The Antichrist and Women (Rev 13)

Moqtada al-Sadr and Women

When modern political parties started being established in the Arab world, traditionalists drew the sword of morality in their faces because members of political parties are immoral, as demonstrated by the intermingling of men and women within them.

The insult predictably continued: in those mixed parties, heinous things happen, including incest.

Moqtada al-Sadr, nearly two thirds of a century later, has brought this critique, which the old world that lacked strong arguments used to rebuke the ideas, organizations and institutions of the new world, back to the fore. However, instead of directing his attacks on political parties, he is targeting the protests and sit-ins of the Iraqi revolution. He says, along with a few of his friends through their tweets, that gender intermingling contradicts morality, religion and national values, and that it is necessarily accompanied by taking drugs and drinking alcohol. He warns of Iraq’s transformation… into Chicago!

Of course, Moqtada lacks the intellectual tools of theorists, like Leo Strauss, who put forward a radical criticism of modernity in which he relied on a wide range of philosophers that begin with Plato and does not end with Maimonides.

Moqtada’s thoughts, on the other hand, can be identified by referring to two – and there are many others – stunning examples: once, he attacked youths for playing football and chasing a ball instead of fencing or riding horses. He didn’t stop there, going on to say that the west, “especially Israel and the Jews”, left these games to us in order to distract us as they focused on science and progress.

Another time, he issued a fatwa – one of the “decisive” fatwas that were meant to prepare for the battle with the Americans – sanctioning theft and looting provided that one-fifth of the money is given to him and his institutions.

However, Sadr’s thought can only be dealt with when examined over a long period. With regard to the ongoing revolution, he called on people to take part in it, withdrew from it and then returned to participate in it before proceeding to suppress it more violently than any of those who had supressed it before him. The same applies to his relationship with Iran, which he supported, then criticized and attacked and now praises. He currently resides in Iran until further notice.

As for his relationship with Sunnis, he was heavily involved in the 2006 civil war and the “death squads” loyal to him would leave Sadr City to go on killing and kidnapping sprees. However, he later showed solidarity with Sunnis protesting in Anbar against Nuri al-Maliki’s government. He then went much further than that, recognizing the legitimacy of the Rashidun, or Rightly-Guided, Caliphs’ mandate and denying that Yazid bin Muawiyah had murdered Hussein bin Ali.

The same could be said about the many organizations he established, the most recent of which is the “Blue Caps”. He goes on to disband and even defame some of them. He does the same with some of his advisors, expelling and insulting them, then bringing them back to his side.

Still, Moqtada cannot be understood from his thoughts, his turbulent neurological and psychological make-up or even his love of tumult. The entry point to understanding him, especially after the outbreak of the Iraqi revolution, is two-sided:

On the one hand, he is no longer able to maintain the unity of his impoverished supporters whom the economic crisis impacts more than others. Since the Sunni and Kurdish “enemy” is almost absent on the political scene, it is impossible to incite and mobilize against it in order to preserve the cohesion of his popular base. The moral question is now being used to perform this function.

Women, in the sayyed’s eyes, are weak opponents whom he aspires to rally his conservative and traditional base against.

On the other hand, the blind loyalty that traditionally linked his base to him does not apply to Iraq’s youth, especially women. Their sentiments and tastes have become globalized, and they are demanding rights, equality and transparency. This heightens his anger and apprehension, especially given the revolution’s persistence despite his recent withdrawal from it just as it had persisted following the killing of Soleimani before that.

The bottom line is that, in contrast to the image of the neutral actor he is trying to project about himself, Sadr sits at the heart of the regime that he wants to preserve. Without him, neither would Adel Abdel Mahdi have been able to form his government nor would Mohammed Toufiq Allawi have been appointed to form a new government. As for Sairoon’s (Moqtada’s parliamentary bloc) alliance with the Fateh bloc, it keeps the reins of power in assured sectarian hands.

What he wants, at the end of the day, is to ensure that he maintains a share of the booty from a strong position, while preserving his “right” to seem like a whiny member of the opposition who loves to play the victim.

The women of Iraq, however, will not be the bridge that he crosses to arrive at that goal. They are no longer the weak opponent that Sadr imagines them to be. Some of the bravest of Iraq’s women and girls were killed during the protests. Some have been assaulted, even stabbed, and, they turned out in large numbers to protest in Baghdad and provinces in the center and south of the country like Babel and Dhi Qar. Sadr should be a little cautious when speaking about Iraqi women.

Iran Helps the Iraqi Horn (Daniel 8:3)

Fighters from the Lebanese Resistance Brigades, a paramilitary group affiliated with Hezbollah, march in a southern suburb of Beirut to commemorate killed Hezbollah leaders on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

In wake of Soleimani’s death, Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias

Feb 16, 2020

Shortly after Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, the Tehran-backed Lebanese organization Hezbollah urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders, seeking to unite them in the face of a huge void left by their powerful mentor’s death, two sources with knowledge of the meetings said.

The meetings were meant to coordinate the political efforts of Iraq’s often-fractious militias, which lost not only Soleimani but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a unifying Iraqi paramilitary commander, in the Jan. 3 attack at Baghdad airport, the sources said.

While offering few details, two additional sources in a pro-Iran regional alliance confirmed that Hezbollah, which is sanctioned as a terrorist group by the United States, has stepped in to help fill the void left by Soleimani in guiding the militias. All sources in this article spoke on condition of anonymity to address sensitive political activities rarely addressed in public. Officials with the governments of Iraq and Iran did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the militia groups.

The discussions shed light on how Iran and its allied groups are trying to cement control in the unstable Middle East, especially in the wake of the devastating U.S. attack on a revered Iranian military leader.

