What does the Antichrist want?

What does Muqtada Al-Sadr want

What does Muqtada Al-Sadr want?

Salah Nasrawi , Tuesday 18 Jan 2022

Full of energy and certitude, Al-Sadr is out to remake Iraq’s political order in his image, writes Salah Nasrawi

Iraq faces a pressing roster of crises, including government dysfunction, factional tensions, unabated terrorism, and Covid-19 infections that are spiralling dramatically upwards.

But prominent Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has emerged as Iraq’s most powerful leader, says he aims for his beleaguered country to end its prolonged misery and halt its tumble into chaos.

To that end, Al-Sadr is proposing sweeping changes to the way the country has been run since the US-led invasion in 2003. But first of all, Al-Sadr needs to be in charge.

Al-Sadr’s party was the largest vote-winner in the Iraqi parliamentary elections in October. The party, Saaroon, won 73 seats in the 329-seat parliament, more than any other and up from 54 in 2018. It beat an alliance of Iran-aligned militias led by the Fatah Coalition.

The election victory has given Al-Sadr major influence in the formation of Iraq’s next government, and he is relying on that to extend his hold over the country for as long as he deems fit.

Beyond that, no one really knows how he plans to steer the country through its multiple crises.

Al-Sadr, 47, hails from one of the most prestigious Shia religious families in Iraq and is widely seen as one of the most influential Shia political leaders to have emerged from the shadows of the US-led invasion.

For nearly two decades, Al-Sadr has outmanoeuvred other Shia leaders by manoeuvering himself into a position of power and individual prestige within the community. He has reinvented himself not just as the leader of a Shia faction, but effectively as a king-maker.

Al-Sadr has helped form Iraq’s successive governments, controlled one of the biggest political blocs in parliament, led a massive movement, and commanded a powerful militia. His power is undeniable, thanks to his grassroots party that is influential in working-class neighbourhoods across Iraq’s Shia-populated provinces.

Even more strikingly, Al-Sadr has installed allegiance to the legacy of his late father Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq Al-Sadr as the movement’s way of thinking. This has given him a platform to exercise more power and greater legitimacy among many Iraqi Shia.

Over the years, Al-Sadr’s political strategy has witnessed a sea change that has seen him shift from being a militant Shia cleric who advocates communalism to becoming a populist political leader who champions non-sectarianism in order to help forge a national-unity platform that can reform Iraq’s fundamentally flawed political system.

Since his Saaroon bloc came first in the country’s 2018 elections, winning 52 seats in parliament, the Sadrist Movement has come to control the Iraqi government. Through appointees in top posts, Al-Sadr has been able to clear government departments of unaffiliated bureaucrats and bring Sadrists in their place.

Through this carefully planned strategy to infiltrate the state apparatus, his followers have been taking up top jobs within local administrations and key ministries such as defence, the interior, communications, oil, electricity and transport.

In addition to being able to dominate Iraq’s huge civil service, Al-Sadr’s supporters now exert control over the country’s financial resources through the state budget and their own economic influence.

They wield enormous power in Iraq’s three state-owned banks and even in Iraq’s Central Bank.

Al-Sadr’s journey towards being Iraq’s paramount Shia leader was highlighted in the October parliamentary elections. Since he was declared the winner of most seats in the new assembly, he has refused to form a coalition with other Shia blocs as has been the norm after the polls since the US-led invasion.

Instead, Al-Sadr has been pushing for a “national majority” government that would put his Sadrist faction at the helm of an administration that would bring in Sunni Muslim and Kurdish representatives.

The formula would disfranchise nearly a dozen Shia political groups and their affiliated militias and give Al-Sadr overall authority.

Apart from his declared intention to uproot rival militias and rhetoric about fighting corruption and transcending sectarianism, neither Al-Sadr nor his top aides seem to have a desire to go into details about their strategy.

What Al-Sadr is working fervently to achieve is a dream project that flows from his intention to consolidate his power base among the Iraqi Shia and then to move to tighten his grip on the country as a whole in ways big and small.

To understand what is happening in Iraq following Al-Sadr’s bid to impose his model of leadership and ultimately to make it familiar to the region and the world, it helps to understand what Al-Sadr himself thinks, believes, and acts upon.

As Al-Sadr has started to signal his supremacy in Iraq’s politics, he has also adopted a more aggressive posture on the national stage, drawing new borders to circumscribe existing Shia power struggles and thus make Iraq well placed for further conflicts.

There is nothing that can explain Al-Sadr’s strategy better than his insistence on controlling the next government and running the country’s affairs. His worst nightmare is that his Shia foes will maintain their political power and have militias that may fight him over influence and authority in the country.

Therefore, Al-Sadr’s two imperatives are to exclude politically affiliated officials from government departments and to stuff them with his own cronies and to get rid of dozens of Shia militias and replace them with his own powerful Jaish Al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army, a paramilitary organisation.

The death of Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shia clergyman, could create a tremendous opportunity for Al-Sadr’s leadership.

Al-Sadr is not a mujtahid, or scholar of theology, making him ineligible to join those vying for Al-Sistani’s succession, but his influence might still be more than that enjoyed by many of the presumed contenders.

In December, Al-Sadr issued guidelines for his supporters in Iraq to follow fatwas, or legal rulings, issued by his late father, who was assassinated in 1999. The instructions are important because they underline Al-Sadr’s intention to keep power over the Hawza, or Shia school of theology in the city of Najaf, within his family line.

