles ahead of the legislative electionsin order to make its voice heard, stress its presence and underscore that whatever the results, it will have the final say in the political process.

Iraqi Parliament dissolves in preparation of the Antichrist

Iraqi Parliament dissolved ahead of elections

Vote on Sunday is being held before the scheduled end of four-year term in response to protester demands for political change

Iraq’s Parliament was dissolved on Thursday, three days before an early general election on Sunday, Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi said.

The election will be the fifth to be held since the American-led invasion of 2003 that ended Saddam Hussein’s decades long dictatorship and brought in a complex political system that is dominated by parties based on sect or ethnicity.

“Today will be the end of the fourth parliamentary session, and the people will choose their representatives on the 10th of October,” Mr Al Halbousi said on Twitter.

He said the early election was “the people’s choice” and thanked members of parliament for their efforts.

Parliament voted in March to dissolve on October 7 “provided that the elections are held on schedule”.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi on Thursday called on Iraqis to turn out for the election.

“Our people have an opportunity to choose a new legislature, safeguard our nation and build our state,” he said on Twitter.

“Vote for those who represent you as proud Iraqis. Create change through your own free will.”

The early election was one of the main demands of anti-government protesters who took to the streets in late 2019 over rampant corruption, poor services, lack of employment opportunities and security.

The protests were met with deadly force by security forces who killed more than 600 demonstrators and injured over 20,000.

An electoral law that allowed a number of independent civil rights groups and political parties run for parliament. They are seen as opposition to the political class that has dominated governance of Iraq since 2003.

Mr Al Kadhimi promised to hold an early election after taking office in May last year.

He was appointed following the resignation of his predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in response to pressure from the protesters.

The protesters also called for the adoption of a new electoral law, which was ratified by Parliament last November, that allows independents to run for parliament for the first time since 2003.

The new law divides each of the country’s 18 provinces into electoral districts and prevents parties from running on unified lists, which helped them to sweep all the seats in a province in past elections. Instead, the seats will now go to whoever gets the most votes in an electoral district.

Who are the main contenders?

Powerful political parties linked to Iraq’s Shiite majority are expected to maintain their dominance in the 329-seat legislature. However, these groups are deeply divided over the influence of Iran on Iraq’s internal affairs.

Political parties formed by protesters are expected to win a few seats, but some are boycotting the election to protest against the system.

Women are guaranteed at least 83 seats in parliament under the new election law.

Who is expected to win?

The Sairoon alliance backed by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr is expected to emerge once again as the biggest bloc in parliament.

Sairoon won 54 seats in the 2018 election, giving Mr Al Sadr considerable sway over the government’s formation and control over vital aspects of the state.

The cleric’s Sadrist Movement is running on a nationalist platform, seeking to set itself apart from Shiite groups allied to Iran.

The Iran-backed groups are also expected to win a large number of seats. The most influential group is the Fatah Alliance led by paramilitary leader Hadi Al Amiri, which got 48 seats in 2018.

A banner for a candidate is seen in Iraq’s second city of Mosul. Iraq’s elections will go ahead as planned on October 10, officials say. AFP 

The Fatah Alliance includes the political wing of Asaib Ahl Al Haq, which the United States has designated a terrorist group, and also represents the Badr Organisation, which has longstanding ties with Tehran and fought alongside Iran in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

Among the Sunni blocs, one of the most influential is the Taqaddum, or progress, alliance led by Mr Al Halbousi that includes leaders from the Sunni-majority north and west of Iraq.

Kurdish parties also play an important role in the government’s formation.

The two main groups are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which dominates the government of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, which holds sway in areas along the border with Iran and is headquartered in Sulaimaniya.

The KDP won 25 seats in the 2018 election and the PUK won 18. They are expected to retain the lion’s share of Kurdish votes, followed by smaller parties. The total tally by seven Kurdish parties in 2018 was 58.

Updated: October 7th 2021, 6:37 AM

The Antichrist to emerge as kingmaker in Iraqi election — with tacit American backing

Former U.S. foe likely to emerge as kingmaker in Iraqi election — with tacit American backing

BAGHDAD — Framed beneath glaring floodlights, the Sadrist campaign rally bursts with noise and color. Supporters pump emerald flags aloft as an acolyte sings the candidate’s praises through tinny speakers.

