One of the Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

Iran’s shadow warrior who sows chaos and discord in Iraq

Preachers of hate are unethical but smart. Deceit requires brains and minimum wit. But not all preachers of hate were created equal. Some are street smart and talkative, often making arguments that reveal their shallowness. To make up for their inadequate intellect, they outmuscle their rivals, lead militias, and spew hate that they copy from their superiors. Such hate preachers become guns for hire, even if they insist on wearing traditional garments and pretending that they are pious and knowledgeable clerics.

The Iraqi Qais Al-Khazali, a cleric who is also the leader of one of Iraq’s most notorious militias, is one such hate spewer who pretends to be a cleric, when in fact his claim to fame is working as the operative of one of the many Iranian clandestine networks that sow war and discord in Arab countries.

Aged 29, this graduate of geology accompanied Muqtada Al-Sadr — who had inherited the mantle of his father and one of Iraq’s foremost Shiite clerics Mohammed Sadeq Al-Sadr — to a meeting with Iranian operatives. They were promised arms and training, if they would take on US troops in Iraq, according to declassified US investigations with Al-Khazali. A few battles and months later, Al-Sadr realized that he had little reason to undermine a burgeoning sovereign Iraqi state. Al-Sadr disbanded his militia, the Mahdi Army, and transformed his organization into a political movement.

Politics is rarely the strong suit of people with modest intellectual skills and, without a militia, Al-Khazali might have lost his prominence. However, he did not lose his connection to his Iranian handlers, who sponsored his defection from Al-Sadr to set up a splinter group, the Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) militia. Al-Khazali’s miltia played a central role in Iran’s two-pronged war in Iraq: One against US troops, the other against Iraqi Sunnis. Iran connected Al-Khazali to Musa Daduq, an operative from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah who helped to engineer a few of the most atrocious kidnappings and killings of US soldiers. Washington estimates that Tehran is responsible for the killing of 1,000 out of the 4,000 troops it lost in the Iraq War.

With US assistance, Iraqi government forces captured Al-Khazali in 2007 and jailed him for three years, when he was released in a prisoner exchange for a kidnapped British contractor.

Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Since then, Al-Khazali has been one of Iran’s most loyal militiamen in Iraq, so much so that he not only joined the Popular Militia Units (PMU), but also opened shop in Syria. Al-Khazali even appeared in Lebanon, checking out the border with Israel, in a flagrant offense against Lebanese sovereignty. But who’s keeping count in Lebanon anyway?

With Daesh almost annihilated, Al-Khazali has been left with little fighting and lots of time. He comes up with unsubstantiated accusations against Iraqi Sunnis, accusing towns such as Tarmiyah, to the north of Baghdad, of being a hotbed for Daesh fighters, calling for a military campaign against the predominantly Sunni town.

Al-Khazali has also been developing his brand. He has taken as his spiritual guide Kazem Al-Haeri, a firebrand Iraqi cleric who lives in Qom, in Iran.

“US President (Donald Trump) gives the countries of the Sheikhs of the Gulf a choice between funding his wars… and the demise of their governments,” Al-Haeri said in a statement. “This is the result of throwing themselves into the arms of the global arrogant powers after their loss of popular support,” Haeri added, claiming — without any substantiation — that Arab governments do not enjoy the popular support. “We also call on the Iraqi government not to be dragged into the lap of global arrogance in its economic, security and military contracts,” Al-Haeri argued, in a clear sign that the Iraqi cleric in Qom was unhappy with Baghdad’s warming relations with Gulf capitals.

In addition to toeing his mentor’s and Iran’s line about the “downtrodden” and about “global arrogance,” Al-Khazali echoes the official Iranian rhetoric, depicting an imaginary alliance between America, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, as the source of all evil in the region. At a conference in Tehran last year, Al-Khazali said that the Iraqi victory over Daesh was a victory over America, Saudi Arabia and Israel. That America offered extensive air cover and military advice on the ground in the battle against Daesh does not seem to register with Al-Khazali, or his audience. Hate speech, after all, is impossible without some spin and a ton of deceit.