The Tehran-backed militias are critical to Iran’s efforts to maintain control over Iraq, where the U.S. still maintains some 5,000 troops. The country has experienced years of civil war since U.S. forces toppled President Saddam Hussein and more recently, the government — and the militias — have faced growing protests against Iran’s influence in the country. Iran helped found some Iraqi militia groups.

In the months ahead of his death, Soleimani had waded ever deeper into the Iraq crisis, holding meetings with the Iraqi militias in Baghdad as Tehran sought to defend its allies and interests in its power struggle with the United States, one of the two Iraqi sources said.

Hezbollah’s involvement marks an expansion of its role in the region. The Shiite group, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in 1982, has been at the heart of Iran’s regional strategy for years, helping Soleimani to train paramilitary groups in both Iraq and Syria.

One pro-Iran regional official said Hezbollah’s guidance of the militias will continue until the new leadership in the Quds Force — a unit of the Revolutionary Guard led by Soleimani since 1998 — gets a handle on the political crisis in Iraq.

The meetings between Hezbollah and Iraqi militia leaders began in January, just days after Soleimani’s assassination, the two Iraqi sources said. One source said they were in Beirut and the other said they were either in Lebanon or Iran.

Sheikh Mohammad al-Kawtharani, the Hezbollah representative in Iraq who worked closely with Soleimani for years to guide the Iraqi militias, hosted the meetings, the Iraqi sources said.

Kawtharani picked up where Soleimani left off, the Iraqi sources said. The sources said al-Kawtharani berated the groups, as Soleimani had done in one of his final meetings with them, for failing to come up with a unified plan to contain popular protests against the Baghdad government and the paramilitary groups that dominate it. The government and militia groups have killed hundreds of protesters but not managed to contain the rebellion.

Kawatharani also urged a united front in picking a new Iraqi prime minister, the Iraqi sources said. Since then, former Iraqi Communications Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi has been named — a development welcomed by Iran and accepted by the militia-linked parties it backs but opposed by protesters.

For now, Kawtharani is seen as the most suitable figure to direct Iraqi militias until a permanent Iranian successor can be chosen, although he possesses nowhere near Soleimani’s clout and charisma, according to the two Iraqi sources and a senior Iraqi Shiite Muslim leader.

“Kawtharani has connections with the militia groups,” the Shiite leader said, noting that he was born in Najaf, lived in Iraq for decades and speaks Iraqi dialect. “He was trusted by Soleimani, who used to depend and call on him to help him in crises and in meetings in Baghdad.”

One of the Iraqi sources close to the militias said that Kawtharani also met with the Iraqi populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful but unpredictable figure, to convince him to support the new Iraqi prime minister. Al-Sadr has given Allawi his support.

Kawtharani will face serious — perhaps insurmountable — challenges in filling the shoes of the leaders killed in the drone attack, the Iraqi sources close to the militias said.

“A lot of faction leaders see themselves as too big and important to take orders from” one Iraqi source said. “For now, because of pressure from Iran, they’re cooperating with him, but I doubt that will continue and the Iranians know that.”

One of the pro-Iran sources, a military commander, said Hezbollah’s involvement would consist of political guidance but stop short of providing manpower and materiel to retaliate for the Solemani killing. The militias “do not need Hezbollah’s intervention because they have the strength in numbers, combat experience and firepower,” the commander said.

Those groups are difficult to control, while Hezbollah is seen as more disciplined. But like the rest of Iran’s network, Hezbollah risks stretching itself thin, a senior U.S. official in the region and an Iraqi political leader said.

In recent years, Hezbollah’s role has grown considerably. It has fought in support of President Bashar Assad in Syria and extended political support to the Iran-allied Houthis of Yemen in their war with a Saudi-led military alliance.At least 31 civilians were killed in strikes on Yemen on Saturday, the United Nations said, following a Saudi-led operation in response to one of its fighter jet crashing, with Houthis claiming to have shot it down.

The Tornado aircraft came down Friday in northern Al-Jawf province during an operation to support government forces, a rare crash that prompted operations in the area by a Saudi-led military coalition fighting the rebels.

The deadly violence follows an upsurge in fighting in northern Yemen between the warring parties that threatens to worsen the war-battered country’s humanitarian crisis.

The downing of a coalition warplane marks a setback for a military alliance known for its air supremacy and signals the rebels’ increasingly potent military arsenal.

“At the start of the conflict the Houthis were a ragtag militia,” said Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Middle East Institute. “Today they have massively expanded their arsenal with the help of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.”

Houthi rebels now possess weapons bearing signs of Iranian origin, according to a U.N. report earlier this month, in potential violation of a U.N. arms embargo.On Thursday, Iranian state TV aired an interview with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in which he described a close relationship with Soleimani, highlighting the key role Soleimani played in helping build up Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal as well as his role in military operations during Hezbollah’s war with Israel in 2006.

Iran is likely to rely partly on the clout of Nasrallah, a figure who commands deep respect among Iran’s allies across the region, the U.S. official said. Nasrallah is seen as overseeing Kawtharani’s efforts, according to a senior Shiite Iraqi leader.

“I think ideologically, religiously, he’s seen as a charismatic figure to many of the Iraqi Shia militias,” the U.S. official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

In two lengthy televised addresses, Nasrallah has paid homage to Soleimani and vowed to avenge his death.

He has also declared it a goal of Hezbollah and its allies to eject U.S. forces from the region once and for all . U.S. forces have been in Iraq since 2014 as part of a coalition fighting against Islamic State.

If the Iraqi militias have their way, sources close to them say, these troops will be the first to depart.