“We don’t do politics like the others do,” he bellows. “Voting for the Sadrists will bring you hope.”

The local Sadrist candidate, Hakim al-Zamili, places his hand to his chest with a small smile. Then with a nod he is on his feet and striding toward the stage. Only one week left until our victory, he tells the cheering crowd.

As Iraq readies for parliamentary elections on Sunday, the sixth ballot since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion installed a new political system, it’s the party of renowned Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that looks set to be kingmaker. Taking the largest share of the Iraqi parliament’s 329 seats would mark the culmination of Sadr’s years-long effort to consolidate power at the ballot box, on the streets and throughout the civil service.

Sadr is a storied figure both here and abroad, with a history of agitation against U.S. troops after their invasion and often fierce loyalty from tens of thousands of pious and working-class followers.

But he is also something of a shape-shifter; in the years since 2003, the cleric has positioned himself variously as a sectarian militia leader, a revolutionary figure and a nationalist who can unify the country. At times he has relied on Iranian support, but today he publicly rejects the influence of Iraq’s most powerful neighbor.

Now, for the first time, his movement’s senior leadership say that they want to use their likely dominance, forecast by voter surveys, to choose the country’s prime minister.

“You can’t have a prime minister without the support of the Sadrists now,” said Nasser Al-Rubaie, head of the movement’s political wing. Across the spectrum, including in the office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraqi politicians agree.

It remains unclear whether Sadr’s movement would maintain its current support for Kadhimi and back him for a second term in office. The ultimate decision would also require buy-in from powerful Iranian-backed and Kurdish political groupings.

Despite Sadr’s fraught history with the West, his party probably would ascend with at least tacit backing from Washington.

“They have sought increasing international legitimacy as a state-bearing party. This is why we’ve seen the Sadrists interacting much more with Western countries, including the Americans and the Europeans,” said Lahib Higel, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “Sadr has been selling himself as a viable option, and a central one in Iraqi politics.”

 A senior Western official said, “I think at this point we view Sadr as a nationalist who is just better than the other options.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the press.

In recent months, the Sadrists have walked a more careful line than Iraqi parties aligned with Iran, which have called for the expulsion of the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq.

“We are against the existence of any foreign forces on Iraqi soil. When it comes to logistics support with training, equipment and airspace, that is not a political issue. We leave the decision on that to those who are specialized in these matters,” said Rubaie, indicating that a noncombat role for U.S. troops could be acceptable.

The Sadrists have cast themselves as the protector of a swath of Shiite working-class Iraqis. Sadr’s father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was a leading figure in the resistance against Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein and was killed for it. After the U.S.-led invasion, Sadr’s Mahdi Army won popular support for defying the American occupation.

Today, Sadr’s movement provides many supporters with jobs and services across ministries and businesses it controls, as well as employment in the ranks of its armed wing, Saraya al-Salam.

The Sadrists have consolidated their influence throughout the Iraqi government by taking control of key positions within the civil service. According to research by the London-based Chatham House think tank, Sadrist loyalists now hold the largest share of these positions, known as “special grades,” which has in turn allowed them to divert vast amount of public resources for the movement’s own purposes.

To ensure the money keeps flowing, the Sadrists have won control of the body that fills civil service positions, at times endorsing technocratic ministers without party affiliation who in practice have less authority than the civil servants below them.

“On day one, I realized that there were just stacks of contracts that they were waiting for me to sign,” said one such former minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his security. “They just wanted the rubber stamp.”

Over the years, Sadr’s group has been accused by government officials and human rights monitors of widespread abuses. During the civil war, the Mahdi Army ran death squads. Zamili, the political candidate, was imprisoned for allegedly using his position as health minister to divert resources for sectarian kidnapping and murder. More recently, Saraya al-Salam, have been accused of extortion and assassinating political opponents.

The Sadrists are the dominant force in the Health Ministry, and this summer, Sadr briefly withdrew from the election campaign amid a public uproar after a pair of hospital fires in Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriyah incinerated two wards of coronavirus patients. Corrupt government contracting, blamed on the Sadrists, has routinely left major hospitals without fire safety measures, according to researchers.