On his militia’s website, Al-Khazali’s publicity seems to copy that of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Al-Khazali calls himself Al-Sheikh Al-Amin, a play on words with Amin meaning both trustworthy and secretary general. Like Saddam, Al-Khazali’s propaganda is one of cult worship, with news about him participating in various activities and giving opinions about everything, opinions that are usually posted on his Twitter account, too.

Standing up to “cultural normalization with Israel,” Al-Khazali said in a sermon transcribed into Tweets, means “countering attempts to undermine Iraqi identity by spreading homosexuality in Iraq,” a line of reasoning that Al-Khazali seems to have come up with on his own and slipped into his speech, outside the Iranian-approved script. When speaking his mind Al-Khazali does not sound hateful, he sounds stupid.

• Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington bureau chief of Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, and a former visiting fellow at Chatham House in London. Twitter: @hahussain

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

The Antichrist Unifies the Iraqi Army (Revelation 13:18)

Pro-Iranian militias are to be integrated into the Iraqi army in a move seen as strengthening the integrity and unity of the state

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s executive order of 1 July to integrate the Hashd Al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), into the Iraqi army triggered an outburst of controversy in Iraq.

However, the majority of the people support the decision to reform the PMF and effectively discipline its component groups.

The prime minister’s order comes at a time when Iraq and the regional environment are facing numerous challenges in which the PMF played no small part in light of its contribution to fighting the Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq, its ideological connection to Iran, and Iranian practices in the region (in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq) and the repercussions of these practices on other Arab states and their interests.

The order primarily obliges all components of the PMF, a collection of militias that began to band together several years ago to fight IS, to subordinate themselves to the General Command of the Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF), to relinquish their banners, insignia and other such emblems of separate identity and become incorporated into the Iraqi military structure as regiments, brigades, divisions and the like.

PMF members are to be assigned military ranks, in accordance with the IAF hierarchy, and to obey the orders of the IAF General Command which will appoint the head of the PMF Committee as their immediate supervisor.

The prime ministerial order gave PMF militias the choice of either abiding by its provisions or becoming unarmed political organisations. In addition, they must close all headquarters and offices carrying the name of a PMF faction.

The factions that choose to convert to political organisations must abide by the laws and regulations governing political parties, among which is the prohibition against bearing arms.

The PMF’s component militias must also close all economic offices, money-making operations and other such ventures that are not sanctioned under the new system governing the PMF.

Mahdi’s decree set a 31 July deadline for “drawing the final arrangements to complete the work in accordance with these points”, adding “orders will be issued subsequently to restructure the PMF Committee and its formations.”

Mahdi’s executive order followed through on a previous prime ministerial decree issued by former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi stipulating the state’s exclusive right to bear arms and ordering the dissolution of militias and the closure of all their bases and headquarters.

But the Mahdi decree was also motivated by a number of other factors related to regional developments, combined with the nature of some of the PMF’s activities in Iraq.

PMF units recently staged Katyusha missile strikes against US targets in Iraq in response to which the US designated a number of PMF militias and figures as terrorist entities.

The Iraqi government was deeply embarrassed by the attacks against oil companies operating in Basra governorate in June and by the incident of the storming of the Bahraini Embassy in Baghdad by some PMF factions.

More generally, the activities and behaviour of some PMF militias and members have stirred increasing discontent and criticism among Iraqi political and religious circles and, indeed, some military circles.

The executive order to integrate the PMF into the Iraqi army elicited some significant positive responses both at home and abroad. The Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr welcomed it as “an important thing and a good first step towards building a strong state”.

He stressed that the Saraya Al-Salam (Peace Companies), the militia that he, himself, founded, would be the first to fall in line with Mahdi’s decree.

