Antichrist’s men in the political barzakh complicate Iraq’s political scene

A mask-clad youth walks in front of a large poster of Iraq's populist Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad's Sadr City on July 15, 2021. Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP

Sadrists in the political barzakh complicate Iraq’s political scene

A+ A-In a televised speech on July 15, 2021, the leader of the Sadrist movement Muqtada al-Sadr announced he was withdrawing from the election race, saying: “We inform you that I will not participate in these elections.” At the same time, he dismantled the Sadrist Political Commission (SPC), which means parliament’s largest political bloc is left without a leader or decision-making body.

The SPC was directly responsible for guiding Sadrist government officials, managing daily affairs of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc, and giving directions to attend or boycott, and vote on parliamentary decisions and legislation. Sadr’s decision also led to the suspension of the electoral machine and the complete halt of Sadrist electoral activity. The absence of the Sadrist bloc in parliament means the entire legislature is paralyzed, as it is now challenged to achieve a quorum for any session or vote.

Many leaders of political blocs issued statements calling on Sadr to reverse his decision. Observers believe that the absence of his movement from the electoral landscape will complicate the political scene further and require some tough choices, including proceeding with the elections without them and the increased possibility of the Sadrist masses returning to the street as opposition.

The importance of the Sadrists

It is clear that the Sadrist movement has a strong presence in the political and public arena, as they possess the largest coherent and disciplined bloc in the parliament, in addition to a broad and influential public base in the street.

Their non-participation in the electoral process means losing a large bloc and an essential ally of the other political blocs. The majority of political parties are directly dependent on alliances with Sadr to confront political rivals and putting up a united front that leads to the formation of the government, especially since the Sadrists didn’t ask for the position of prime minister. In the past, this made them a desirable partner for coalitions, especially since they did not have a robust political presence that would enable them to obtain one of the three main posts of president, prime minister, or parliament speaker.

The participation of the Sadrist movement was decisive in the formation of the past four governments, starting with the second Nuri al-Maliki term in 2010, then the election of Haider al-Abadi in 2014, and then their bilateral alliance with the al-Fateh bloc to form the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi in 2018, followed by the inauguration of Mustafa al-Kadhimi as prime minister in May 2020. It is clear that without the Sadrists, the Shiite political balance will be impaired.

Escalation against the Sadrists

Muqtada al-Sadr made his famous statement on November 22, 2020: “If I live and life remains… I will follow the events closely and meticulously. If I find that the elections will result in a (Sadrist) majority in the parliament, they will obtain the premiership. I will be able to complete the reform process.” This was followed by the statement of his spokesman, Salah al-Obaidi, on December 29, 2020: “There is an intention and ambition to obtain 100 seats in the upcoming elections, to take control of matters.”

After these two statements, the Sadrist movement became a clear target of the competing political blocs who took these statements seriously and intensified their hidden and declared anti-Sadrist media campaigns. Since that time, a significant media attack has emerged against the movement’s symbols, including their leader, their leadership, and the ministries that are considered to be the Sadrist movement’s share in the government, such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Electricity and the Iraqi Central Bank.

Despite the Sadrist movement’s attempt to distance themselves from these institutions and claim that they are not involved with appointing ministers, the campaign on social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, was brutal. It intensified personally against Muqtada al-Sadr after the fire in al-Hussein Hospital in Nasiriyah in the night of Monday, July 13, 2021, which killed, by some reports, 92 people. This fire came after a similar one in Baghdad’s Ibn al-Khatib Hospital on April 27, 2021, which killed 82 people. Many blamed these failures on the Sadrist movement and its leader, who in turn blamed corruption in state institutions and the absence of reform.

With the approaching scorching summer and high temperatures, the high-pressure transmission towers of the Ministry of Electricity were subjected to systematic destruction; 135 towers were blown up within a week, which led to the collapse of the power network, depriving many cities of national electricity, which increased the suffering of the people, who in turn directed their anger at the Sadrist movement and the ministry, which they consider to be affiliated with them. This led to the minister’s resignation.