Meanwhile, the world is watching Al-Sadr’s rise with keen interest. Some of Iraq’s neighbours and world powers have geopolitical grievances, particularly about Iran’s influence and the role of its proxies in Iraq.

World and regional powers have been sending signals of support to Al-Sadr, whom they believe could stand up to Iran and the Iran-backed Shia groups in Iraq.

In recent weeks, the Western media, which used to describe Al-Sadr as a hardliner and a radical, has started to promote him as a moderate politician and the “face of reform in Iraq” in an apparent attempt to accept him as Iraq’s next leader.

The New York Times has even dubbed Al-Sadr as an “unlikely US ally.”

Al-Sadr may have grand ambitions and the self-confidence to match, but he has yet to show how he will deliver. He has no clear strategy for rebuilding the Iraqi state and nation or for consolidating its democratic and federal system as stipulated in its post-invasion constitution.

Al-Sadr remains a controversial figure, and to many of his critics he is out to remake Iraq’s order in his image. For all the bold headlines and focus from the media and the Iraq expert community about Al-Sadr transforming himself into a statesman, he is still a Shia clergyman with a strictly religious agenda that stokes sectarian politics.

When newly elected lawmakers from Al-Sadr’s parliamentary group arrived at the inaugural session of the new parliament in Baghdad last week, they donned the white shrouds that Muslims use to wrap their dead bearing inscriptions of Jaish Al-Mahdi on their backs.

The scene was reminiscent of numerous episodes of the rise to power of others, most strikingly the ascent of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 that began the newly established Islamic Republic in Iran.

The Antichrist’s New Endgame

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attends a meeting with Shia political leaders in Baghdad, Iraq December 2, 2021. (REUTERS)

Sadr’s new endgame

Will Sadr be able to continue trying to lure potential allies in light of the fear that is gripping them? As it grapples with that question, Iraq will live in a different sort of hell.Tuesday 18/01/2022

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attends a meeting with Shia political leaders in Baghdad, Iraq December 2, 2021. (REUTERS)

The dialogue between the victorious and defeated Shia political parties in the recent Iraqi elections has ended in failure. That was expected. It was also expected that this failure would lead to some armed confrontation.

That confrontation was not expected to take place indirectly. This is however what actually happened when the headquarters of the parties allied with Moqtada al-Sadr were the targets of armed attacks. It is not difficult to pin the blame for these on the militias backing the losing parties in the elections.

The attacks constituted an initial threat to the Sunni and Kurdish parties which have decided it is in their interests to ally themselves with Sadr in a decisive confrontation with the political parties which have clearly lost their popular base, who now owe their existence to the armed might of the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

Today, the picture is no longer ambiguous but the political scene is due to become murkier. Rising violence will rule the next stage. Sadr’s allies may retreat from their alliance with him, but they will not retreat to the point of allying themselves with his enemies. These will become increasingly fierce in their search of an opportunity to abort Sadr’s dream of constituting the largest parliamentary bloc and therefore being entitled to forming a government.

The condition of the Sunni and Kurdish blocs will be that the Shia parties must resolve their differences, which is unlikely to happen. The two sides have parted ways and a middle-of-the-road path compromise is no longer possible.

The political delay will be prolonged and a new government will not be formed to succeed Mustafa Kadhimi’s administration, which will remain in existence for a long time but will be deprived of powers..

It has become clear that the defeated parties are no longer satisfied with the developments unfolding around them. They have come to the conclusion that since their own defeat, their former allies no longer need them.  They might as well conspire against them after realising how narrow their popular support base has become.  That support base is now only composed of militia members who may lose their livelihoods if their parties’ domination of the state and its wealth is over.

The logic here is that their electoral defeat epitomised a conspiracy aimed at weakening their ability to control relations between the so-called “Iraqi components” within the sectarian quota system.  This is not acceptable, not only from Iran’s perspective but also from that of those who run the corruption machine in the country, as overlapping interests have become the basis for managing the state’s structure. It is not unlikely that the government, any government, will be incapable of real action if the followers of the parties controlling the sinews of the state refuse to obey its orders and work instead to sabotage its projects.

The defeated Shia parties continue to press for the election results to be annulled,  even though the Federal Supreme Court has confirmed them. They had expected Sadr to give precedence to his sectarian affiliation and to prioritise that affiliation over any discord that the acceptance of the results might cause within the illusory “Shia house.” The solution was to be the return to a consensus formula instead of the reality of election results. From that perspective, Shia politics would regain its cohesion in the face of “the others” who would eventually consider themselves to be mere appendices, likely to benefit from the consensus as long as they abide by whatever Shia decision is reached.

However, Sadr was obstinate. He began tempting “the others” with the weakness of Shia parties under the slogan of a national majority government. Parties were in shock when he proceeded to act on his idea, which in reality was nothing but an attempt to consolidate the dominance of the Sadrist Movement over the political scene, with Sunni-Kurdish allies backing him.

Therefore, it was necessary for the parties to disrupt the political project, which, if it succeeded, could lead to a new political system. It is true that Sadr-instituted regime will also be sectarian, but this time it will exclude Iran’s most subservient allies. This means building a new state that will not be based on the ready-made US-Iranian deals.

The parties have preferred to start with the weak links before they launched their attack on Sadr. Weakening him politically before exhausting him militarily. They may not need an armed confrontation if his Sunni and Kurdish supporters desert him.

Other players will have to avoid stepping into the forbidden zone.

Will Sadr be able to continue trying to lure potential allies in light of the fear that is gripping them?

As it grapples with that question, Iraq will live in a different sort of hell.