Iraq: Thousands of Antichrist’s Supporters Hold Counter-protests

Followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr chant slogans as they wave national flags during a demonstration in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq: Thousands of Sadr’s Supporters Hold Counter-protests

News Arab World

Baghdad – Asharq Al-Awsat

Thousands of supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr protested on Friday to support the sanctity of “religious symbols,” a day after a march saw unprecedented public criticism of their leader.

“We are one tribe and our leader is Moqtada Sadr!” chanted a crowd of men on Friday in Tahrir Square, the main gathering place in Iraq’s capital for rival anti-government rallies.

Sadr first backed the popular protests when they erupted in October but has since split with them over the appointment of a new prime minister.

The cleric backs Mohammad Allawi, a premier-designate rejected by most demonstrators as too close to the ruling class they have railed against for months.

Over the last two weeks, Sadr has sought to clamp down on the main movement and his followers have attacked rival demonstrators.

In another twist, the cleric published a series of guiding principles for protesters this week, including separation of the sexes and banning drugs or alcohol.

“We will not stay with arms crossed, silent in the face of insults against religion, morality and country,” Sadr said.

On Friday, Sadrists held counter-protests in Baghdad, the southern port city of Basra and the shrine city of Najaf, rejecting criticism of their leader.

“We reject agitators who sneak in among the protesters, shattering the movement’s peaceful nature and insulting prophets and religious symbols,” one Sadrist told Agence France Presse.

There were no clashes between the Sadr supporters and the anti-government demonstrators, but previous clashes between the two have left eight activists dead.

Who are Antichrist’s Blue Hats in Iraq and what side are they on?

Who are Sadr’s Blue Hats in Iraq and what side are they on?

In the face of harsh criticism from religious authorities and the Iraqi public, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to retreat Feb. 8 from protests where they had clashed with anti-government demonstrators.

Sadr leads the Sadrist political current in Iraq and a group of followers among them called “Blue Hats.”

The outspoken, influential Shiite cleric’s sentiments change frequently. He formed the Blue Hats in October in support of the public protests against the government. Soon, Blue Hats filled Tahrir Square in central Baghdad with an initial directive to protect protesters. But Sadr withdrew his support, and his followers, from the protests in late January. Within a week, however, he sent his followers back out, this time to subdue the protests.

Protesters objected and cheered against Sadr. In southern Iraq, student coordination committees attended a massive protest Feb. 4 in Baghdad to reject the Blue Hats’ behavior.

Women’s rightsIraqi protests blush pink as feminists flood streets

Recently, Sadr recalled them again, but not before they allegedly killed protesters in Najaf.

The Blue Hats raided a Najaf protest center Feb. 5, where initial reports said at least eight people were killed and 20 wounded. (Medical personnel later said 23 protesters were killed and 197 wounded, but those figures have not been confirmed.) The Blue Hats also had deployed against protesters Feb. 6 in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad. Sadr‘s call that time came soon after he publicly announced he would endorse Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, whom the protesters reject as being under Iranian influence.

Sadr had the Blue Hats retreat again from the square Feb. 8. Security forces replaced them to keep order, and the protests reportedly stabilized.

This week, on Feb. 11, Sadr changed course once again, saying he might not endorse Allawi after all.

Among all these contradictions are conflicting reports about the Blue Hats’ actions. An activist told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Sadr’s followers who are part of the Blue Hats [were] torturing protesters in Tahrir Square, and they expelled protesters from the ‘Turkish Restaurant’ that constitutes the main protest platform in Baghdad. The followers destroyed many tents, under the pretext that their owners are vandals tarnishing the protests and offending Sadr.”

Videos posted online Feb. 4 showed the Blue Hats attacking protesters. A demonstrator in Tahrir Square told Al-Monitor, “This attack coincided with the appointment of a new prime minister, which means there is an agreed-upon political goal between the government and parties to subdue the protests.”

A leader in the Sadrist current, Hakim al-Zamili, begged to differ, saying the videos online were fabricated and take events out of context, and are part of a “distortion campaign” against Sadrists.

“Sadrist protesters were the first to stand up against the government. They boosted the protests, and if it weren’t for them, demonstrations would have died out a long time ago,” he told Al-Monitor. “The Blue Hats deterred vandalizing armed militias in Tahrir Square and the Sanak area. In Khalani Square in Baghdad, those militias tried to rob stores and take over the Central Bank of Iraq.”

He also dismissed allegations claiming that the Blue Hats are armed militias.

“They are volunteers who believe in the political and ideological convictions of the Sadrist current. They do not receive any support or salary from anyone,” he said. “They are barely 2,000 to 3,000 individuals from across Iraq, and they are unarmed. They never participated in military or security sessions to be dubbed militias.”

Watheq al-Jabri, head of the Iraqi Institute for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor the Blue Hats initially withdrew support from the protests because demonstrators had not backed Sadr’s “million-strong” march Jan. 24 against the US presence in Iraq, and because protesters “tried to block roads to prevent Sadr supporters coming from the provinces from reaching Baghdad.”

Rami al-Sukeini of the Sairoon Alliance, led by the Sadrist current, responded to the accusations of violence by telling Al-Monitor, “Since the beginning of the protests, Sadr has invested his efforts in complying with the will of the people and working on giving them the rights they were deprived of and standing by them against the political class. His supporters have been alongside the protesters since the outbreak of the protests, and this is documented in statements and actions.”

He added, “Concerns about vandals infiltrating the protests and messing up the situation to harm Sadrists … prompted Sadrists to wear blue hats to stand out and prevent [outside agitators from] taking the protests in another direction to achieve partisan interests and certain ends.”

Sukeini admitted, “The Blue Hats made mistakes in the public square protests, which is expected among such massive crowds. But these mistakes weren’t intentional and did not aim to terrorize protesters. The Sadrist current is popular in the streets and in public square protests, and it derives its strength in politics from this popularity.”