The Sadrist movement considers these attacks as politically motivated and their at members tried to mount a defence. But they did not succeed in standing in front of the massive tidal wave of criticism, especially since the Sadrists are considered the weakest in the media compared to the rest of the parties. They don’t have prominent and influential media channels. The personal Twitter and Facebook accounts of Muqtada al-Sadr are their most powerful platform, followed by the accounts of those close to him, such as Muhammad Salih al-Iraqi, or members of parliament who are active in influential WhatsApp groups defending the Sadrist viewpoint among elites.

One foot in government, the other in opposition

The Sadrist movement is used to playing in both the government and opposition arenas at the same time. They participated in the formation of governments and receiving positions for one or two years, then withdrew the ministers and announced their opposition, as happened in both Maliki governments in 2007 and 2013. The movement played a significant role in ousting Maliki and helping Haidar al-Abadi form his government in 2014. Yet they withdrew their ministers a year later and led an opposition campaign to storm the Green Zone and occupy the parliament building.

The movement led the formation of the Adel Abdul-Mahdi government in 2018 and was allocated four important ministries in his government. They stipulated that the prime minister choose technocratic ministers. They imposed one of their own as secretary-general of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, and took several deputy minister posts. However, the movement joined the anti-government protests in October 2019 and effectively contributed to Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation.

The Sadrist movement also led the campaign to form the current government and they had a significant role in installing Mustafa al-Kadhimi as prime minister. They reserved four ministries, namely health, electricity, finance, and water resources, and demanded that any minister nominated for a post must be finalised with them. Nonetheless, Muqtada al-Sadr declared on July 15: “I announce that I withdraw my support for all members of this government and the future government, even if they claim to belong to us.”

It is worth noting that the Sadrist movement has not yet announced its opposition to the current government but rather “withdraws a hand.”

Sadrist withdrawal and postponement of elections

Perhaps the most posed question in Iraq’s corridors of power is whether elections will be held or not. This question is asked by all leaders, political pundits, diplomats, and those interested in Iraqi affairs. Many observers doubt the possibility of holding elections in October, especially after Muqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal.

The lack of participation of the Sadrist movement means losing the votes of a significant segment within the Shiite house, decisive electoral voters numbering more than one million. These elections will not represent the vast majority of the people. Suppose we add in the boycotts by civil movements, the October protest movement parties, and the reluctance of voters in general. In that case, we will be facing elections that would be lacking legitimacy due to the low rate of public support and voter participation. And this means that any government that emerges from these elections will not represent the vast majority of the people.

According to sources present at a meeting between Kadhimi and Shiite blocs this week, the PM told them there will be no elections without the participation of the Sadrist movement. Others might not share this view. Still, in reality, it is the only scenario, as the absence of the Sadrist movement creates a significant imbalance and a great void in the Shiite political arena. The Sadrists have dominated the Shiite scene since 2010. Their hegemony increased with each election as their seats in parliament rose from 32 to 44 and then 54, and with it their political influence.

It is worth noting that Sadr, in his statement mentioned above, wished “these elections success and the arrival of all the righteous and the removal of the corrupt.” This may mean that with the elections will be held and he wishes them success. Observers believe that appointing both the head of the SPC and his deputy as advisors means that there will be continuity of the work of SPC indirectly. At the same time, neither the movement nor the candidates from the movement formally informed the Independent High Electoral Commission of their withdrawal. This means that the final decision for the withdrawal of the Sadrist movement has not yet been made.

Observers believe that the Sadrist movement will not run in the elections without a clear sign of support from their leader Muqtada al-Sadr. As the election date approaches, it has become imperative to resolve the issue of participation. Perhaps the solution is to start a purge campaign by Sadr targeting corruption within the movement, cutting the way of his political competitors, and holding to account those who exploit the name of the movement for personal interests. This campaign may be an appropriate response to accusations against the Sadrist movement and a door for the movement’s return to the political scene.

The country needs clarity from the Sadrist movement and its leader, especially since Iraq faces a very complex political scene and is suffering from several formidable challenges. Political paralysis in the parliament and the government will not help Iraq in any way.

Farhad Alaaldin is the chairman of the Iraqi Advisory Council. He was the political adviser to former Iraqi President Fuad Masum, the former chief of staff to the KRG prime minister from 2009 to 2011, and former senior adviser to the KRG prime minister from 2011 to 2012.