Written ByFarouk Yousef

The Iranian Horn pays the Antichrist a visit

Quds Force commander visits Iraq as pro-Iran parties risk being sidelined | | AW

BAGHDAD –

Esmail Qaani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), arrived Sunday in Najaf, 180 kilometres to the south of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Qaani held a series of meetings with different Iraqi political forces to converge views on the next cabinet lineup.

“These meetings aim to unify the Shia house after the recent row between the Coordination Framework and the Sadrist movement,” the source said.

Qaani is also expected to meet the leader of the Sadrist movement, powerful populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to the same source.

Iraq might for the first time in years get a government that excludes Iran-backed parties if Sadr, who dominated the recent election, keeps his word, say Iraqi politicians, government officials and independent analysts.

However, they add that moves by Sadr to sideline rivals long backed by Tehran risks the ire of their heavily-armed militias which make up some of the most powerful and most anti-American military forces in Iraq.

The surest sign of Sadr’s new parliamentary power and his willingness to ignore groups loyal to Iran came on January 9 when his Sadrist Movement, together with a Sunni parliament alliance and Western-leaning Kurds, re-elected with a solid majority, a parliamentary speaker opposed by the Iran-aligned camp.

Parliament must in the coming weeks choose the country’s president, who will call on the largest parliamentary alliance to form a government, a process that will be dominated by the Sadrist Movement with whomever it chooses to work.

“We are on track to form a national majority government,” Sadr said in a statement earlier last week, using a term that officials say is a euphemism for a government made up of Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds but no Iran-backed parties.

Sadr’s MPs, buoyed by their easy victory in parliament last week, echoed their leader’s confidence.

Iraqi politicians and analysts say the rise of Sadr and political decline of the Iranian camp, long hostile to the United States, suits Washington and its allies in the region, despite Sadr’s unpredictability.

But excluding the Iran camp from the government risks a violent backlash. There have been in recent days attacks on political parties allied with Sadr causing two injuries and material damage to building in Baghdad. They have also challenged the election of the parliament speaker in the Federal Supreme Court.

Qaani’s series of meetings with Iraqi political forces come within this context and as Iran struggles to maintain its political influence, experts say.

According to Iranian media, Qaani visited the grave of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander in the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilisation Forces, as well as other graves in the city of Najaf. The Quds Force commander also paid a visit to the Mausoleum of Imam Ali.

Muhandis was killed in 2020 in the US drone strike which targeted then IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. The Qaani’s visit comes after a string of rocket and drone attacks targeting US advisers in Iraq and Syria in early January. At least some of the attacks were blamed on pro-Iran militias.

The Antichrist’s Muqtada al-Sadr’s Next Step In Iraq

Muqtada al-Sadr’s Next Step In Iraq

In a dramatic parliamentary session on January 9, the new Iraqi parliament reelectedMohamed al-Halbousi for a second term as speaker. While the vote further widened intra-Shia divisions, it also revealed Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s ability to change political dynamics across Iraq. The Sadrist Movement, the Sunni Taqadum and al-Azim alliance, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and other smaller factions attended the session and voted for Halbousi and his two deputies.

According to the Iraqi constitution, the parliament has thirty days from the first session to elect the country’s new president, who will then ask the largest bloc in parliament to form a government. To date, there is no agreement between Iraq’s main political powers. The post-2003 system in Iraq is centered on an informal power-sharing arrangement among Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds. Under this informal system, the prime minister’s post is reserved for a Shia, the position of speaker is reserved for a Sunni, and the president is required to be a Kurd.

Halbousi’s election can be seen as a victory for Sadr’s bloc over the Coordination Framework, a bloc that is largely aligned with Iran. Today, the political representation of the Iraqi Shia community is clearly divided into two main blocs. The first is the Sadrist Movement, which is led by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most visible post-2003 political leaders. The other Shia bloc is the Coordination Framework, a loose coalition of mainly Shia parties that includes two former prime ministers and other influential Shia political figures.

The Sadrists claimed nearly 40 percent of the seats won by Shia in the October 2021 election. Due to the complex nature of its coalition, it is still unclear how many seats the Coordination Framework will command. Nevertheless, it appears that they will control at least seventy seats.

As the largest single party in parliament, the Sadrists voted for the reelection of Halbousi, while the Coordination Framework boycotted the vote. A similar division occurred among the Kurds. The KDP, led by Masoud Barzani, attended the vote, while the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) joined the Coordination Framework in boycotting the vote.

Sadr described the vote as an important step toward forming a national majority government. Since the October 2021 election, the Sadrists have considered either trying to form a national majority government in coalition with non-Shia parties or settling for the role of Iraq’s political opposition. The Coordination Framework has only proposed one option: forming a consensus government. For Sadr, forming a majority government would mean reaching out to the major winners within the Sunni and Kurdish communities while excluding other political forces across the spectrum. A majority government can certainly be a responsible and effective government with clear tasks, expectations, and responsibilities. However, this idea is rejected by the Coordination Framework and every major party besides Sadr’s.

Sadr is serious about forming a majority government, which would challenge the post-2003 status quo in Iraq. At the same time, he knows that he has no guaranteed support from the other parties. While the Sunnis and the KDP joined Sadr in the vote for speaker, electing a president and prime minister is much more complex. Any Sadrist national majority government will depend on the support of the KDP and the new alliance between Taqaddum and al-Azim, the major political winners among Iraq’s Kurds and Sunnis. With the seats of another Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Sadr could also lead a new government. On the other hand, Sadr could form a national majority government by dividing the Coordination Framework and gaining the support of Shia alliances such as the National Power of the State Coalition and the Fatah Alliance.