Tamimi Ali Tamimi, a legal expert and former judge, told Al-Monitor, “Regardless of the violent parties and their names, the constant truth is that protesters are being killed. Security forces are responsible, as they are the only official group that should provide protection — not the Blue Hats or any other party.”

Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, “The violations in protests have been ongoing since Oct. 1. Official institutions are the only ones that should provide protection. Clearly, the confrontations are escalating because of the increasing number of party and political bloc supporters, not just protesters, in the squares. Protests have become the front yard of political disputes.”

Antichrist’s Attack on Iraq Protests Brings Out His True Colours

Sadr’s attack on Iraq protests brings out his true colours

Taif Alkhudary

‘Al-Sadr has totally ignored the content of the protesters’ demands’ writes Alkhudary [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 February, 2020

Comment: Al-Sadr‘s attack on Iraqi protesters has brought his deeply conservative and pro-establishment values into sharp relief, writes Taif Alkhudary.

For over four months, Iraqis have taken to the streets en masse to demand basic rights, a sovereign state, the overhaul of the post-2003 political system and an end to endemic state corruption.

The demonstrations mark a continuation of the shift from identity politics to issue politics, first seen during the protests that gripped Baghdad and the southern provinces in 2015.

For Shia cleric and political figure Moqtada Al-Sadr, the 2015 protests were the perfect opportunity to gain legitimacy among a broad electoral base. In an act of shrewd political maneuvering, he forged allegiances with secular leftist groups, positioned himself and his followers as anti-Iranian and declared support for anti-government demonstrations.

Al-Sadr would later go on to build on this base during the 2018 elections, when his coalition Sairoon ran a populist campaign aimed predominantly at those very citizens who had participated in the 2015 protests and called for systemic political change.

In an effort to prove their progressive credentials, Sairoon ran the highest number of new candidates and used anti-elite messaging. As a consequence, they were able to convince voters that they could bring about political reforms and won the highest number of seats in the Council of Representatives.

As in 2015, since the start of Iraq’s October Revolution, Al-Sadr has tried to control and manipulate protestors in order to prop up his own power base. However, when this did not work, he turned to coercion, openly encouraging violence against demonstrators and attempting to hijack the protest movement. This has at once brought his deeply conservative and pro-establishment values into sharp relief, while at the same time emboldening the protest movement.

Pro-demonstrations

Al-Sadr initially came out in support of demonstrators, calling on his followers to join protests. They promptly set up tents, brought mattresses and provided food for protestors, marking their territory with images of the blue hats from which they get their name.

Since the start of Iraq’s October Revolution, Al-Sadr has tried to control and manipulate protesters in order to prop up his own power base

This was despite the fact that demonstrators, calling for secular nationalism and an equal society, outwardly rejected any cooperation with Al-Sadr and his followers on the basis of his reputation as an opportunistic and deeply sectarian figure.

Indeed, since 2003 Al-Sadr has repeatedly shifted allegiances in order to ensure a strong position for his political bloc within the Iraqi government. In addition, during the sectarian civil war that gripped Iraq following the US-led invasion, Al-Sadr‘s Mahdi army was notorious for targeting members of the Sunni community.

If this was not enough, protesters were also acutely aware of the fact that at the same time as professing support for their movement, Al-Sadr also maintained close links with Iran, hiding out in the country since the beginning of protest and reportedly receiving instructions to takeover demonstrations.  In addition, he played a central role in a government that has authorised and acquiesced to the killing of over 600 protestors and the wounding of at least 18,000 others in the space of just over four months.

Shifting political priorities

Following the assassinations of Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, deputy head of Iran-backed militias Al-Hashd Al-Shabi, on 3 January by a US drone in Baghdad, Al-Sadr‘s focus moved away from support from the protest movement to explicit anti-US rhetoric.

In mid-January Al-Sadr called for a million-man march to expel US troops. Following a low turnout and criticism from demonstrators who, since the very start of protests, have rejected any and all foreign interference in domestic Iraqi affairs, he instructed his followers to withdraw from protest sites. This left demonstrators in a vulnerable position and allowed security forces to move in and burn their tents, fire live ammunition and resume the use of lethal military tear gas canisters in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Dhi Qhar and Karbala.

The attacks caused a splinter within the Sadrist movement itself, with some members abandoning the cleric to permanently join protesters.

Coercion

Following the designation of Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as prime minister – an establishment figure who served as communications minister under Nuri Al Maliki and who has been vehemently rejected by protestors who have called for an independent candidate – Al-Sadr‘s position against demonstrations seemed to harden further still.

In early February, he issued a number of statements calling on his followers to join, what he referred to as the “heroic” security forces, in restoring demonstrations to their peaceful state and “weeding out the saboteurs and intruders” from the protests. This encouraged further violence against demonstrators, resulting in the killings of seven protests and leaving 150 other injured following attacks by Sadrists in Najaf.

In addition, the statement marked a bizarre act of reverse psychology, suggesting that it was protestors and not the Iraqi security forces and associated militias Al-Hashd Al-Shabi who have launched indiscriminate and excessive attacks against peaceful demonstrators all along.

It has heralded a new chapter for Iraq’s revolution, one free of the deeply sectarian and conservative baggage that comes with the uneasy allegiances Al-Sadr forged with protesters

More worrying, perhaps, is an 18-point “manifesto” issued by Al-Sadr on 8 February, in which he calls on protestors to “abandon those controlling protests from the outside”. This echoes the accusations that protestors are foreign supported that have been levied at demonstrators since the beginning of protests by Al-Hashd Al-Shabi.