Kadhimi has hailed the decision to call early parliamentary elections as a response to street protests urging the overthrow of the political system. Security forces quashed those demonstrations with deadly force, killing more than 600 people in a matter of months.

Trust between Iraq’s people and its politicians has cratered over recent years, and turnout at the polls is likely to be among the lowest in the country’s history, according to voter surveys.

Even the Sadrists seem concerned. On Sunday, a somber-faced Sadr made a rare public appearance alongside one of the movement’s candidates. Hours later, he tweeted that every voter should bring 10 more with them to the polls.

“Sadrist electoral tactics have been particularly aggressive this election campaign, indicating a slight desperation within the movement over disillusionment, particularly among the younger generation of Sadrists,” said Ben Robin-D’Cruz, a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University in Denmark who studies the group.

At Zamili’s rally in Baghdad’s sprawling district of Sadr City last week, supporters said that he and the Sadrist movement he’s part of would provide them a greater sense of dignity and belonging than other political groups.

“No one else can save Iraq,” Hayder al-Helfi, 47, commented as he picked through the crowd that had gathered on the turf pitch.

Amal Latif, a 40-year-old widow and mother of four, said that Zamili was known in the neighborhood for opening his house to supporters so they could ask for help with their problems. “We’re so poor, we need help from someone,” she said, clutching the Sadrists’ emerald flag to her chest. A campaign staffer stood close by her as she spoke. He later said that she had been paid to attend the rally.

As the event wound down and supporters flooded to the exits, the floodlights glared brighter than anything else on the streets around them. The streetlights were out. Cars edged past potholes. In the darkness, volunteers dressed in party tabards were laying the stones for a new sidewalk while a former voter watched on.

“They always do this around election time,” sighed Ahmed Ali, a government worker. “Let’s see what they do for this place after the elections.”

Antichrist’s Men seek to consolidate political power in vote

Hussein Muanis, the leader of a political movement called "Harakat Huqooq," Arabic for Rights Movement, center, salutes his supporters at an election rally before the upcoming parliamentary elections in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Muanis is the leader of Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the most hard-line and powerful militias with close ties to Iran, who once battled U.S. troops. He is the first to be openly affiliated with Kataeb Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades, signaling the militant group’s formal entry into politics. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq’s militias seek to consolidate political power in vote

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA Associated Press OCTOBER 5, 2021 — 12:55PM

BAGHDAD — Among the candidates running in Iraq’s general elections this week is a leader in one of the country’s most hard-line and powerful militias with close ties to Iran who once battled U.S. troops.

Hussein Muanis joins a long list of candidates from among Iran-backed Shiite factions vying for parliament seats. But he is the first to be openly affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, signaling the militant group’s formal entry into politics.

The group is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations and is accused by U.S. officials of targeting American forces in Iraq. Muanis himself was jailed by the Americans for four years from 2008 to 2012 for fighting U.S. troops.

“Our entrance into politics is a religious obligation. I battled the occupiers militarily and now I will battle them politically,” he said, speaking to The Associated Press recently in his office in central Baghdad.

Muanis, 50, says he has given up his militia fatigues in favor of politics. He now heads a political movement called “Harakat Huqooq,” or Rights Movement, which is fielding 32 candidates and an electoral program stressing the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The Kataib Hezbollah group has been struck by U.S. forces near the Iraq-Syria border several times. In December 2019, the U.S. carried out strikes targeting military sites belonging to the group after blaming it for a rocket barrage that killed a U.S. defense contractor at a military compound near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Around 20 militiamen were killed.

Harakat Huqooq’s campaign advertisements decorate the streets of Shiite dominated areas in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

Iraq is holding elections on Oct. 10, the fifth parliamentary vote since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, which shifted the country’s power base from minority Arab Sunnis to majority Shiites. The vote was brought forward by one year in response to mass protests that broke out in late 2019 over endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.

While a new electoral law has allowed more independents to run, Shiite groups continue to dominate the electoral landscape with a tight race expected between pro-Iran parties and their militias — the largest of which is the Fatah alliance — and the political bloc of Shiite nationalist heavyweight Moqtada al-Sadr, the biggest winner in the 2018 elections.