Sadr will face three key challenges in any attempt to form an alliance with the Kurds and Sunnis. First, though an understanding between Sadr, Barzani, and Halbousi existed prior to the election, the KDP and the Sunni parties have so far rejected the idea of forming an alliance with just one Shia bloc. In addition, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Coordination Framework’s leader, has tried to create new alliances in an attempt to increase the Framework’s seats. This has created a balance of seats between the two Sunni blocs, making it difficult for Halbousi to claim sole leadership or representation of Iraq’s Sunnis. Finally, if Sadr does manage to obtain the support of the KDP and Halbousi, the Sadrists—the Shia component of the coalition—will not constitute a majority, making it the first government not dominated by Shia since 2003. This may make it a struggle for the coalition to win the support of the Shia community. 

These challenges make it more likely that Sadr will try to reach out to Shia powers within the Coordination Framework to form a Sadr-led consensus government. The Sadrists may also consider settling as the opposition. The latter option may hold some appeal for Sadr, who has always presented himself as a renegadewho holds the government in Baghdad to account. Sadr’s supporters, who do not question his choices, may see Sadr as a true leader who sacrificed political power for the sake of the nation. This would not be the first time that Sadr threatened to leave a government and join the opposition. What is different today is that the Sadrists hold over seventy seats and could gain the support of smaller factions in order to create a sizable opposition bloc. If Sadr decides to take this path, he will create the most significant opposition force in the post-2003 Iraqi political system.

However, there are significant barriers that likely outweigh the perceived benefits of forming an opposition coalition. If Sadr does form an opposition coalition, it will only be because he has been prevented from forming a majority government. Considering the personal rivalry between Maliki and Sadr, this outcome will have broader implications for Sadr’s image and credibility.

Losing out on the ability to make appointments for the thousands of senior and special posts in the Iraqi government may also make Sadr hesitate to form an opposition coalition. Controlling these appointments allows politicians to direct national policy and advance their own political, ethnosectarian, and economic interests. Being in the opposition would prevent Sadr from taking advantage of this opportunity.

While Sadr enjoys a disciplined base and can afford to change his positions without losing support, he knows that his victory was largely due to the Sadrists’ skillful handling of new electoral laws. While they gained nineteen seats in the recent election, their share of the popular vote decreased significantly. For many political activists within the Sadrist Movement, especially those who worked hard during the election campaign, being in the opposition would prevent them from reaping the rewards that they believe Sadr owes them.

Lastly, if Sadr is not included in the next government, the Coordination Framework and the militias aligned with it will dominate Iraq. This would allow the militias to continue operating outside of Iraq’s security forces without facing pressure from the government. The crackdown on illegally owned weapons that Sadr campaigned on would not be implemented, and Sadr would disappoint the international supporters who saw in him a means to reduce the influence of pro-Iranian armed groups.

With all this in mind, it is likely that a partial consensus government will be formed. There is nothing new about a consensus government. However, what is new is that it may be a consensus government that advances the political, ideological, and international priorities of Muqtada al-Sadr.

Kamaran Palani is an Associate Fellow at Al Sharq Strategic Research, a Research Fellow at the Middle East Research Institute, and Lecturer in International Relations at Salahaddin-University-Erbil. His research interests include Iraqi politics, regional Kurdish politics, de facto statehood in the international system, internal displacement and prevention of violent extremism in Iraq.

Will the Antichrist sideline Iran? Daniel

Moqtada al-Sadr

Will Iraq’s Sadr sideline Iran-backed factions from government?

The powerful populist cleric’s push to exclude Iran-backed factions from the government risks the ire of their heavily armed militia.

On track to form a national majority government

Shiite groups have held sway since Saddam was toppled

BAGHDAD – Iraq might for the first time in years get a government that excludes Iran-backed parties if a powerful populist cleric who dominated a recent election keeps his word, Iraqi politicians, government officials and independent analysts say.

But moves by the Shiite Muslim cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, to sideline rivals long backed by Tehran risks the ire of their heavily armed militia that make up some of the most powerful and most anti-American military forces in Iraq, they say.

The surest sign of Sadr’s new parliamentary power and his willingness to ignore groups loyal to Iran came on Sunday when his Sadrist Movement, together with a Sunni parliament alliance and Western-leaning Kurds, re-elected a parliamentary speaker opposed by the Iran-aligned camp with a solid majority.

Parliament must in the coming weeks choose the country’s president, who will call on the largest parliamentary alliance to form a government, a process that will be dominated by the Sadrist Movement whoever it chooses to work with.

“We are on track to form a national majority government,” Sadr said in a statement this week, using a term that officials say is a euphemism for a government made up of Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds but no Iran-backed parties.

Sadr’s politicians, buoyed by their easy victory in parliament last week, echoed their leader’s confidence.

The Iran camp “should face reality: election losers can’t make the government,” said Riyadh al-Masoudi, a senior member of the Sadrist Movement.

“We have a real majority, a strong front that includes us, the Sunnis, most of the Kurds and many independents and can form a government very soon.”

Iraqi politicians and analysts say the rise of Sadr and political decline of the Iranian camp, long hostile to the United States, suits Washington and its allies in the region, despite Sadr’s unpredictability.

But excluding the Iran camp from government risks a violent backlash.

“If the Sadrists get their national majority government … those who oppose them will view this as splitting the Shiites and threatening their power,” Ahmed Younis, an Iraqi political and legal analyst, said.