This not only signals the strengthening of Al-Sadr‘s ties with Iran, but also acts – in his view – as a justification for further violence against protestors.

Al-Sadr and his supporters have not only tried to take over the physical sites of the protest movement, but also tried to claim its intellectual space. This was already apparent in the statements issued by the cleric at the beginning of February, when he declared “the revolution and I are one and the same”.

It is further compounded in the 18-point “manifesto” where he instructs protestors to issue a set of unified demands, nominate an official spokesperson and keep out of “secondary political matters” such as the nomination of ministers.

In the process, he dismisses the fact that demonstrators have issued the most developed and comprehensive set of demands to have emerged out of any Iraqi protest movement since the Arab Uprisings of 2011.

In addition, he totally ignores the very content of those demands. That is, the fact that Iraqis want a say in the political system that was imposed on them by the US and exiled Iraqi politicians post-2003.

What is more, in the very same manifesto, Al-Sadr calls for protest sites to be segregated by gender. This is a direct attack on the cultural revolution that the protests have ushered in, and which has seen women at the front and centre of protests, organising demonstrations, leading chants, providing medical assistance and painting revolutionary murals.

Ultimately, while many feared that the withdrawal of Al-Sadr‘s support would mark the end of demonstrations, what this has in fact done is brought his counter-revolutionary position into sharp relief.

If the thousands of people that flocked to protest sites to fill the gaps left by the “Blue Hats” are anything to go by, it has also heralded a new chapter for Iraq’s October revolution, one free of the deeply sectarian and conservative baggage that comes with the uneasy allegiances that Al-Sadr has forged with protesters over the years.

Taif Alkhudary is an Iraqi-British journalist and research assistant at the LSE Middle East Centre, where she works on the post-2003 political system in Iraq.

Follow her on Twitter: @ALKTaif

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

Antichrist Dissolves Units Accused of Deadly Attacks on Protests

Iraq’s Sadr Dissolves Units Accused of Deadly Attacks on Protests

Tuesday, 11 February, 2020 – 19:00 –

Asharq Al-Awsat

Populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced on Tuesday he was dissolving the “blue caps”, an organized unit of his supporters accused of deadly attacks on anti-government protests in recent days.

Sadr had first backed the popular rallies demanding a government overhaul when they erupted in October, but has switched course multiple times in recent weeks.

He finally broke with the broader movement when he endorsed the premier-designate Mohammad Allawi, seen by protesters as too close to the elite they have railed against for months.

Since then, diehard Sadr supporters wearing blue caps have raided protest camps in Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south, with eight protesters killed in the ensuing violence.

The cleric has faced growing criticism over the violence and on Tuesday, he suddenly took to Twitter.

“I announce the dissolution of the ‘blue caps,’ and I do not accept the (Sadrist) movement’s presence in and of itself at the protests, unless it is absorbed into them,” he tweeted, according to AFP.

In the early days of the movement, Sadr supporters were seen as the most organized and well-stocked of the demonstrators but his recent tweets have infuriated activists.

After backing Allawi, he ordered the “blue caps” to help security forces reopen schools, roads and public offices shut down for months by anti-government sit-ins.

But Sadr has insisted that his movement ultimately wants “reforms”.

Allawi has until March 2 to form his cabinet, and is expected to govern only until early parliamentary elections.

“We hear that there are pressures from political parties and from sects over the forming of the temporary government,” Sadr tweeted on Tuesday.

“This could lead us to completely wash our hands of all of it.”

Sadr already controls the largest parliamentary bloc and top ministerial positions in the current government.

But one of his senior aides said Saturday that the new prime minister must not include members of the political elite in his new cabinet.

If Sadr “hears that Allawi has granted a ministry to any side, specifically the Shiite armed factions, Iraq will turn into hell for him and will topple him in just three days,” Kadhem Issawi said.

Iraqi students flood streets of Najaf in show of resilience against Antichrist’s men

Iraqi university students carry the Iraqi national flag during a strike and protests in central Baghdad, Iraq. EPA

Iraqi students flood streets of Najaf in show of resilience against Sadr supporters

Mina AldroubiFeb 9, 2020

Iraqi students defied populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr’s calls to end their demonstrations and flooded on to the streets of Baghdad and the country’s southern provinces.

In Najaf, protesters chanted anti-Al Sadr slogans. The cleric’s supporters killed eight demonstrators last week in attacks on protest camps.

“There is no God but God … Sadr is the enemy of God,” protesters shouted in the holy city. “Moqtada Al Sadr is a killer,” they chanted on Sunday.

Last week, the populist cleric called on his supporters to ensure the reopening of schools, roads and government offices that had been shut by months of demonstrations.

Iraqi demonstrators wave the national flag during an anti-government demonstration in the southern city of Basra. AFP

The “Persistence is harder than exams” and “Down with filthy Moqtada” chants began trending on Twitter.

“Our responsibility is to persist for the sake of all the blood that has fallen,” one protester, Ali Emad, said on social media.

At first Mr Al Sadr showed great support for the protest movement in Iraq, mobilising the public to come out and demonstrate.

But since last week, demonstrators said they faced a new threat from supporters of Mr Al Sadr, who initially backed the protest movement but then threw his support behind the nomination of Mohammed Allawi as Iraq’s new prime minister-designate last weekend.

The cleric’s often contradictory orders have exacerbated existing tensions between the anti-government demonstrators and his followers. Some activists claim that Mr Al Sadr’s supporters ordered them to toe the line or leave the protest sites.

Anti-government protests began in October over widespread government corruption, unemployment and a lack of public services. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping changes to the political system that was imposed on Iraq after the 2003 US invasion. The security forces have responded harshly.