Falih Al-Fayyadh, who heads the PMF Committee, declared his “absolute support” for the decree “because it truly serves the interests of security and stability in Iraq.

The PMF finds itself in harmony with the prime ministerial order.” Al-Fayyadh added that consultations were currently in progress with the prime minister to “complete the restructuring [of the PMF] in line with the prime ministerial order” and that the PMF “has begun to assume an official military character”.

He stressed that “the original purpose for creating the PMF was to defend the state. To fail to abide by this commitment is to violate this mission.”

At the regional and international level, the Iranian reaction is particularly significant given how major PMF factions align with Tehran ideologically.

Commenting on Iraq’s decision to integrate the PMF into the Iraqi army, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters at a press conference, “we respect the decisions made by Iraq’s government and consider it a domestic issue of Iraq. Iran has great respect for the Iraqi government and its armed forces and popular forces because of their courageous steadfastness against terrorism.”

The statement is an example of Iranian dissimulation since one of the aims of the integration of the PMF into the army is to clip Iranian wings in Iraq and prevent it from harming Iraq’s national security and interests both at home and abroad.

Washington, for its part, welcomed Mahdi’s decision and expressed its hope that the provisions of his executive order would be fulfilled.

So far, we can register the following observations in light of the reactions above and recent developments in general:

– As the reactions of Al-Sadr and Al-Fayyadh indicate the executive decree was only issued after the prime minister secured a broad base of political and religious support for its provisions.

– The integration of the PMF, which is a predominantly Shia umbrella organisation, aims to preserve and consolidate it by institutionalising it. This is important at this time in particular, when the Iraq army is still weak, in contrast to the PMF’s military strength as well as it economic strength.

– The decision to integrate the PMF is largely a formality undertaken to placate the US which has been angered by some of the actions of the pro-Iranian PMF.

– It is unlikely that Mahdi’s decree will severely undermine Iranian influence in Iraq because Tehran has forged a large network of support within the executive, legislative and judicial institutions of the state.

– The integration of the PMF into the military could work less to regulate the PMF than to strengthen the PMF’s influence in the military establishment.

Nevertheless, a number of factors could obstruct the implementation of the executive order. Firstly, it is still a decree and has not yet been passed into law.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the legislation required to implement it will also require increasing the IAF’s budget in order to cover the expenses of the integration process, which would strain the government’s resources at a time when it already has a large budget deficit.

The process of incorporating the PMF contingents into the army will involve, among other things, enlisting their troops in new military training camps after which they would be reassigned to existing army units which, in turn, could entail measures to restructure and retrain troops across the military establishment as a whole.

Moreover, it is also envisioned that the process will be applied to the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, thereby “unifying the Iraqi military creed beneath the banner of the defence of a single nation and loyalty to a single nation”.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Iraq to unify military structure

The Antichrists Men Are Taking Over the Iraqi State From the Inside

Militias Are Taking Over the Iraqi State From the Inside

An attempt to rein in Iraq’s paramilitaries could end up making them stronger than the government.

Renad MansourJuly 9, 2019, 6:50 AM

Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization and leader of the Fateh Alliance, a coalition of Iranian-supported militia groups, speaks during a campaign rally in Baghdad on May 7, 2018. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

On July 1, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued an official decree that, at the end of this month, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) would be fully integrated into the national armed forces. To most observers, this came as a surprise. The PMF were established by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2014 in response to the collapse of the Iraqi army and the swift rise of the so-called Islamic State. Most analysts concluded that these 50 or so predominantly Shiite paramilitary groups and militias were too powerful to be integrated with other state institutions and that they would continue to pose as independent military, economic, and political actors.

Has Mahdi found a solution for what had been considered an impossible problem? He emphasized that the groups would be abandoning their individual names and other political affiliations, instead adopting brigade and battalion numbers. They will also close their economic offices and commit to following the command of the prime minister as commander in chief. Many in Iraq and across the region are celebrating the news.