“They will do all they can to avoid losing that grip.”

Shiite groups have dominated Iraqi politics since the US-led overthrow of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. They span an array of parties, most with armed wings, but fall broadly now into two camps: those that are pro-Iran and those that oppose Tehran’s influence in Iraq.

The Shiite elite have shared control over many ministries, with Iran-aligned groups holding the upper hand until the recent rise of Sadr, the biggest winner in the Oct. 10 election which dealt a crushing blow to the Iran camp https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iraq-counts-votes-after-lowest-ever-election-turnout-2021-10-11.

For the first time post-Saddam, the Iran-aligned groups could see themselves in opposition in parliament.

‘Scary moment’

Events since the election have showed how dangerous the sharpening divide between Sadr and his Iran-backed opponents has become.

In November, protests opposing the election result by supporters of those parties turned violent and an armed drone attack blamed on Iran-linked factions struck a residence of outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, widely viewed as a close Sadr ally https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-seeks-cool-tensions-iraq-2021-12-22.

On Friday an explosion hit the Baghdad party headquarters of newly re-elected parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi.

It was not immediately clear if this was linked to Halbousi’s election by parliament on Sunday or who was responsible. There was no claim of responsibility. One Iran-aligned group issued a warning this week after the parliament’s decision that Iraq could see a spiral of violence.

An Iraqi government official, who declined to be named, said he expected those in the Iran camp to use the threat of violence to get a place in government, but not to escalate into a full-scale conflict with Sadr.

Other observers, however, say Sadr’s insistence on sidelining Iran-aligned parties and militias could be a dangerous gamble.

“The question is, does he (Sadr) realise how potentially destabilising this is and is he ready for the violent push back?” said Professor Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics.

“The (Iran-backed) militias are increasingly overtly threatening violence, and Sadr is saying they cannot do this. It’s a scary moment.”

Halbousi’s election was viewed as an easy victory for the Sadrists. But the stakes will be higher in selecting a president and a prime minister.

Politicians on both sides of the Shiite divide show little sign they might soften their positions.

“The Sadrists … marginalizing parts of the Shiite political class could lead to boycotts of the government, protests in the street and armed violence,” said Ibrahim Mohammed, a senior member of the Iran-aligned Fatah political alliance.

A second Sadrist politician, who declined to be named on orders from his party, said: “We’re powerful, we have a strong leader and millions of followers who are ready to take to the streets and sacrifice themselves.”

Hashed intimidation attempt suspected in Baghdad blasts targeting offices of Antichrist allies

Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks after preliminary results of Iraq’s parliamentary election were announced in Najaf, Iraq October 11, 2021. (Reuters)

Hashed intimidation attempt suspected in Baghdad blasts targeting offices of Sadr allies

BAGHDAD – 

Only two injuries and some material damage were reported after blasts hit the Baghdad headquarters of parties allied to the Sadrist Movement, Friday and Thursday, in incidents where analysts saw clear warnings from pro-Iran Shia parties to rival Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that he will not be able to form a government without their consent or rule at their expense.

An explosion from a hand grenade hit the headquarters of Iraqi parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi’s Taqaddum party in Baghdad, early on Friday, wounding two guards, police sources said.

There was no claim of responsibility but a source in the Baghdad police told Anadolu Agency that “unidentified gunmen targeted the building of Taqaddom Coalition”, headed by Parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi, in the Adhamiyah neighborhood, northern Baghdad.

Iraq’s parliament, newly elected after an October 10 general election in which the powerful Shia populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was the biggest winner, voted to reinstate Halbousi for his second term as speaker on Sunday, against the wishes of the pro-Iran Framework Alliance parties.

Similar blasts targeted a building of Azm Alliance, headed by Sunni leader Khamis Khanjar, in Baghdad. Another explosion hit a buildng near the the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), another ally of the Sadrist Movement.

Besides the reported injuries, the targeted buildings sustained damages.

During the last elections, the Sadrist  Movement won about a fifth of the seats, 73 out of the legislature’s total 329, while the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, the political arm of the pro-Iranian Hashed al-Shaabi, won only 17 seats, sharply down from the 48 seats the used to control in the outgoing assembly.

Taqaddom Coalition came second with 37 seats, while the Azm Alliance garnered 14 seats.

Iraqi affairs experts say the Alliance Framework parties are wary of Sadr forming a new government excluding the pro-Iran Shia forces and possibly attempting to fully integrate the Hashed Shaabi militias into the regular army or cut its funding.

Iraq’s post-election period since the October 10 vote has been marred by high tensions, violence and allegations of vote fraud, as pro-Iran political parties refused to concede their loss in the ballot to the Sadrist Movement.

Iraq’s top court, Thursday, provisionally suspended the newly-appointed speaker of parliament, while judges consider an appeal by two pro-Iranian party deputies claiming his re-election by other lawmakers was unconstitutional.

The move impacts the workings of parliament, as lawmakers cannot meet without the speaker.

One of the parliament’s first tasks must be to elect the country’s president, who will then name a prime minister tasked with forming a new government

Despite Halbousi’s suspension, the clock has not stopped ticking on the 30-day deadline to elect a new president that began at the parliament’s inaugural session, the court said.

In multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Iraq, the formation of governments has involved complex negotiations ever since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled President Saddam Hussein.

Moqtadar al-Sadr, the head of the winning formation that bears his name, has vowed to form “a majority government” instead of the traditional consensus-based cabinet.