More than 500 protesters have been killed since the unrest began and tens of thousands have been injured.

The resilience shown by the younger generations makes it clear that the protests are a force to be reckoned with, said Sajad Jiyad, managing director of Al Bayan Centre, a think tank in Baghdad.

“Ignoring them or attempting to crush them will only have greater repercussions. [There is] much solidarity with them across Iraq,” Mr Jiyad said.

The unity among protesters “cuts across the so-called ‘sectarian divide’ and ‘class boundaries’ as the post-2003 generations from all backgrounds are widely expressing their objections to the ruling system”, he said.

Most of the protesters reject Mr Allawi’s nomination and say he is too close to the political elite they have been demonstrating against for months.

The prime minister-designate has until March 2 to form a new Cabinet and put it to Parliament for a vote of confidence.

Mr Al Sadr’s political aide, Kadhem Issawi, insisted the new Cabinet must not include members of the political elite – particularly Shiite military groups like the Hashed Al Shaabi, which rivals Mr Al Sadr.

“If Sayyed [Lord] Moqtada hears that Allawi has granted a ministry to any side, specifically the Shiite armed factions, Iraq will turn into hell for him and will topple him in just three days,” Mr Issawi told a gathering late on Saturday.

Updated: February 10, 2020 07:53 PM

Iran and the Antichrist’s Alliance Against the Revolution in Iraq

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Muqtada al-Sadr during Ashura in Tehran, September 10, 2019.

SalamPix/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Iran and Muqtada al-Sadr’s alliance against the revolution in Iraq

Iraq’s uprising is unmasking all the sectarian leaders attempting to ride the revolutionary wave.

In order to understand the recent and sudden alliance that was established by Iran and the Iraqi cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, we must first investigate the origins and the nature of the relationship, and how the recent popular protests altered the approach between Sadr and Iran.

Muqtada al-Sadr is the son of one of Iraq’s most prominent Shia clerics, Mohamed al-Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1999. Muqtada was revived in Iraq following the US-led invasion in 2003, to become one of the most influential figures to benefit from the power vacuum caused by the toppling of Hussein’s decades-old Ba’athist regime.

Sadr’s first prominent appearance began in 2003 as a leader of the paramilitary Mahdi Army which denounced and challenged the US military occupation in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, Basra and the Shia holy city of Najaf. These events fed into the nationalist label he always pushed for. Iran took advantage of the Shia and anti-US ally.

However, Sadr’s popularity and networks gradually started failing, when the Mahdi Army got heavily involved in Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006-08. The militia was accused by many international NGOs and human rights agencies of leading targeted assassinations against Sunni Iraqis which led to their displacement from many areas in Baghdad and other provinces.

It is believed that his targeting of Sunnis was a reactionary sprout following the bombing of Al-Askari Mosque, a prominent Shia tomb in Samarra. Sadr’s alliance with Iran later on turned into a rivalry as various break ups from his own organization were separately empowered by Iran. A noticeable example is Asa’eb ahlul Haq, led by prominent pro-Iran Iraqi militia leader and politician Qais al-Khazali. Many Sadrists claim that this breakup was a result of Sadr’s lost patience with Iranian interference and its continuing prioritizing of its own interests over those of Iraq.

As Sadr allied and rivaled with various Iraqi governmental and parliamentary leaders such as Prime Ministers Nouri al-Malki (2008-14) and Haider al-Abadi (2014-18), and many more, he ensured that he was portrayed as a reformer, cross-sectarian, and anti-Iran.

The Iraqi protests

The Iraqi protests or the October Revolution kicked off in October in 2019 against the poor living standards, high rates of unemployment, corruption, sectarianism, and many other failures of the post-2003 Iraqi political regime. Sadr was very hesitant to join the protests for several reasons. For the first time, the Sadrist movement failed to take a leading role in the protests, and protesters made it very clear that they will reject any attempts by any religious or political figure belonging to the ethnic-sectarian political class to take advantage of the protest movement in order to guarantee themselves a presence in any transitionary period.

This power vacuum within Iran’s influential front in Iraq, was an opportunity for Sadr to become Iran’s new man

However, the Sadrist movement eventually broke through the uprising under the justification that they were providing aid and protection for the protesters against the pro-Iran militias. Many Iraqi activists remained vocal about their suspicion towards Sadrist involvement, and a clash of opinions about the legitimacy of Sadr’s participation was present within the protest movement especially that Sadr had ministers and members of parliament in almost every single post-2003 Iraqi government.

After all, the Sadrist presence in the Iraqi protests did not last for long and both Iran and Muqtada al-Sadr re-established their relationship based on one common interest: the American enemy. The US assassination of Iran’s general, Qassem Soleimani and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) leader Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes on January 3, 2020, broke the Islamic Republic’s strongest hand in the Iraqi arena. This power vacuum within Iran’s influential front in Iraq, was an opportunity for Sadr to become Iran’s new man as he was faced by major popular backlash, which rejected his attempts to portray himself as the leader of the popular uprising.

Anti-US rhetoric

The anti-US rhetoric presented by the protests and the Iraqi parliament’s vote calling for the US military withdrawal out of Iraq, was an attempt by Iran and its Iraqi governmental ally to overshadow the protest movement, since it directly targeted them. Military clashes and political threats between the US and Iran allowed for news on Iraq to transform from being about a war-torn country witnessing a youth-led uprising to a playground for a US-Iran proxy war.