It’s worth noting, that among those celebrating are the leaders of the paramilitaries themselves. Qais al-Khazali, who leads the powerful League of the Righteous (Asaib ahl al-Haq), tweeted his support for the prime minister’s decision as a step in the right direction. Similarly, the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement of support and announced the disbanding of his Peace Brigades (Saraya al-Salam). Members of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba have also endorsed the order.

One might have expected harsh criticism from these leaders, given that their groups’ economic and political interests seemed to be directly jeopardized by the prime minister. But they seemed to understand something that most observers have not: Although the new policy mandates that the PMF integrate with the Iraqi state, it does not require their subordination. If anything, the risk may be that the state is subordinating itself to the paramilitary groups, not the other way around.

For the PMF leadership, this decree presents an opportunity to consolidate power from within the state. In my meetings with senior PMF leaders over the years, they have always insisted that one of their top goals was to gain official recognition by the Iraqi state. On one hand, there were financial incentives associated with gaining official control over ministries and government agencies. But the paramilitary groups also saw joining the state as the most promising path to public legitimacy.

PMF leaders are aware that many Iraqis have been withdrawing their support for the militias—and that includes Iraqi Shiites. During the fight against the Islamic State, Shiite Iraqis viewed the PMF as a quasi-sacred force—but once that war was over, they began criticizing the paramilitary groups. For example, in Basra, the home of an estimated one-third of PMF fighters, there were widespread protests against the PMF for operating as a parallel state. Local activists have blamed the PMF for killing 20 or so protesters on Sept. 8 and 9, 2018.

Muhandis, the group’s leader, has set the goal of transforming his organization from a wartime to a peacetime armed group by developing a clearer (and more formal) chain of command and enduring public support. His first step has been to consolidate the organization and centralize its decision-making. During the war, the PMF existed as an umbrella organization of many paramilitary groups all fighting against the Islamic State. After the Islamic State lost its territorial control, these groups began fighting one another for power, legitimacy, and resources. Muhandis therefore began a campaign to purge internal enemies, which he referred to as “fake” groups.

To complete this transformation, Muhandis’s ultimate aim has been to secure a closer connection to the state. Mahdi’s declaration this week marks a step toward that goal and toward strengthening the PMF’s internal hierarchy. He recognizes that there are still PMF groups that do not obey his command. For instance, a rocket attack near the U.S. Embassy in May was not ordered from the PMF’s central leadership, some of whom scrambled to find out how the attack happened. By gaining control over state resources—and how they are distributed within his group—Muhandis now has leverage to establish greater control over the PMF.

However, the single most important reason why the senior PMF leadership at this point supports the prime minister’s new decree is because of the prime minister himself. Unlike former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who at times worked against the PMF, Mahdi owes his power to the paramilitary groups that backed his candidacy. He does not have a political party to back him. Since his election, the PMF’s political leadership, represented via the Fatah electoral bloc, have sought to gain influence over the prime minister’s office, including by staffing it with allies. The appointment of the prime minister’s new chief of staff, Mohammed al-Hashimi, known as Abu Jihad, has given Muhandis and the PMF a strong ally in the Prime Minister’s Office. Security analysts argue that it was Abu Jihad who was internally behind this week’s decree. Indeed, weeks before it was officially announced, Abu Jihad explained the concept to me in a meeting at his office in Baghdad, pitching it as a response to criticisms about security sector reform.

The experience of the Badr Organization, which is the largest PMF unit with some 30,000 fighters, offers an instructive cautionary tale. It agreed to dissolve and integrate into the Ministry of Interior in 2004, but not only did Badr maintain a group of fighters separate from the official armed forces, it also ensured that those fighters sent into the ministry remained loyal to the paramilitary group. Today, Badr (and thus the PMF) continues to control all aspects of the ministry, from the minister to the federal police. Mahdi’s decree can similarly serve as a step for the PMF to pursue integration with the state but at the same time maintain its autonomy and the loyalty of its fighters and members.