The Antichrist: Why is the powerful Shia leader boycotting Iraq’s election?

A youth walks in front of a large poster of Iraq's populist Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, in Sadr City, east of the capital Baghdad, on 15 July 2021. [Getty]

Miata da al-Sadr: Why is the powerful Shia leader boycotting Iraq’s election?

Last week, powerful Shia figurehead Muqtada al-Sadr announced his withdrawal from the upcoming October elections in Iraq.

“I inform you that I will not be participating in the elections. For the nation is more important than all of that,” al-Sadr said last Thursday.

“Do not sell your homeland [to the corrupt] at any price, it is more valuable than anything else,” Sadr added, in a televised speech aired on local Iraqi media.

“The Sadrists run the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Electricity and both sectors have corruption, so his announcement was to clean up his movement”

Al-Sadr’s withdrawal from politics came three days after a deadly fire tore through a hospital in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah.

At least 62 people were killed, 30 were wounded, and 32 are still missing following the blaze at a Covid-19 unit at the hospital, according to Iraq’s Independent High Commission for Human Rights.

Iraq’s High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has rejected al-Sadr’s withdrawal from the legislative elections, reaffirming that the vote will be held as scheduled despite attempts to postpone it.

Dhia al-Hindi, a Karbala-based political activist and a member of the Imtidad Movement, told The New Arab that al-Sadr’s withdrawal came after a series of failings by the health and electricity ministries, both run by Sadrist ministers.

“Sadr’s withdrawal is irreversible. And of course, that means all Sadrist candidates will be out of October’s elections unless some unexpected developments happen to make Sadr come back,” al-Hindi said.

The Imtidad Movement was officially founded in February 2021 as part of a host of new Iraqi political partiespioneering anti-sectarian sentiments and inclusive Iraqi nationalism. All of its members were part of the 2019 October revolution that railed against corruption and rocked the country’s ruling elites.

“I hope we are going to fill the gap that Sadr has left. As well as having an independent candidate we do not have any affiliation with Iran-backed parties or US-supported parties, that helps us to reform a new political bloodline in the upcoming government,” al-Hindi said.

NASIRIYA, IRAQ - JULY 15: Residents inspect the damage after the deadly fire that engulfed the coronavirus isolation ward at Al-Hussein Hospital in Nasiriya city in Dhi Qar governorate, Iraq on July 15, 2021. (Photo by Arshad Mohammed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Residents inspect the damage after the deadly fire that killed over 60 people at a Covid-19 isolation ward at Al-Hussein Hospital in Nasiriya city on 15 July. [Getty]

In the 2018 election, al-Sadr’s Sairoon bloc won 54 of the parliament’s 329 seats, becoming the largest party.

“Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew from the next election just in the media, but nothing is official,” Ahmed Sameer, a 35-year-old Basra-based resident told The New Arab.

“The Sadrists run the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Electricity and both sectors have corruption, so his announcement was to clean up his movement after getting a bad reputation since they won the majority of parliament seats,” he added.

“I will never vote for anyone in the next elections, we all hope that Iraq will be ruled by a good person but unfortunately all of them have an affiliation to outside [powers], mostly supported by Iran-backed wings,” said Sameer.

“Al-Sadr’s announcement to be outside of the next government was to send a message to all political parties that the political process will collapse if the Sadrist movement withdraws from it”

He added: “The government, with or without al-Sadr, will do nothing in favour of the people, they work in their own favour, they have run Iraq for more than 18 years. What will they bring to us? They bring us poverty, crime, corruption, and zero services”.

For political analyst and activist Ghanim al-Abid, Sadr’s withdrawal leaves many unanswered questions as to his motivations.

“The Sadrist movement’s withdrawal from the early elections has raised many question marks, considering that the Sadrist movement was keen to hold the elections on time,” he told The New Arab.

In the past, the movement had warned against postponing early elections as it was convinced it would win the premiership due to a loyal following of millions, unlike other Shia parties, according to al-Abid.

Analysis

Paul Iddon

“But al-Sadr’s announcement to be outside of the next government was to send a message to all political parties that the political process will collapse if the Sadrist movement withdraws from it,” al-Abid said.