Sadr had not yet fully partnered with Iran when the pro-Iran militias led a protest against the US embassy in Baghdad and when the Iraqi parliament voted on the US military withdrawal following Iranian pressures. However,Sadr’s first public and formal admission to Iran’s sphere of influence in Iraq was when he led the anti-US march,portrayed by many western media outlets as a protest organized by ordinary Iraqi citizens who had been protesting against the corrupt political regime since October 2019. The Sadrist-led anti-US protest further complicated the stance of the Iraqi protests in the eyes of the western and in particular, US media. Nevertheless, the international community is witnessing a gradual progress in differentiating between the Iraqi protests against corruption and sectarianism, and the protests led by pro-Iran groups to divert attention away from the former.

A Sadrist-Iranian alliance against the Iraqi protest movement

Sadrists claimed that the Iraqi protests will lack logistical support, protection and decrease in numbers. The lack of protection was certainly evident as pro-Iranian militias committed bloody massacres against peaceful protesters in Baghdad, Nasriyah, Basra and Najaf, following the withdrawal of the Sadrist movement. It was as if the militias took the Sadrist withdrawal as a green light to attack the protesters. However, the Sadrist withdrawal allowed for the protest movement to clear any confusion and hesitation within its own ranks regarding its struggle against the corrupt and sectarian regime, and the violence committed against the protesters motivated a return of families and students to the streets, and revived the uprising following the distraction caused by the US-Iranian dispute, and it outnumbered any of the protests the Sadrists were in.

However, the Sadrist withdrawal allowed for the protest movement to clear any confusion in its own ranks

The Iraqi protest movement succeeded in obtaining the resignations of President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi who was replaced by another politician accused of corruption, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi. The protests are also the loudest post-2003 anti-Iran discourse against its interference in Iraqi domestic affairs. The government is now buying time with high-profile resignations and promises of economic reforms, while armed militias belonging to political parties in the Council of Representatives are openly killing and kidnapping protesters and students across the country.

Even Iran’s new ally, Muqtada al-Sadr is using his ‘Blue Hats’ organization, which emerged during their first appearance in the protests as supporters and defenders of the peaceful demonstrators, toevacuate the tents of civilian protesters through violence and intimidation. This change of attitude by the Sadrists is an approach adopted from the leader, who is known for easily and quickly changing his political positions. The Sadrists, or the ‘Blue Hats’ as they refer to themselves nowadays, were involved in sectarian-driven killings between 2006-08 under the Mahdi Army, then re-emerged as Saraya al-Salam during the war against ISIS, and now as blue topped ‘humanitarian volunteers’ with sticks and knives.

We can now say that this is not just an uprising against the political class, militias and regional interferences, but also an uprising to unmask and expose all public figures attempting to ride the wave of any popular momentum.

Antichrist’s Men Shoot Fire to Disperse Karbala Protesters

Al-Sadr supporters shoot fire to disperse Karbala protesters – Middle East Monitor

Miriam JacksonFebruary 9, 2020

Eyewitnesses specified that the supporters of the Sadrist motion’s leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr, terminated online bullets on Thursday to disperse protesters in the city of Karbala in southerly Iraq.

The eyewitnesses likewise informed Anadolu Agency that loads of Al-Sadr supporters called “blue hats” stormed Al-Tarbiyah Square in the middle of Al-Tarbiyah City and also struck the protesters.

They included that Al-Sadr supporters brought batons and also gatling gun, and also they terminated online bullets airborne to disperse the protesters, amidst encounter them. Many demonstrators got away for concern of murder.

The eyewitnesses even more specified that Al-Sadr supporters fell the system where the protesters made use of to reveal their settings for months in Al-Tarbiyah Square.

The “blue hats” participants have actually released an arranged project, given that Monday, to disperse the groups of protesters in the nation’s main and also southerly cities and also communities making use of too much pressure, complying with the orders of Al-Sadr

Eleven protesters were eliminated, and also 122 others were harmed, on Wednesday, throughout Al-Sadr supporters’ strike on demonstrators that were objecting in the “Sadrists Square” in the centre of Najaf, specified clinical resources and also eyewitnesses to Anadolu

These strikes followed protesters rejected the task of previous Communications Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, that is backed by Al-Sadr, on Saturday, to develop the federal government.

Since the start of October 2019, Iraq has actually been seeing unmatched objections intermixed with fierce acts that created the fatality of greater than 600 individuals, according to Iraqi President Barham Salih and also Amnesty International.

The protesters are requiring a straightforward independent head of state that has actually not thought high settings in the past and also that has no association to events and also various other nations. They likewise expect the separation and also liability of all political elites, that are implicated of corruption and also waste of state funds and also that have actually ruled the nation given that the autumn of Saddam Hussein’s routine in 2003.

Like His Father Satan: the Antichrist’s Double Game

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has played a major role in Iraqi politics [File: Reuters/Alaa al-Marjani]Muqtada al-Sadr’s double game

The Iraqi Shia leader has been playing a double game in Iraqi politics but the ongoing protests may unravel it.

by
Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadrhas played a major role in Iraqi politics [File: Reuters/Alaa al-Marjani]

Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has always been a controversial political operator in Iraq – the most popular among Shia leaders, the most temperamental, and the most unpredictable. His solid popular base has given him a very strong bloc in almost every Iraqi parliament since 2003 and has allowed him to manoeuvre through Iraqi politics like no one else.

His political life has been characterised by constant u-turns and controversial moves. He was one of the few Shia leaders to remain in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime and again one of the few who openly opposed the US presence in the country after the 2003 invasion. During the sectarian civil war (2004-2008), he led the Mahdi Army militia which was notorious for its violence against the Sunni community and which paved the way for the proliferation of Shia militias.

Yet after the 2010 elections which brought a second term for the increasingly sectarian Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, al-Sadr switched to a moderate political line and reached out to the Sunni community. In January 2013, he even went as far as joining a Sunni prayer at Shaykh Abdul Qadir Gilani Mosque in Baghdad.