The Fatah alliance includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella group for mostly pro-Iran state-sanctioned militias, including Kataib Hezbollah. But the group has lost some popularity following the 2019 protests, with activists accusing hard-line armed factions of brutally suppressing protesters by using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds.

Protesters demanding change and reform were also often railing against Iran’s heavy-handed interferences in Iraqi politics. More than 600 were killed and thousands injured during the months-long protests.

Analysts say the entry of Kataib Hezbollah — the group is separate from the Lebanese group of the same name — might be an attempt by Iran to strengthen its allies inside Iraq’s parliament.

Bassam al-Qazwini, a Baghdad-based political analyst, said after the 2019 protest movement Iran pushed for hard-liners to go into politics.

“Harakat Huqooq opens the door for hard-line factions to enter the realm of politics and the parliament building,” he said, adding that he did not expect them to win a lot of seats.

Muanis, a slender man who sports a light beard, said his reasons for entering politics is the people’s disappointment with the current political situation and politicians’ failure to implement reform.

“So we are participating in order to bring about change,” he said. If he wins, he says he will work from inside parliament on “regaining Iraqi sovereignty by having the occupier leave,” he said of the Americans.

Asked about the proliferation of arms outside state control, he said: “Whenever the occupation is no longer there then we can discuss it. Then there would be no need to bear arms.”

Will Iraq’s election expose US-Saudi endorsement of the Antichrist’s drive to impose a prime minister?

Posters of parties and candidates participating in the early general election race in Kirkuk, Iraq on 2 October 2021 [Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency]

Will Iraq’s election expose US-Saudi endorsement of Sadr’s drive to impose a prime minister?

Zayd AlisaJanuary 15, 2021

Posters of parties and candidates participating in the early general election race in Kirkuk, Iraq on 2 October 2021 [Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency]October 5, 2021 at 2:53 pm 

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on October 22, 2020 in London, England [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Despite US President Joe Biden’s scathing criticism of his predecessor’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has not shied away from implementing them. In Afghanistan, he stuck to Trump’s troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. Following the Taliban’s swift takeover of Kabul, Biden blamed Afghanistan’s corrupt government and army.

In Iraq, Biden – just like Trump – has made no secret of the fact that he is hell-bent on keeping US troops in the country even though they are targeted persistently by militias belonging to the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a government controlled alliance of predominantly Shia and Iran-backed groups which answered Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s call to fight Daesh in 2014. The PMF demand the unconditional withdrawal of US forces in compliance with the vote in Iraq’s parliament on 5 January last year. The vote was organised after Donald Trump ordered the assassination at Baghdad Airport of General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, along with Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the deputy leader of the PMF.

The rapid collapse of the Afghan army is similar to the swift unravelling of Iraq’s US-trained army in the face of the Daesh advance on Mosul in 2014. Both were trained in such a way that made them completely reliant on US air cover and logistical support. This has been employed repeatedly by the US as political leverage, compelling both governments to toe Washington’s line.

Even though Iraq’s unelected Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi — who came to power in May 2020 after waves of protests forced his predecessor, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, to resign — has kept his pledge to stay out of the early election scheduled for 10 October, he has been working tirelessly to secure a second term. Clearly, Kadhimi is aware that going to the polls means a humiliating defeat, given that the same underlying causes –rampant corruption, chronic electricity and water shortages, and widespread unemployment – that sparked the October 2019 protests have worsened dramatically. He has also failed to fulfil his own pledge to bring to justice those in the security forces responsible for killing 600 protesters, and rein-in militias, including the PMF.

As part of the aggressive Trump-inspired strategy sponsored by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Iraq and not Syria has become the central battleground for rolling back Iranian influence in the region. Former US Envoy to Iraq Brett McGurk managed successfully after the 2018 parliamentary election to forge a coalition of Shia political blocs headed by Muqtada Al-Sadr, Ammar Al-Hakim and ex-Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi. It was Soleimani who derailed the attempts to install a US–friendly prime minister.

Buoyed by Soleimani’s assassination, Hakim, Sadr and Abadi scrambled to revive their alliance. They also conspired with Iraqi President Barham Salih to promote Kadhimi’s premiership and simultaneously thwart attempts by Iran-friendly political leaders, namely Hadi Al-Amiri, Nouri Al-Maliki and Qais Al-Khazali, to appoint an Iran-backed prime minister.