 “The message was sent to their opponents such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, who have armed disputes with them, and for other parties who are loyal to Khamenei,” he added.

“I think Sadr will come back from his decision and participate in the election, but I am sure the election date will be postponed to next April 2022”.

“The government, with or without al-Sadr, will do nothing in favour of the people, they work in their own favour”

But this is not the first time that Muqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn from the political process in Iraq, only to return at a later date.

“When the election date comes, the Sadrists will put pressure on their leader to go back on his decision, and he will agree to be active in the election, so nothing changes,” Hussein Munir, a 28-year-old Baghdad-based resident said.

“I decided to support the new candidates who were protesting to get our rights, but I am concerned that they will reunite with other parties who were part of the previous government,” Munir added.

“We have no patience to lose more years waiting for a good character to run Iraq, we will choose the good candidates that we hope will build back Iraq to its position as it was in the 1970s,” Munir said.

Azhar Al-Rubaie is a freelance journalist based in Iraq. His writing focuses on a variety of issues, including politics, health, society, wars, and human rights.

Follow him on Twitter: @AzherRubaie

The AntiChrist may cancel the Iraqi election

Sadr supporters celebrate after Iraq elections (Getty)

Iraq’s early parliamentary elections, scheduled for October, may be delayed if opposition parties boycott the poll, according to leading political figures.

Iraq’s powerful Shia Sadrist Movement, led by religious cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, as well as other parties and grassroots movements which emerged from the 2019 anti-government uprising, have all decided to snub the general election, planned for 10 October.

Sadr announced last week he will not participate in the process and withdrew his support for the government amid a wave of hospital fires and other acts of perceived corruption and ineptitude by Iraqi authorities.

Muhammad Al-Khalidi, the head of the Bayariq Al-Khair parliamentary bloc, claimed on Tuesday that most political leaders do not want the October elections to go ahead.

Speaking to a local news agency, Al-Khalidi stated there were problems with holding the elections on time as Sadr’s decision to boycott was “not arbitrary”.

He believes a boycott by the Sadrist Movement and other anti-government parties could mean the participation rate in the election would not exceed 10 percent.

The MP said we will know next month if the elections will be held in October or postponed until April 2022.

He said: “Postponing the elections is better than holding them incomplete and when the participants are not convinced.”

Ahmed Haqqi of the Iraqi Civil Movement told The New Arab’s sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that security concerns might be another factor for delaying the election. 

“The government has not yet provided any reassurances with regards to the constituencies in which armed militias are deployed and have control, who also have political wings participating in the elections,” he said.

There have been no reassurances either for “securing the safety of voters themselves and ensuring the integrity of the elections and not affecting voters’ (decisions)”, he added.

At least 35 people were killed and dozens wounded when a suicide bomber targeted a crowded market in Sadr City, a Shia neighbourhood in Baghdad, on Monday.

It was claimed by the Islamic State group, which remains active in Iraq despite losing the territories it once controlled.

Other parts of Iraq remain under the effective control of Shia militias which also have political wings

35 killed and 60 wounded in the Iraqi Horn

35 killed and 60 wounded in Baghdad market bombing

Sadr City has been attacked by terrorists many times

ISIS claimed responsibility early on Tuesday for a suicide bombing that ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital before Eid Al Adha holiday celebrations.

At least 35 people were killed, medical sources said.

In a message posted to its Telegram channel, the militant group said a suicide bomber named Abu Hamza Al Iraqi detonated his explosive belt in the middle of a crowd in Sadr City, an eastern Baghdad suburb on Monday night, killing more than 35 and wounding dozens others.

In one of the worst attacks in Baghdad in recent years, body parts of victims lay scattered across the previously bustling market that had been crowded with shoppers buying food before Eid Al Adha, according to an AFP photographer.

About 60 people were also wounded in the blast, medics said.

Video on social media from the scene showed smoke in a crowded marketplace and dazed-looking people trying to flee the area.

Baghdad residents lit candles for the victims of the bomb attack later on Monday.

Piles of merchandise lay on the ground after the explosion. Shopkeepers told the security forces how the blast occurred as they salvaged whatever they could.

Iraqi President Barham Salih called the bombing in the densely populated, majority-Shiite suburb of Sadr City a “heinous crime” and offered his condolences.