For the senior PMF leadership, the main goal is to become part of the state as a step to consolidate power and gain control of the state. They will integrate on their own terms so as not to lose autonomy. And so, rather than reining in the paramilitary groups, Mahdi’s decree can actually be another step in the process of their empowerment.

The Antichrist Reins in Iran-backed Militias

Will the Iraqi government rein in Iran-backed militias? | | AW

LONDON – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has decreed that the Popular Mobilisation Forces will be integrated into Iraq’s regular armed forces and subject to the same regulations as the army. The presence of armed militias has been a key feature of Iraq’s recent history.

All militia headquarters and economic offices outside the control of the prime minister will be shut down after July 31. The decree orders that the armed groups joining the military must change their names and end their political activities.

That last point could prove controversial because some of Iraq’s most powerful politicians have strong links to Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) affiliates known as Al-Hashed al-Shaabi.

The PMF is an umbrella group for a vast array of forces that fought against the Islamic State (ISIS) alongside the Iraqi military and coalition partners. Some of the most powerful elements in the PMF — such as the Badr Organisation, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah — have long-standing ties with Iran.

Abdul-Mahdi’s move comes amid increasing tensions between the United States and Iran. There have been unclaimed rocket attacks against bases hosting US personnel and an attack on the headquarters of foreign oil firms in southern Iraq, including US oil giant Exxon Mobil.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Iraqi leadership in May that Washington would respond with force if Baghdad did not rein in the Iran-backed militias.

“The decree does send a message to regional actors and in some ways to Iran that the Iraqi state is eager to formalise its control over an umbrella that is mostly made up of Iran-controlled factions,” said Phillip Smyth, a researcher on Shia militant groups.

Key Iraqi politicians and militia heads welcomed Abdul-Mahdi’s decree. Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful politicians and head of the Saraya al-Salam, called the order “a correct first step towards building a strong state,” adding that his fighters were now under the command of the prime minister.

The leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Qais Khazzali, posted on Twitter that the decree was welcome and a correct step to prevent the PMF from dissolving. Kata’ib Hezbollah said it would implement the order, while stating that its members fighting outside Iraq — the group is active in Syria — would not adhere to the rules.

Iraq’s highest Shia religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, demanded that PMF groups be placed under the control of the state. However, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has often said he does not want the PMF to be dissolved or integrated into the

army, wrote Ali Mamouri in Al-Monitor.

The PMF has been instrumental in fighting ISIS. Local reports said its forces recently destroyed ISIS tunnels in Diyala province. However, various PMF units have been accused of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.

Some observers said they doubt the decree would be implemented. “Compliance hinges on Iran’s receptiveness to these orders, if Iran is not receptive to these orders, they will be like the ones Abadi issued,” Iraqi security expert Hisham al-Hashimi told Reuters.

The growing power of the PMF has been a pressing issue. Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree in 2018 to make the PMF part of the armed forces but the order was not followed through.

Getting the PMF groups to sever links with political parties is “hard to do,” Smyth said, “when each Hashed brigade is usually comprised of one political group’s members.” Referring to the 2018 decree issued by Abadi, Smyth said militia brigades still advocated for certain political candidates linked to them. “Most of these groups did little more than alter their logos,” he said.

Maria Fantappie, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, commented on social media that the most relevant part of the decree was “its potential to give Iraqi leaders additional legal/political means to insulate Iraq from US-Iran confrontation.”

Iraq has been trying to stay a neutral party in the US-Iran conflict, working to maintain a good relationship with both sides. Amid intensifying tensions between Tehran and Washington, Iraqi President Barham Salih told CNN in June that Iraq would not allow the United States to use one of its bases in Iraq to attack Iran.

The PMF decree will be a serious test for the strength of the Iraqi state.