Biden’s embrace of such a strategy incentivised Kadhimi to double down on his efforts to wean Iraq off Iran and steer it into the US-Saudi orbit. The prime minister also sought to bolster his position internationally and regionally by presenting himself as a neutral mediator. His overriding priority on the international front has been to gain Biden’s endorsement. To this end, Kadhimi has striven to bring the PMF under control, hoping that this will reduce attacks on US interests. Hence, he ordered the arrest on 26 May of Qasim Mosleh Al-Khafaji, a commander of the PMF in Anbar province. This operation was identical to the detention in June last year of 14 members of the umbrella movement.

While on both occasions Kadhimi had to back down after the PMF stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone, he exploited both operations successfully to get a meeting first with Trump and then with Biden. Even before meeting Biden, Kadhimi ruled out requesting a full US withdrawal. “What we want from the US presence in Iraq is to support our forces in training and security cooperation,” he told Associated Press on 25 July.

Biden handed Kadhimi a symbolic victory by telling reporters on 26 July that, “Our role in Iraq will be to continue to train, to assist and to deal with [Daesh], but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission.” Neither Biden nor Kadhimi defined what was meant by combat forces, yet this declaration has so far eased tensions between Kadhimi and the PMF and also reduced attacks against US troops, thus easing some of the pressure on Biden.

At the top of Kadhimi’s regional agenda has been the mollification of Riyadh. Against this backdrop he decided, in July 2020, to make Saudi Arabia rather than Iran his first overseas destination. He aimed to address Riyadh’s outrage that the balance of power in Iraq has tilted in Iran’s favour. At that time, however, Bin Salman’s overarching goal was pushing Trump to take decisive military action against Iran and so he refused to meet Kadhimi. With Biden in the White House, though, Saudi hopes of using force against Iran have been scuppered, for now.Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on October 22, 2020 in London, England [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Faced with the unpalatable prospect of a potential breakthrough in the Vienna negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, King Salman invited Kadhimi to visit Riyadh on 31 March. He received Bin Salman’s blessing to host direct mid-level negotiations with Iran in Baghdad.

The holding of four rounds of talks under Kadhimi’s supervision of – the latest was on 29 September — looks like part of a concerted Saudi campaign to help the Iraqi prime minister to tighten his tenuous grip on power while also reflecting Bin Salman’s urgent need to end the futile war in Yemen. To showcase his leadership, Kadhimi organised a regional summit on 28 August in Baghdad, in concert with French President Emmanuel Macron, which ostensibly aimed to ease regional tension. In reality, it sought to warn the Iraqi people discreetly that removing Kadhimi means forfeiting economic support.

On the internal front Kadhimi’s staunchest support has come from Sadr, who leads the biggest parliamentary bloc and holds a lot of clout on the ground. Although the Sadrist movement claimed that it joined the 2019 protests to promote its leader’s anti-corruption drive, in practice the chief objective was to block the appointment of any prime minister who does not pledge loyalty to Sadr. The focus, however, shifted to dispersing protesters violently after Sadr bullied Amiri – head of the second largest bloc in parliament – into approving Kadhimi’s premiership somewhat grudgingly.

In return, Kadhimi opened the door for the Sadrists to appoint their loyal members in every state institution, specifically targeting senior positions that control state wealth, therefore empowering Sadr to run the show. With Sadr firmly in control, he accused his Iran-backed rivals in April of stoking tensions with the US to avoid an early election. Despite Sadr’s repeated promises to wage an inexorable war on corruption, a Sadrist-controlled government has failed spectacularly to do so.

Nonetheless, Kadhimi tried frantically on 9 May to exonerate Sadr from responsibility after a hospital fire killed scores in Baghdad by blaming himself. “The only thing Sadr asked from me was to take care of Iraq,” explained the prime minister. “Sadr has no ministers in government nor does he control the government.”

However, when a second hospital fire broke out in Nasiriya on 12 July, Sadr announced three days later that he will not take part in the election. As ever his move was a ploy to dilute public anger. He endeavoured to postpone the election, seeking more time to disentangle himself from what is widely perceived as the worst government since 2003. Given that Sadr was on the back foot, though, his rivals were adamant, and refused to change the election date. This forced him to make a screeching U-turn: “We will enter these elections with vigour and determination to save Iraq from occupation and corruption,” he announced in August.