“They are targeting our civilians in Sadr City on the eve of Eid,” Mr Salih said on Twitter. “They do not allow people to rejoice, even for a moment.”

Eight women and seven children were among the dead, according to a medical sources.

“A terror attack using a locally made IED (improvised explosive device) in Woheilat Market in Sadr City, in east Baghdad, left several victims dead and others injured,” Iraq’s Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Refrigerators full of water bottles were drenched with blood, and shoes were strewn on the ground alongside fruit, AFP journalists said.

Baghdad Operations Command, a joint military and interior ministry security body, said it had launched an investigation into the blast, and police and forensic teams were searching through the smoking wreckage for clues late on Monday

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi convened an emergency meeting with his heads of military and security agencies.

In January, ISIS claimed responsibility for a rare twin suicide bombing that killed 32 people – also at a crowded market in Baghdad.

That blast was the city’s deadliest attack in three years.

Such violence was commonplace in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, and later on as ISIS swept across much of Iraq and also targeted the capital.

But after years of deadly violence, militant attacks have become relatively rare in Baghdad.

Sadr City has been a frequent target of terrorist attacks after the US invasion in 2003, which removed Saddam Hussein from power.

Monday’s attack sparked a furious response from Iraqis on social media.

“Terrorism and the government’s failure keep on stealing our lives,” tweeted Alaa Sattar, a youth activist. “The authorities have nothing but condolences to dole out and empty investigative committees.”

Another Twitter user wrote: “Every Eid, there’s a tragedy in Baghdad. It’s impossible to celebrate like the rest of humanity.”

Iraq declared ISIS defeated at the end of 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign.

Yet the group’s sleeper cells have continued to operate in desert and mountain areas, typically targeting security forces or state infrastructure with low-casualty attacks.

The US-led coalition that had been supporting Iraq’s campaign against ISIS has significantly reduced its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi forces.

The US, which provides the bulk of the force, has 2,500 troops left in Iraq – down from 5,200 a year ago.

They are mainly in charge of training, providing drone surveillance and carrying out air strikes while Iraqi security forces handle security in urban areas.

Sadr City, where Monday’s bomb blast took place, is named after revered Shiite cleric Mohammed Al Sadr.

His son, Moqtada Al Sadr – a firebrand cleric with millions of followers and in command of paramilitary groups – is a crucial player in Iraqi politics who has often protested against the influence of both the US and Iran.

The boycott by Mr Al Sadr of coming elections scheduled for October is a blow to Mr Al Kadhimi, who had called the early vote in response to demands by pro-democracy activists.

Updated: July 20th 2021, 8:01 AM

Antichrist Sadr Says He Won’t Take Part In October Election

Iraqi Cleric Sadr Says He Won’t Take Part In October Election

Group Of Iranian Dissidents Will Visit Israel In First Such Move

Thursday, 15 Jul 2021 12:05 

A group of eight dissident expatriate Iranians will visit Israel next week to show “solidarity” with Israelis “in light of latest attacks” by Palestinian militants supported by the Islamic Republic, Jerusalem Post reported Thursday.

They will be accompanied by four former Trump administration officials in visit organized by the Institute for Voices of Liberty (iVOL), a policy institute dedicated to encouraging freedom, human rights and democracy in Iran.

This is the third landmark event in the history of Iranian opposition in the last two weeks. A group of more than 30 Iranian dissidents wrote a letter to Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett on July 9 asking him to continue opposing the Islamic Republic, saying that a democratic Iran can be Israel’s strategic ally.

A day earlier, exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi spoke at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations which had extended an invitation to the exiled prince to address their meeting.

Traditional opposition groups avoided public contacts with Israel mainly to avoid being targeted as a supporter of what the Islamic Republic and other radicals in the region labeled as the enemy of Muslims.

Accompanying the Iranian delegation will be several former senior US government officials, including Victoria Coates, Ellie Cohanim, Len Khodorkovsky, and Adam Lovinger. The names of the travelling Iranians have not been announced. The only person named so far is iVOL board member Bijan R. Kian who was convicted of illegal lobbying in relation to the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Antichrist Al Sadr to boycott general election

Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr to boycott general election

US adversary and militia leader exerts considerable influence over Iraq’s political and social realm

Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said on Thursday that he will not take part in the general election scheduled for October.