Going forward, Smyth said: “A major issue will come down to any potential reorganisation of these brigades and how it is enforced,” adding that the PMF has claimed that it could enforce government rules on its own, without the state or the army intervening.

The Alliance of the Shi’a Horns (Daniel 8:3)

Iran defence chief, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami

Iran Defence Chief Advocates for Increased Military Ties With Iraq, Potentially at Risk of US Troops

05 July 2019

Terrorism

By Pooya Stone

Iran’s defence chief reportedly advocated on Thursday for the country to increase military and defence ties with Iraq, where Iran-backed Shiite militias and roughly 5,000 American service members are located.

Iran defence chief, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami, told his newly-appointed Iraqi counterpart, Najah Hassan Ali Al-Shammari, that “Iraq [is] a friend of Iran with age-old religious, social and civilizational commonalities”, during a phone conversation on July 4 that was reported by Iran’s state-run Tasnim News Agency.

He said: “We consider Iraq’s security, stability, and progress as being in the interests of the region, and have always defended it.”

Iran’s state-run Mehr News Agency also reported on the story, saying that Hatami called for an increase in defence and military relations between the two nations in order to strengthen their combined regional power.

The Iraqi defence chief responded by expressing gratitude to Tehran, saying, “Iraq and Iran share many common interests, and their security and stability are intertwined”.

Of course, it’s important to note that the Iranian theocracy still has a lot of influence and control over Iraq, another Shiite-majority country, with the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization of Shiite militias with tens of thousands of members, wielding unprecedented power and legitimised by the Iraqi government as a member of the security forces.

These comments come at the same time that tensions between the US and Iran are at an all-time, with the nations almost going to war last month, after Iran shot down an unmanned US drone and the US blamed Iran for several attacks on tankers near the Persian Gulf.

These tensions have been rising for over a year now, since Donald Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal, noting that the deal widely favoured Iran’s finances above global security, and began reimposing sanctions on Iran, including its oil exports, in a maximum pressure campaign. Iran responded to the crippling sanctions by vowing to close the key shipping lane, the Strait of Hormuz, and violating the nuclear deal.

The PMF and Iran have previously called for pushing the US out of the Middle East, which leads many experts to believe that American troops may be in danger. The Pentagon’s inspector general said that the PMF and other Iran proxies in the Middle East pose a threat to US troops in Iraq and Syria, where an additional 2,000 service personnel are stationed.

Antichrist Orders for Slow Coup in Iraq

img_4544Demand for ‘slow coup’ against Iraqi corruption

Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr reportedly wants to see independent professionals fill top government seats in a bid to both fight corruption and improve services.

However, a prominent supporter of the cleric told Arab News that Al-Sadr has so far ruled out organising demonstrations to pile pressure for reform on prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

“We can say that Al-Sadr is leading a peaceful and slow coup to correct the government,” an official of Al-Sadr’s party that controls Iraq’s largest parliamentary bloc Sairoon told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.

“He also wants to dismantle the mafia of financial and administrative corruption that controls the ministries and loots public money.”

Rival political groups in Iraq are competing to control thousands of top government positions under existing power-sharing arrangements.

A majority of the top jobs have been under the control of the Islamic Dawa Party that has led most of the governments that have run the country since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Negotiations between political factions and parties in June on sharing out positions ended in deadlock, and a new deadline at the end of October is now likely to be agreed.

According to Arab News, Al-Sadr blames Dawa’s appointments for endemic corruption that has also resulted in a decline in public services.

There have been demonstrations in Iraq’s southern provinces over a lack of basic services, including drinking water and electricity, as well as high levels of unemployment.

“We are working to achieve change by changing the government decision-makers,” added the anonymous official of Al-Sadr’s party.

However, the official has so far ruled out support by his leader for demonstrations, which often turn violent in Iraq.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index places Iraq among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Al-Sadr and other lawmakers have repeatedly said they are working to dismantle what they have called a “deep state” formed by Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki.