Parliament only met Sunday for the first time in three months since the polls, where the new members held a swearing-in ceremony and elected the speaker.

It opened to furious arguments between rival factions of Shia lawmakers as members of the pro-Iran Framework Alliance claimed to have enough seats to be the leading bloc in parliament. The Sadrists rejected their implausible claim.

Antichrist’s Push to Sideline Iran-Backed Iraqi Factions Risks Clash

Sadr’s Push to Sideline Iran-Backed Iraqi Factions Risks Clash

Friday, 14 January, 2022 – 11:15

Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr speaks after preliminary results of Iraq’s parliamentary election were announced in Najaf, Iraq October 11, 2021. (Reuters)Asharq Al-Awsat

Iraq might for the first time in years get a government that excludes Iran-backed parties if Shiite populist cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who dominated a recent election keeps his word, Iraqi politicians, government officials and independent analysts say according to Reuters.

But moves by Sadr to sideline rivals long backed by Tehran risks the ire of their heavily armed militias that make up some of the most powerful and most anti-American military forces in Iraq, they say.

The surest sign of Sadr’s new parliamentary power and his willingness to ignore groups loyal to Iran came on Sunday when his Sadrist Movement, together with a Sunni parliament alliance and Kurds, reelected a parliamentary speaker opposed by the Iran-aligned camp with a solid majority.

Parliament must in the coming weeks choose the country’s president, who will call on the largest parliamentary alliance to form a government, a process that will be dominated by the Sadrist Movement whoever it chooses to work with.

“We are on track to form a national majority government,” Sadr said in a statement this week, using a term that officials say is a euphemism for a government made up of Sadrists, Sunnis and Kurds but no Iran-backed parties.

Sadr’s politicians, buoyed by their easy victory in parliament last week, echoed their leader’s confidence.

The Iran camp “should face reality: election losers can’t make the government,” said Riyadh al-Masoudi, a senior member of the Sadrist Movement.

“We have a real majority, a strong front that includes us, the Sunnis, most of the Kurds and many independents and can form a government very soon.”

Iraqi politicians and analysts say the rise of Sadr and political decline of the Iranian camp, long hostile to the United States, suits Washington and its allies in the region, despite Sadr’s unpredictability.

But excluding the Iran camp from government risks a violent backlash.

“If the Sadrists get their national majority government … those who oppose them will view this as splitting the Shiites and threatening their power,” Ahmed Younis, an Iraqi political and legal analyst, said.

“They will do all they can to avoid losing that grip.”

Shiite groups have dominated Iraqi politics since the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. They span an array of parties, most with armed wings, but fall broadly now into two camps: those that are pro-Iran and those that oppose Tehran’s influence in Iraq.

The Shiite elite have shared control over many ministries, with Iran-aligned groups holding the upper hand until the recent rise of Sadr, the biggest winner in the Oct. 10 election which dealt a crushing blow to the Iran camp.

For the first time post-Saddam, the Iran-aligned groups could see themselves in opposition in parliament.

‘Scary moment’

Events since the election have showed how dangerous the sharpening divide between Sadr and his Iran-backed opponents has become.

In November, protests opposing the election result by supporters of those parties turned violent and an armed drone attack blamed on Iran-linked factions struck a residence of outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, widely viewed as a close Sadr ally.

On Friday an explosion hit the Baghdad party headquarters of newly re-elected parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi.

It was not immediately clear if this was linked to Halbousi’s election by parliament on Sunday or who was responsible. There was no claim of responsibility. One Iran-aligned group issued a warning this week after the parliament’s decision that Iraq could see a spiral of violence.

An Iraqi government official, who declined to be named, said he expected those in the Iran camp to use the threat of violence to get a place in government, but not to escalate into a full-scale conflict with Sadr.

Other observers, however, say Sadr’s insistence on sidelining Iran-aligned parties and militias could be a dangerous gamble.

“The question is, does he (Sadr) realize how potentially destabilizing this is and is he ready for the violent push back?” said Professor Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics.

“The (Iran-backed) militias are increasingly overtly threatening violence, and Sadr is saying they cannot do this. It’s a scary moment.”

Halbousi’s election was viewed as an easy victory for the Sadrists. But the stakes will be higher in selecting a president and a prime minister.

Politicians on both sides of the Shiite divide show little sign they might soften their positions.

“The Sadrists … marginalizing parts of the Shiite political class could lead to boycotts of the government, protests in the street and armed violence,” said Ibrahim Mohammed, a senior member of the Iran-aligned Fatah political alliance.

A second Sadrist politician, who declined to be named on orders from his party, said: “We’re powerful, we have a strong leader and millions of followers who are ready to take to the streets and sacrifice themselves.”

The Antichrist expected to nominate Kadhimi for Iraq’ premiership

Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Najaf, Iraq, January 6, 2022. (REUTERS)

Sadrist Movement expected to nominate Kadhimi for Iraq’ premiership

The prime minister is fully engaged in a campaign to fight corruption, which is at the core of the Sadrists’ reform agenda.Thursday 13/01/2022

Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Najaf, Iraq, January 6, 2022. (REUTERS)

BAGHDAD-

Iraqi political sources say that Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is smoothly gliding towards a new term in office, given the support he enjoys from the Sadrist Movement.

The sources point out that Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sees Kadhimi as the most capable figure who could lead a “national majority” government to be formed by the Sadrists with the backing of Sunni and Kurdish blocs.

The sources note that the objections of the pro-Iranian Coordination Framework Shia parties to Kadhimi are not of much concern to the Sadrists.