Mr Al Sadr has considerable influence over the government and political structures in Iraq. His party, Sairoon, won the 2018 parliamentary elections with 54 seats.

“To preserve what is left of the country and to save the country … I inform you that I will not take part in this election,” Mr Al Sadr said in a televised speech.

He said the ministers he supports would stand down from the government.

“This is due to a dysfunctional political system and international conspiracy against Iraq,” Mr Al Sadr said.

Mr Al Sadr is known to be a long-time adversary of the US who also opposes Iranian influence in the country.

He portrays himself as a nationalist fighting for the benefit of his country. He led the Mahdi army against foreign intervention, specifically the presence of US troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was disbanded in 2008.

He now leads Saraya Al Salam (Peace Companies) militia, which is part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces grouping of state-recognised militias.

In recent years he has voiced concerns about Tehran’s growing influence over Iraqi politics.

Watch out before Iraq’s fate becomes like that of Syria, Afghanistan or other states that have fallen victim to internal, regional and international policies

Moqtada Al Sadr

In his speech, Mr Sadr said Iraq was being subjected to a “satanic regional scheme to humiliate the country and to bring it to its knees”.

“Watch out before Iraq’s fate becomes like that of Syria, Afghanistan or other states that have fallen victim to internal, regional and international policies,” he said.

The populist cleric has a large following among the Iraqi public and has a history of making bombastic statements to galvanise support.

Most of his followers come from the eastern Baghdad slums and share the same grievances as many Iraqis over a lack of job opportunities, poor health care and education.

Mr Al Sadr also wields the power, through his family’s religious legacy which is based on nationalist ideologies and Islamic foundations, to encourage thousands of his followers to take to the streets.

Iraq’s elections are scheduled to take place on October 10, responding to a key demand of protests since late 2019 for an early ballot under a new electoral system.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in Baghdad and the southern provinces to vent their anger over corruption and the government’s inability to provide them with security and stability.

Demonstrators are calling for an end to endemic corruption by a political class that many believe squandered Iraq’s resources, including oil reserves, through greed and mismanagement.

Updated: July 15th 2021, 2:04 PM

Antichrist demands action over deadly Covid unit fire

Moqtada Sadr

Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadrhas warned he will hold the Iraqi government responsible if it fails to action over a devastating fire that killed at least 60 people in a Covid isolation unit.

The warning comes just months before Iraq is scheduled to go to the polls in October for an early parliamentary election that was demanded by a protest movement backed by Al-Sadr’s supporters.

“It is incumbent on the government to work immediately to firmly and seriously punish those to blame for hospital fires, whether in Nasiriyah or other provinces, no matter their (political) affiliation,” Al-Sadr tweeted late Tuesday.

“Otherwise, this government will be held responsible from its lowest to its highest (official).”

The devastating blaze, which swept through the Covid isolation unit of Al-Hussein Hospital in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Monday evening, was the second such fire in Iraq in three months.

An April fire at a Baghdad Covid hospital killed 82 people and was also blamed on the explosion of badly stored oxygen bottles.

That blaze triggered widespread anger and resulted in the suspension and subsequent resignation of then health minister Hassan Al-Tamimi, a nominee of Al-Sadr’s powerful political bloc.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi has ordered an investigation into Monday’s blaze “that will lead to those directly responsible”, his office said.

He already dismissed the hospital’s manager, the provincial health director and the local civil defence chief.

Arrest warrants have been issued for 13 officials, including the provincial health director.

Al-Sadr demanded that the findings of the official inquiry be released quickly. 

“It must not end up like others conducted into previous hospital fires. Or else we have other means of protecting people’s safety and dignity.”

The health ministry said Wednesday that 60 people had been confirmed to have died in the fire. Forensics experts had identified 39 bodies while 21 were still unidentified.

Demonstrations in honour of the victims were planned in Nasiriyah later after residents held a candle-lit vigil late on Tuesday

Antichrist’s Men Guarantee Another Obama-Iran Deal Won’t Happen

Keeping up attacks, some Iraq militias challenge patron Iran

BAGHDAD — Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force commander brought one main directive for Iraqi militia faction leaders long beholden to Tehran, when he gathered with them in Baghdad last month: Maintain calm, until after nuclear talks between Iran and the United States.