In stark contrast to Sadr’s fiery rhetoric against the US presence in Iraq, in reality he desperately needs the Americans to be there as a deterrent to Iran-backed groups. The US also needs Sadr to put a brake on Iranian expansion.

Al-Sistani’s call last week for a high election turnout will turn the tables on Sadr, who thrives on low turnouts, which generally do not affect his support base.

Iraq’s general election is happening with confidence in the political system at rock-bottom. As anticipated, the most vicious contest to determine who names the next prime minister, will be between a US-Saudi backed Shia coalition – consisting of Sadr, Hakim and Abadi – and an Iran-aligned coalition – Amiri, Maliki and Khazali – thereby turning Iraq’s Shia heartland into the principal battleground for their conflicting interests.

However, while Sadr has vowed that Iraq’s next leader will be a Sadrist, in fact this is just a bargaining chip to coerce his opponents into countenancing a continuation of the Kadhimi premiership. As such, the US and Saudi Arabia will endorse Sadr’s drive to impose Iraq’s prime minister by diktat, even if it has the potential to precipitate the disintegration of Iraq’s fragile democracy hot on the heels of the unravelling of Afghanistan’s democratic experience. Both, remember, will be on Biden’s watch.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

Antichrist warns against interference in parliamentary elections

Iraq's al-Sadr warns against interference in parliamentary elections

Iraq’s al-Sadr warns against interference in parliamentary elections

‘Neighboring countries and others should not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs’, says Shia leader

MIDDLE EAST

Prominent Iraqi Shia politician Muqtada al-Sadr Friday warned against external interference in the early parliamentary elections in Iraq.

“The Iraqi elections are an internal affair. Neighboring countries and others should not interfere in the internal affairs, neither by carrots nor by sticks,” al-Sadr posted on his Twitter account.

Al-Sadr added that he will retaliate “in the same way in the future,” without giving names.

Observers argue that al-Sadr aimed at neighboring Iran in his post as it supports his main opponent in the elections, the Al-Fatah alliance made up of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Iraqi Hezbollah Shia factions.

In the previous elections, al-Sadr-backed the Sairoon alliance which came ahead of Al-Fatah with 54 of 329 parliamentary seats. Al-Fatah, meanwhile, came second with 48 seats.

The Sairoon alliance seeks to win more seats in the upcoming elections to enable it to have the prime minister’s post, according to previous statements by al-Sadr.

Figures from the Iraqi Electoral Commission in July showed that 3,249 candidates representing 21 coalitions and 109 parties, as well as independent candidates, will run for the 329 parliamentary seats.

The polls were originally scheduled to be held in 2022, but Iraq’s political parties have decided to hold early elections following mass protests that erupted in the country in 2019 against deep-seated corruption and poor services.

*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar

Concerns over low Iraqi turnout prompt Antichrist to urge voting

Concerns over low Iraqi turnout prompt top Shia cleric to urge voting

BAGHDAD–Iraq’s top Shia Muslim cleric on Wednesday urged Iraqis to vote in order to “carry out real change” in next month’s parliamentary elections.

The statement from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s office came against the backdrop of potentially high rates of abstention in the October 10 ballot, which follows a popular uprising.

Initially expected in 2022, the vote was brought forward in a rare official concession to autumn 2019 protests, when tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to demonstrate against crumbling public services and a government they decried as corrupt and inept.

Hundreds died in months of protest-related violence.

But the ballot has generated little enthusiasm among Iraq’s 25 million voters, while the activists and parties behind the uprising have largely decided to boycott the ballot.

“The supreme religious leader encourages everyone to participate consciously and responsibly in the next elections,” the statement from Sistani’s office said.

Even if the process has shortcomings, “it is the best way to move the country toward a future that one hopes will be better.”

One of Shia Islam’s top clerics, Sistani spent years under house arrest during Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, Sistani threw his support behind elections, was a voice for moderation and criticised government graft.