Iraq watchers point out that Kadhimi, despite the modest results achieved during his current term in office, has shown himself to be able to deal effectively with Iraq’s quandaries and has demonstrated a great measure of pragmatism in handling foreign interference in Iraqi affairs.

Analysts say there is no external veto on Kadhimi. Even Tehran does not object to his nomination as it does not consider the premier, in the final analysis, to be a threat to its interests.

They believe that the only obstacle to Kadhimi’s accession to the premiership is the opposition of the pro-Iranian militias. But these forces will ultimately have no choice in the matter if Muqatada Al-Sadr insists on nominating Kadhimi and if the latter wins the support of the Sunni and Kurdish blocs.

The prime minister had met, on Monday, the leader of the Al-Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, Al-Hadi Al-Amiri, in Baghdad.  The purpose of the visit, according to sources, was to de-escalate tensions with the alliance, considered a political offshoot of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

Kadhimi also visited Najaf, Wednesday. Sources close to the prime minister said the visit was a follow-up to a previous visit, less than a week ago, during which the prime minister examined the state of services in the governorate, the stronghold of the Sadrist Movement.

During his earlier visit to Najaf,  where he was warmly welcomed by Sadr, Kadhimi announced a set of measures regarding local affairs of the west-central province.

Analysts say Kadhimi has recently been leading an active campaign to burnish his own image, by announcing a number of development projects and reshuffling governors and senior officials so as to remove from office those suspected of corruption or the repression of protests, as was the case with the governor of Dhi Qar.

Iraqi affairs experts believe that the recent anti-graft measures taken by Kadhimi are consistent with the positions advocated by the Sadrist Movement and its leader, putting corruption at the forefront of the reform project they want to be implemented after the formation of a national majority government.

Iraq’s Integrity Commission announced on Wednesday the issuance of arrest warrants and summons for 85 high-ranking officials, on corruption-related charges, during the month of December.

A statement by the official commission, tasked with investigating corruption cases in Iraq, said that judicial authorities issued the warrants after the investigation by the Integrity Commission of cases in Baghdad and other provinces. It indicated that 21 arrest warrants and 77 summonses were issued, including one involving a current government minister, as well as a number of former ministers, in addition to former parliamentarians, governors and other senior officials. No names were however revealed.

Iraq is considered to be among the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the Transparency International index over the past years.

Last October, the country held early legislative elections in the wake of large protests against corruption since 2019.

The leader of the Sadrist Movement has focused during the election campaign on the need to prioritise the fight against corruption.

Observers believe that Kadhimi’s anti-corruption moves, at this particular time, are a prelude to his assumption of the premiership in the government, which the Sadrist movement is to form, despite the misgivings of the Shia forces loyal to Iran.

Antichrist defends Sunni and Kurdish allies after militia threats

Iraq’s Moqtada Al Sadr defends Sunni and Kurdish allies after militia threats

Since October’s national elections Shiite rivals have grown more divided, threatening to prolong process for forming new government

Iraq’s powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr has pitted himself further against his Iran-backed Shiite rivals amid rising tension over forming a new government.

Since October’s national elections Shiite rivals have grown more divided, with the Sadrist Bloc emerging as the clear winner while Iran-backed factions suffered a significant drop in support.

These rifts deepened when Mr Al Sadr joined forces with Sunni and Kurdish parties to pick the parliament speaker and his deputies during the first session after the elections.

The move angered the pro-Iran camp, which includes influential Shiite militias who boycotted the session, and they issued threats against Sunnis and Kurds.

“We will not allow anyone, whomever he is, to threaten our partners and the social peace,” Mr Al Sadr said in a statement posted on his Twitter account late on Tuesday, referring to his Sunni and Kurdish allies.

“There will be no return to the sectarian violence and warfare,” he said, in a reference to the sectarian tit-for-tat attacks that engulfed the country in 2005 and 2006. His now-disbanded Mahdi Army militia were blamed for playing a major role in the civil conflict.

“The next government will be one of law and there will be no place for any violation from anyone,” he said.

Mr Al Sadr’s political group won 73 seats in October national elections, becoming the clear winner, but fell short of gaining the majority — 165 seats in the 329-seat parliament — needed to form the government.

Former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, who heads the State of Law bloc, won 33 seats, and the Iran-backed Fatah Alliance won 17.

For months, Mr Al Sadr and the Iran-allied Co-ordination Framework have failed to reach a deal.

The long-running dispute between Mr Al Sadr and Mr Al Maliki is one of the main obstacles to any deal, as the Shiite cleric seeks to exclude his rival from the next government. Their enmity dates back to 2008, when Mr Al Maliki launched a military operation against the Mahdi Army.

In his statement, Mr Al Sadr struck a defiant tone.

“We are proceeding with the formation of the national majority government and our door is open for some of those we still think well of,” he said, referring to other members of the Co-ordination Framework he has been wooing.

During the first session of parliament on Sunday, which was chaired by the eldest member of the legislative body, Mahmoud Al Mashhadani, both rival Shiite groups claimed to be the largest bloc.

According to the constitution, the largest bloc will be asked to form the government.

Mr Al Mashhadani asked to check the names and the signatures on both lists with a committee, causing chaos inside the hall and leading to a heated discussion between him and some Shiite politicians who gathered around him.

He then appeared to faint and was taken out of the parliament building for treatment, disrupting the session. But proceedings later resumed with the second oldest member, Khalid Al Daraji, and the Parliament Speaker and his two deputies were elected, resulting in MPs from the Co-ordination Framework walking out in a protest against the move.