But he was met with defiance. One of the six faction leaders spoke up in their meeting: They could not stay quiet while the death of his predecessor Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a U.S. drone strike went unavenged.

Militia attacks have only been increasing against the U.S. in military bases in both Iraq and Syria. Three missile attacks in the last week alone resulted in minor injuries, stoking fears of escalation.

The details from Esmail Ghaani’s visit, confirmed to The Associated Press by three Shiite political officials and two senior militia officials, demonstrate how Iranian-aligned Iraqi militia groups are asserting a degree of independence, sometimes even flouting orders from Tehran. Iran now relies on Lebanon’s Hezbollah for support in reining them in, and there is potential that Iran’s new president could play a role in doing the same.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings.

Iran’s influence, sustained by ideological ties and military support, has frayed because of the U.S. killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis last year, because of differing interests and because of financial strains in Tehran. With nuclear talks restarting following U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration this year, these differences have come to the fore.

“Iran isn’t the way it used to be, with 100% control over the militia commanders,” said one Shiite political leader.

Increasing rocket and drone attacks targeting American troops in Iraq and Syria have alarmed Western and coalition officials. There have been at least eight drone attacks targeting the U.S. presence since Biden took office in January, as well as 17 rocket attacks, according to coalition officials.

The attacks are blamed on the Iranian-backed militias that make up the bulk of Iraq’s state-supported Popular Mobilization Forces. The Biden administration has responded by twice targeting Iraqi militia groups operating inside Syria, including close to the Iraqi border.

“What is taking place now is when Ghaani asks for calm, the brigade leaders agree with him. But as soon as he leaves the meeting, they disregard his recommendations,” said another Shiite political leader.

The loudest of the defiant militia voices has been Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq faction, which also maintains a political party. On June 17, only days after Ghaani’s meetings with the militias, he said in a televised address that they would continue to target the U.S. “occupier” and that they will not take into consideration nuclear talks.

“And that decision is an Iraqi one,” he said.

The coalition has formally ended combat operations and reduced troop levels significantly in the last year. Only 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq and discussions are ongoing with NATO to transfer to an advisory mission. Iraq still needs coalition support in surveillance and intelligence gathering and airstrikes against Islamic State group targets.

Some argue the ongoing attacks benefit Iran by maintaining pressure on the U.S.

During talks with Shiite political officials during his visit, Ghani said Iran doesn’t interfere in their political work, but that military matters were different. “These must be approved by the Revolutionary Guard,” one political leader recounted him saying.

Still, Ghaani did not reprimand the militia groups during the meeting. Instead, he told them he understood their concerns.

Iran has struggled to fill in the gap left in the absence of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, who were commanding figures able to push factions into line and resolve disputes among them.

“Ghaani has a different style and capabilities,” said Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute. He has a looser framework, establishing broad red lines on some matters, while “other things are ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,” he said.

Along with asking for less, cash-strapped Iran has been giving less as well. Assistance to the groups has been significantly downgraded since U.S. sanctions began crippling Iran’s economy last year.

Divisions among factions have deepened, with growing competition among militias and Shiite politicians.

Ghaani came to meet the militia leaders to mend tensions that were sparked weeks earlier when Iraqi authorities arrested a paramilitary commander, Qassim Musleh, prompting a standoff between PMF fighters and security forces. Ghaani brought a letter from Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, criticizing the PMF for its reaction, saying it weakened their position.

To apply pressure on the factions, Iran has come to rely on Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon, a figure the militias highly respect. Almost weekly, various factional leaders hold face-to-face meetings with him in Lebanon, said Shiite political leaders.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, elected in June, also may be a unifying figure for the militias, which hold him in high esteem, political and militia officials said. When Raisi visited Baghdad in February, he met with PMF commanders and told them, in fluent Arabic, “Our flesh is your flesh, and our blood is your blood.” Ghaani communicates with brigade leaders through an interpreter.

“The resistance will grow in power and will see its best of times due to the election victory of Raisi,” said Abu Alaa al-Walae, commander of Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, in a recent interview.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed from Beirut.