In his statement on Wednesday, he asked voters to “benefit from this opportunity to carry out real change in the administration of the state and dismiss the corrupt and incompetent hands from its main cogs”.

The statement emphasised that Sistani does not support any candidate and appealed to voters to choose those “who support the sovereignty of Iraq, its security and prosperity.”

Political scientist Marsin Alshamary said that in Iraq’s last elections, held in 2018, Sistani had said people could choose to vote or not.

“It was up to them. And people interpreted that as you can boycott,” Alshamary said.

The 2018 elections saw the entry into parliament for the first time of candidates from the Hashed al-Shaabi, a network of mostly pro-Iran paramilitary groups who helped defeat the Sunni-extremist Islamic State group.

The Hashed held the second-largest bloc in Iraq’s outgoing parliament and hopes for bigger gains this election.

Analysts are doubtful, however, favouring the movement of firebrand Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose Saeroon bloc held 54 seats, the largest in parliament.

The Antichrist calls on public to ‘save’ the country through elections

Iraq’s Al Sadr calls on public to ‘save’ the country through elections

The leading Shiite cleric launches hashtag in the run-up to October 10 ballot

Iraq’s popular political leader Moqtada Al Sadr on Tuesday urged his supporters to “save” the country at the ballot box.

In a short message on Twitter, Mr Al Sadr launched the hashtag “Saving Iraq is a National Duty” in an effort to rally support for his bloc’s candidates in the October 10 parliamentary election.

The Shiite cleric is known to be one of Iraq’s most influential religious figures, leading a political bloc in Parliament that was the biggest winner of the 2018 elections with 54 seats out of 329.

Iraq has been beset by a wave of public-service issues, including hospital fires, power cuts in the blazing summer heat and a lack of employment opportunities for the youth and security.

For years, Mr Al Sadr’s movement, known as the Sadrist Movement, has been voicing their views from a nationalist perspective. It has sought to detach itself from Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Following the US-led invasion in 2003, Mr Al Sadr led militants against the US forces, which increased his popularity among Iraq’s impoverished Shiites.

His father, Sadiq Al Sadr, led dissent among Shiite majority against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and was killed by the regime in 1999.

In the past few years, Mr Al Sadr has withdrawn from frontline politics without dismantling his powerful movement.

In July, he changed his political stance and said he would boycott the parliamentary elections that are set to be held on October 10.

Mr Al Sadr said he wanted to distance himself from the government.

He reversed his decision again by the end of August and expressed willingness to participate in the elections. He urged his supporters to go to the polls and vote.

A vote for his movement, he said earlier, would mean an Iraq liberated from foreign meddling and rampant corruption.

Updated: September 28th 2021, 6:42 AM

The Iraqi Horn continues to persecute Christians: Daniel

Six Months After Pontiff Visit, Iraqi Christians Displeased

09/28/2021 Iraq (International Christian Concern) –  Six months ago, Pope Francis’s historic visit to Iraq injected hope into the lives of the Christian minorities all around the region. Now, Christians are unsure if their situation has changed much at all. One Christian Baghdad resident commented, “we’ve seen many visits from heads of state and delegations in the last years. Each time it’s a lot of promises, and each time it ends there, without anything concrete after.”

The Iraqi government announced efforts surrounding the time of the pontiff’s visit, including Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s invitation for national dialogue and Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s efforts for expropriated Christian property. And yet, the Christian population in Iraq continues to dwindle as the minority community lacks assurance of protection. In the last 20 years, nearly 75% of the Christian population in Iraq is gone, with many leaving for a better life elsewhere after years of violence.

The most recent regional meeting in late August, the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, was mediated by France and is an encouraging step for some Iraqi Christians. The country will also hold elections on October 10th, allowing Christians a chance to express their discontent. However, it is unclear that either of these have the weight to change Iraq’s trajectory and create a safe haven for its Christian population.