He has also kept one foot in the government camp and another in the opposition. He would take part in the political process by having his Sadrist Movement run in the elections; he would secure enough votes to get seats in parliament and ministerial posts in the government. And yet, he would also lead protests against that very same government and call for reform.

He worked hard to develop strong ties to the opposition which was mostly secular and dominated by civil society activists. His cooperation with consecutive protest movements since 2011 allowed him to engage in a unique dialogue with this camp that was traditionally seen as an opponent to everything the likes of al-Sadr stood and worked for.

This dialogue with the secularists resulted in an uneasy and unpopular but necessary alliance between them and the Sadrist Movement, at least from the perspective of the protest movement. Many saw this fragile alliance as an important pillar for rebuilding a diverse country like Iraq. But the majority in both camps were uneasy about it.

While playing with both the ruling elite and the opposition, al-Sadr maintained his militia, occasionally reinventing it under different iterations. Both the government and the opposition were able to live with that.

This position enabled al-Sadr to lead a double political life. On one hand, he was a member of the ruling class and had a say in almost every key decision that it made. On the other hand, he was close to the opposition which was pushing for political change.

During the past nine years, al-Sadr provided pivotal support for the protest movements in Iraq, mobilising people to come out and demonstrate. His main slogan was always reform – ie, he wanted the existing political architecture to remain the same, with occasional reorganisation and change of guard in government posts.

This reform-focused agenda was what kept all the protests harmless for the government and the ruling political class. Every time the protests reached a new peak, al-Sadr would give a new ultimatum to the government, get promises of reform and send the protesters home.

This strategy made him more and more powerful within the government, giving him leverage over his political opponents. But his political games did not go unnoticed and created tensions within the protesters’ camp, which split into two fronts. The older politicians who believed in the “historic” alliance with al-Sadr clashed with those who criticised him for riding the protest wave to get more political gains.

Last fall, however, al-Sadr’s political game seemingly began to unravel. On October 1, protests broke out which took a very different shape than those in the past. The protesters were younger, more spontaneous and less political. Many of them were his supporters, but they took to the street on their own, without being ordered to do so, and they stressed that they do not want anyone to “ride the wave” this time.

When the government and security realised that al-Sadr was not behind the protests, they used extreme violence against them. In the first week of the demonstrations more than 150 people were killed and some 3,000 injured. This angered the protesters and pushed many more to come out in the streets. On October 25, the protests came back with renewed, powerful momentum.

It was then that al-Sadr decided to join, but as a protector of the protesters not as a leader, sending his “blue hats”, members of his Saraya al-Salam militia, to the squares. His side-door entry into the protests was meant to allow him to gradually assume leadership, but the protesters knew better. They kept their distance, making sure their tents were separate from the Sadrists’, and made clear their rejection of all political leaders. “The people want the downfall of the regime!” became their slogan; they clearly were not going to leave the squares after another promise of reforms.

As the violence against them escalated, so did their chants against Iran, which many blamed for the repeated brutal crackdowns. General Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, travelled multiple times to Baghdad to direct the security response. As the protesters pressed for the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iranians doubled-down on him.

Since September, al-Sadr, who had been in Iran’s holy city of Qom, where he is studying to obtain the rank of a jurisprudent (or ayatollah), was reportedly pressed to take leadership of the protest movement. On October 29, he appeared personally in Najaf, but the crowds rejected his presence and he returned to Iran. It was clear he had failed. A month later Abdul Mahdi submitted his resignation.

The January 3 assassination of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMFs, also known as PMUs), however, was a major shock to the system and threatened to undermine the protesters’ gains, as pro-Iranian elements in Iraq tried to rally sectarian outrage.

These events were a game changer for al-Sadr, who felt that he could not stay in the middle any more. He has reportedly come to believe that the protests were no longer about reforms but change which could threaten his comfortable position on the Iraqi political scene.

People close to him say that the Iranians have convinced him that he would face a serious threat to his life if he were to go back to Iraq and that they can only protect him if he remains in Iran. In December, an associate of his reported that a drone dropped a bomb on his home in Najaf, hitting its outer wall, although he did not indicate who was suspected of carrying out the attack.

Al-Sadr decided to join the pro-Iran forces. In mid-January, he called for a million-man march to expel the US troops from Iraq, but the turnout was poor.

The protesters, in turn, rejected both Iranian and US interference in Iraq and criticised the Sadrists’ attempt to derail their movement. Shortly after, al-Sadr sent his blue hats to “weed out the saboteurs and the intruders” from the protest. Seven people were killed and 150 injured in the ensuing clashes.

All of this was accompanied by a stream of contradictory tweets by al-Sadr. Over four weeks, he moved from being suspicious of the protests to supporting them, then withdrawing his supporters from the streets just after his anti-US march, only to send them back to attack them. But contrary to what he was expecting, people continued to stream into squares to show solidarity with the protest movement.

In the face of yet another failure of his strategy, he may yet again change his mind. The initial signs of a possible shift in his position appeared in his latest tweet titled: “the charter of the reform revolution”.

As of the time of writing this article, none of his closest aides has spoken to him in person. He is reportedly talking to them only through Facebook messenger and WhatsApp. But just like the public, they too are kept in the dark about his intentions. Like the rest of us, most of his followers and aides get his direction from his Twitter feed.

This may be the first time that al-Sadr has had a head-on collision with his support base. His most ardent followers will stick by him, but it is clear he is losing his clout in the streets. As a result, his position may be weaker in the next election.

How far his image will be eroded by this collision remains to be seen. As long as he retains his militia, al-Sadr will surely remain a powerful player in Iraqi politics.However, it is increasingly clear that this protest wave has upset his political game.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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