On Monday, Alia Nussayif, a senior member of the State of Law, held Sunnis and Kurds accountable for creating “a rift among the Shiites.”

In an interview with a local TV station affiliated to a powerful pro-Tehran Shiite militia, Ms Nussayif went further, warning them that the “fire will catch them” if confrontations among Shiites erupted.

Hours later, Abu Ali Al Askari, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah armed group, issued a warning that “Iraq could see tough days and all will lose”.

The elections last October were the fifth parliamentary vote for a full-term government since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

They were held months earlier than scheduled to try to appease the pro-reform protest movement that surfaced in 2019.

Updated: January 12th 2022, 6:47 AM

Iraq’s speaker re-elected with backing of the Antichrist

This picture taken on Sept. 26, 2021, shows current parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi.

Mohammed al-Halbusi is Iraq’s speaker of parliament for a second term despite opposition from Shiite parties aligned with Iran.

Iraq’s speaker re-elected with backing of Muqtada al-Sadr

This picture taken on Sept. 26, 2021, shows an electoral campaign billboard ahead of Iraq’s early legislative elections depicting current parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi, in the city of Ramadi. – SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty ImagesHassan Ali Ahmed@hassanaIiahmed

Mohammed al-Halbusi is Iraq’s speaker of parliament for a second term despite opposition from Shiite parties aligned with Iran.

Iraqi electionsJanuary 10, 2022

BAGHDAD — The first session of Iraq’s new parliament was held on Jan. 9. In that session, new parliament members voted that Mohammed al-Halbusi will serve a second term as speaker of the Iraqi parliament.

From the start of the day, different party members showed their strengths via different methods.

Independent members representing the Tishreen protest movement made their way to parliament in tuk-tuks. The three-wheeled vehicle became a symbol of the protesters during the 2019 October demonstrations, eventually representing the entire Tishreen movement.

Sunni members from both rival groups, the Taqaddom Alliance and the Azm Alliance, gathered around for a photo op before the start of the session. Kurds and other minority members wore traditional clothing to the session.

The strongest presence was that of Sadrists, who tied white fabric on their shoulders symbolizing burial shrouds as a means to send a message to their rival Shiite parties that they intend to fight to the death.

Shiite parties were sharply divided after the elections. Sadrists (the biggest winners) won 74 seats and are calling for a majority government. Their Shiite rivals — including among others the Fatah Alliance (affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units), Ammar al-Hakim’s Hikma bloc, Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and Haider al-Abadi’s Nasr coalition — are calling for a consensual government. They all gathered under the name of the Coordination Framework with a total of 59 seats.

The main reason behind the dispute between the Sadrists and the Coordination Framework is that the former wants to form the government with its Kurdish and Sunni allies and without other Shiite parties. But Framework members, who lost the elections to the Sadrists, want to remain in power and receive a share of the new government.

Coordination Framework members strongly objected to the election results as they realized that Muqtada al-Sadr’s rise to power would eliminate them from the government. Hence, they claimed election fraud and pushed their followers to protest at the Green Zone.

Protesters set up camp for two months, demanding the annulment of election results and a new election. The protests turned violent a few times, but protesters quit and went home as they realized that their demands would not be met.

Having said that, the first session of Iraq’s new parliament wasn’t calm at all. The Coordination Framework tried to prevent Sadr from pushing the wheels for the majority government.

Sadr had brokered a deal with the Sunnis and Kurds. Less than a week ago, he received Sunni Taqaddom party leader Halbousi at his home in Najaf. This is while Sadr’s delegation traveled to Erbil to court Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) votes.

An anonymous source from Sadr’s political office told Al-Monitor that “Sadr has already built his coalition and has secured enough votes to form a majority government.”

Although Sadr has 74 seats, the abovementioned alliances provide him with enough votes to form a majority of 165 in the parliament, which is required for electing the parliament speaker and prime minister. Halbousi has 37 seats. The KDP controls 31 seats, which brings the number of Sadr’s coalition to 142. Sadr also has been granted the support of the Azm Alliance led by Khamis al-Khanjar, which provides him with 14 more seats. Sadr secured the remaining seats on Nov. 25 when he met with independent members who had won 43 seats.

Yesterday’s vote was a clear indication that Sadr’s majority government is moving ahead. Halbousi has received 200 votes against his rival, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was nominated by the Coordination Framework.

Members of the Framework left the hall prior to the vote as they felt Mashhadani would not win. Mashhadani himself also tried to postpone the session for another day, but after he faced objections from Sadrists and their allies, he left for the hospital, claiming he was attacked by Sadrists.

This did not stop the session, and Halbousi was finally elected. Sadrist parliament member Hakim al-Zamli and KDP parliament member Shakhawan Abdullah were, respectively, elected as first and second deputy speakers of parliament.

The next phase is to elect the president; this requires two-thirds of parliament members. But the main challenge will be electing the prime minister, which takes place after the president is elected.

On Jan. 7, current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi traveled to meet Sadr at the cleric’s home in al-Hananah district in Najaf.

In response to Halbousi’s victory, Kadhimi tweeted, “A historic and great day for Iraq, and an opportunity for all to unite to build a strong state.”

Iran reportedly has sought to sway Kurdish and Sunni parties to avoid their aligning with Sadr, fearing that such an alliance would undercut the influence of those parties aligned with Tehran.

Their efforts seem to be so far unsuccessful.

In such circumstances, the majority government looks to be already set, and for the first time after 2003, there will be a majority government and a strong opposition in parliament led by Iran’s allies.