‘Apathy and despair’ seep through Baghdad before the Antichrist takes over

Although Iraq's parliamentary polls are set to be held on Oct. 10, there is little popular hope for major change through the ballot box and widespread disillusionment about a political caste widely seen as inept and corrupt. | AFP-JIJI
Although Iraq’s parliamentary polls are set to be held on Oct. 10, there is little popular hope for major change through the ballot box and widespread disillusionment about a political caste widely seen as inept and corrupt. | AFP-JIJI

‘Apathy and despair’ seep through Baghdad ahead of Iraq’s October election

Baghdad –

Although Iraq’s parliamentary polls are set to be held on Oct. 10, there is little popular hope for major change through the ballot box and widespread disillusionment about a political caste widely seen as inept and corrupt. | AFP-JIJI

War-scarred Iraq will hold a parliamentary election next month but Sajad, a 23-year-old man sitting with his friends in a Baghdad cafe, doesn’t really care.

“I see the politicians’ posters in the street, but I don’t know the names or the programs,” says the man, his head shaved and forearms tattooed.

“I think they all have the same program: ‘We will do this, we will do that.’ It’s all promises,” he scoffs, a sentiment shared by his friends.

Iraq is emerging from almost two decades of war and insurgency, since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and promised to bring freedom and democracy.

Although parliamentary polls are to be held on Oct. 10, there is little popular hope for major change through the ballot box and widespread disillusionment about a political caste widely seen as inept and corrupt.

Sajad, who works at a media production company, says he has no plans to vote.

Many people feel the same, and there are fears voter turnout could drop below the official rate of 44.5% recorded for the most recent legislative election, in 2018.

In Iraq’s public squares and along main avenues there are candidates’ banners, and rallies — often attended by local notables and tribal chiefs — have sought to mobilize support.

But overall there has been little buzz as most Iraqis worry more about a painful economic crisis deepened by low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Why should I vote?’

The polls were initially scheduled for 2022 but moved forward to June this year by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, then postponed to October.

The early election was a concession to a protest movement that broke out in the autumn of 2019, venting anger against corruption, soaring youth unemployment and crumbling public services.

Nearly 25 million Iraqis are eligible to vote, to elect 329 lawmakers from a field of more than 3,200 candidates in 83 constituencies.

Officials from Iraq's electoral commission take part in a polling day simulation in Baghdad on Wednesday. | AFP-JIJI

A 25% quota has been reserved for women in the Council of Representatives, the unicameral assembly located inside Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone.

A new electoral law expands the number of constituencies and scraps list-based voting in favor of votes for individual candidates.

But candidates can still run on behalf of a party or coalition, meaning the traditional blocs and patronage networks will likely remain powerful.

Mohammed, an economics graduate who works in a shop selling olive, almond and other types of oils, says he feels “the election won’t bring change.”

At age 30, he keeps postponing the idea of marriage because of the searing economic difficulties.

“Basic services are not provided to me. Why should I go to vote?” he said, as the country suffers daily power cuts.

“The last time roads were paved in my neighborhood was before 2003,” added Mohammed, who like many Iraqis prefers not to give his full name when discussing politics.

In his Baghdad constituency, he said he knows two of the five candidates, but hasn’t bothered to check their electoral platforms.

“The political factions have been the same since 2003; the only thing that changes are the faces,” he said.

He denounced Iraq’s entrenched client politics, saying “the only people who vote are those who’ve been promised a job, or people who vote for someone close to them or from their tribe.”

Proliferation of weapons

It is difficult to predict a winner in the race, where powerful blocs include the pro-Iran Shiite camp around the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary network and the Sadrist camp of popular Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

Political scientist Marsin Alshamary said the election will be held in a climate of “apathy and despair, especially among young people”.

Campaign posters in Baghdad earlier this month | AFP-JIJI

“Most people think that these elections will achieve nothing,” added the researcher from the U.S.-based Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Voter turnout “has been declining over previous elections cycles,” she said. “In 2018 it was very bad. There is a very strong likelihood that this election will be worse.”

The gloom has deepened after the protest movement that started in October 2019 ended with little change and many dashed expectations.

Many activists were murdered, kidnapped or intimidated. No one has claimed responsibility for the violence and no one has been held accountable.

The activists blame the “militias” in a country where Iranian-funded armed groups have steadily gained influence.

Another Iraqi who said he won’t cast his ballot is 28-year-old Ali, who argues that he does not want to be complicit in the “crime” the election represents for him.

“There will be no transparent elections,” the young man said.

“The money of politicians dominates, there is a proliferation of weapons in all the constituencies. Whoever has the weapons will win.”