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021.  Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021.  Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States.  (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021.  Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States.   (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021.  Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States.  (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iran-backed militia fighters march in central Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Iraqi Shiite militias are showing a degree of defiance of their patron Iran by escalating rocket and drone attacks on the U.S. presence in the country, militia and Shiite political leaders say. Iran has been pushing the factions to keep calm in Iraq while it holds nuclear negotiations with the United States. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Print Headline: Keeping up attacks, some Iraq militias challenge patron Iran

U.S. enemy and friend of Iran?: The Antichrist , the most powerful man in Iraq

Reuters special report: U.S. enemy and friend of Iran?: Muqtada al-Sadr, the most powerful man in Iraq

Last updated: 5 July, 2021

Popular support for Muqtada al-Sadr, progeny of the famous Sadr political dynasty, is on the ascendant in Iraq. Leader of the main opposition Shia faction, Sadr is also no stranger to the corridors of power within the country. A man of many facets, dogmatic and pragmatic by turns. By John Davison & Ahmed Rasheed.

The Antichrist shocks followers by announcing his death is ‘nearing’: Revelation 14:10

Iraq’s Sadr shocks followers by announcing his death is ‘nearing’

The populist cleric appeared to be garnering attention before October’s election

Iraq’s populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr told his followers on Monday he would be “killed”, words analysts said were to garner pre-election support and send a warning to Iran.

Mr Al Sadr has a huge following on the Iraqi street and has a history of making bombastic statements to shore up support against foreign intervention, specifically against US troops.

He also wields the power, through his family’s religious legacy, to encourage thousands of his followers to take to the streets.

“It seems that something will activate the Sadrist movement, which is my death or my killing. I will be a martyr and my death will revive something that has disappeared,” Mr Al Sadr told a group of clerics during a meeting.

“I’ll give you good news that my death or martyrdom is close, if God grants me success,” he said.

Mr Al Sadr portrays himself as a nationalist, fighting for the benefit of his country by leading the Mahdi army against the US presence. In recent years he also voiced concerns about Tehran’s growing influence over Iraq’s internal politics.

Many of his supporters hail from eastern Baghdad slums and share the same grievances as many Iraqis over a lack of job opportunities, poor healthcare and education.

People who claim to be Sadrists are most probably not acting in the way he would want them to, so the statement was a scolding to his followers to adhere to his commands, Sajad Jiyad, a Baghdad-based fellow at The Century Foundation, told The National.

“He is concerned for his own safety. It’s a warning to his supporters that they should be worried and prepared to defend and support him. It really is to mobilise his supporters and push them to be more passionate,” Mr Jiyad said.

As election season approaches, the cleric wants to ensure his supporters are on board and are aware of his expectations, he said.

Mr Al Sadr holds no official position in Iraqi government or politics but remains one of the most powerful figures in the politics of the country.

“He is concerned that people in Sadr City are complaining about the state it is in, with poor electricity supplies; municipality services and security are not great, water supplies are not secure,” Mr Jiyad said.

Mr Al Sadr is concerned that supporters may blame the Sadrist movement for the poor services they are getting as they control many ministries, Mr Jiyad said.

“He’s worried about it picking up momentum, so he’s making these comments about being killed or his death will galvanise people as a way to appeal emotionally to his supporters.”

Security concerns

The cleric is one of the biggest obstacles to Iran’s growing influence in Iraq as he stands at the head of a mass movement that has deep roots in the country’s largest and fastest growing demographic cohort, Nicholas Krohley, author of a book on the Sadr movement and an adviser to the Iraqi Security Forces, told The National.

“From Iran’s perspective, Mr Al Sadr is much more formidable than the protest movement, because the protesters are not organised [or armed] well enough to compete in the Iraqi political system,” Mr Krohley said.

“The danger for Mr Al Sadr is that he stands alone at the head of the Sadr movement. If Sadr is killed, there’s a very real prospect of the movement coming unravelled,” he said.

The cleric’s statement is a way of warning Iran and its proxies in Iraq that “if you kill me, you will not be killing off the Sadr movement. Instead, you will be unleashing the Mahdi Army,” said Mr Krohley.

Updated: July 5th 2021, 11:20 AM