The Face of the Antichrists and Their Victims (Revelation 13)

The faces behind the oil America went to war for

By David Bacon5 July 2019

Despite the geopolitical importance of Iraq’s oil, and the central role that oil played in its invasion by a US-led coalition in March 2003, 16 years ago people in the US and Europe knew very little about the workers who made the world’s second biggest oil industry function. In October 2003, the US photographer David Bacon went to Baghdad to learn how the occupation was affecting Iraq’s workers and unions. At the Daura Oil Refinery and at other factories in Baghdad, he documented the lives of workers. After meeting Hassan Juma’a, president of the then newly-reorganised Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, two years later he visited Basra in southern Iraq, where most of the country’s oil industry is located. There he took photographs and recorded interviews, determined to “pierce this invisibility. I wanted to give unions and workers, a sense of who their brothers and sisters were, and how they were affected by the occupation.”

Bacon, a former union organiser who has spent over 30 years documenting the struggles of working people around the globe, recalls one story in particular that workers in Basra told him. After the invasion of Iraq, the US occupation authorities put Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR (corporations formerly headed by then-US Vice President Dick Cheney) in charge of civil administration in Basra. In the first weeks of the occupation the companies didn’t pay workers their wages. Workers responded by blocking the gate into the refinery at the shift change with a crane to stop trucks from leaving with the oil. US soldiers then showed up in tanks.

“At first there were only 100 of us, but workers began coming out,”Faraj Arbat, one of the plant’s firemen, told Bacon. “Some took their shirts off and told the troops, ‘Shoot us’. Others lay down on the ground.” Ten of them even went under the oil tankers, brandishing cigarette lighters. They announced that if the soldiers fired, they would set the tankers alight. The soldiers did not fire. Instead, by the end of the day, Halliburton paid the workers the wages they had been withholding. Within a week the oil union in Basra had been reborn. Finally, oil workers stopped work.

Three days of paralysis in the oil fields was enough to force Halliburton out of Basra, marking one of the first big victories of Iraqi’s rekindled union movement.

Bacon came back to the US with stories like these, and photographs showing people what life in the oil fields was like for those working there. US Labor Against the War, a coalition of unions opposed to the US occupation, managed to get visas for a handful of Iraqi trade union leaders to come to the US and tell their stories in person. In Los Angeles, the US oil workers union gave the Iraqis laptop computers. An exhibition of the workers held in 2005 and again in 2006, showed Californian workers how their counterparts in Iraq were treated, often by the same oil monopolies. Iraqis explained that they saw the country’s oil as the people’s property – the only resource that could pay the enormous cost of rebuilding their country after decades of war. “These photographs,” writes Bacon, “were documentation with a purpose. Photographers often speak about ‘putting a human face’ on a particular social problem or movement. These images certainly introduced the human faces of Iraqi oil workers to workers [abroad].” Thanks to the exhibition, Bacon’s photographs helped bring Iraqi oil workers “to the United States where they could speak for themselves, finding common ground with the workers of the country occupying theirs. If they helped to encourage peace and solidarity, the photographs served a good purpose.”

‘Iraq Free 2005’ is painted on a broken machine on the factory floor of the Basra Oil Refinery on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

Many of the machines, such as pressure vessels and other equipment in the refinery, were damaged during the war with Iran (1980 – 1988), and later from US bombing in early 2003. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, economic data in Iraq was considered a state secret, but according to some estimates, Iraq’s oil industry was worth billions of dollars at the time of the US-led invasion.

Faraj Arbat (left) and members of the fire department of the Basra Oil Refinery, photographed on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

In this photo, the men are discussing the privatisation of the oil industry in Iraq. For decades before the invasion, the industry had been run by the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company. In the aftermath of the invasion, the US government wanted to open up the industry to international investors and multinationals, but this was opposed by oil workers, who said that the oil wealth of Iraq belonged to its people.

Ibrahim Arabi, leader of the union at the Basra Oil Refinery, photographed at his home in Basra on 26 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

A picture of the Islamic cleric Moqtada al Sadr, leader of the Sairoon political alliance supported by many unions and left-wing groups, is in on the door. Arabi was blacklisted by the oil ministry for his union activities.

Workers on an oil drilling rig in the South Rumaila oil field just outside of Basra, in southern Iraq, on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

At the time these photos were taken, making the rigs function required great skill because the equipment was often old, and economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s made it difficult to obtain parts for repairs. The heat in the Iraqi desert is extreme in the summer, rising to over 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). Workers also worried about the danger from both occupying military forces and from Saddam Hussein’s old secret police, who were responsible for assassinating a number of trade unionists during the occupation.

Abdi Settar Ajid, an assistant driller, controls the speed of the drill on an oil rig in Basra on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

At the time he was photographed, Abdi Settar Ajid had been drilling oil wells for 30 years and was working on an oil rig in the South Rumaila oil field just outside of Basra. Controlling the drill is the most highly-skilled job on an oil rig, and Ajid was the most senior and most respected worker in the crew.

Workers eat together on an oil drilling rig in the South Rumaila oil field, photographed on 27 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

Today, oil accounts for 99 per cent of all government revenue in Iraq. The country has the fifth largest reserves in the world and is thought to be the largest unexplored market for oil. But the great wealth produced by oil is yet to trickle down to ordinary citizens. Basra and southern Iraq were rocked by demonstrations in 2018 over lack of electricity, water scarcity and high unemployment. According to Hassan Juma’a of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, “these events are an inevitable result of the government’s neglect and financial corruption in the state system”.

People sit by and walk towards apartment buildings built by the government for the working-class residents of Basra. Photograh taken on 26 May 2005.

Photo: David Bacon

At the time these photographs were taken, many of the residential buildings in Basra had spent years surrounded by the wreckage of war, including depleted uranium ammunition. Iraqi doctors report that thousands of people received higher doses of radioactivity than those received from standard natural sources of radiation, due to the use of depleted uranium weapons by the US military. Low level radiation exposure has led to an increase of children’s leukemia, birth defects and breast cancer.

Antichrist Blames Government for Weak Anti-Corruption Steps

Muqtada Al-Sadr, cleric who wants to replace the Government (photo: Malhotra((CC BY-SA 3.0))

Iraqi Clerics Blame Government for Weak Anti-Corruption Steps

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr may opt for demonstrations instead for prayers in a bid to replace the country’s senior government officials whom he blames for inadequate response to growing corruption.

“He also wants to dismantle the mafia of financial and administrative corruption that controls the ministries and loots public money,” a high official of Al-Sadr’s party told Arab News while insisting on anonymity.

“We can say that Al-Sadr is leading a peaceful and slow coup to correct the government,” he added.

The influential cleric, according to the paper, would like to see independent professionals fill top government’s seats and hopes to be able to improve services and fight corruption.

Another prominent Sadrist member, however, said that Al-Sadr “has ruled out demonstrations to pressure Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi into accepting the changes”.

Al-Sadr is not alone in demanding changes. Another Iraqi’s Shiite cleric and one of the country’s top religious leaders, marja Ali al-Sistani, spoke about the necessary changes in the country at his Friday sermon last month, saying that “corruption still remains rampant within institutions and the state has not met that with clear practical steps to limit it and hold those involved accountable.”

He also stressed that complicated bureaucracy, lack of employment opportunities, and an acute shortage of essential services cause people to suffer.

Failure to address these issues, as he warned, “could lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State group (ISIS).”

A major Shiite block in the Iraqi Parliament last month also strongly criticized Abdul-Mahdi’s leadership, especially his failure to “fill top posts in his cabinet, tackle corruption and improve public services.”

One of the main problems in the country, according to media reports, is the fact that the political factions are struggling for control of top government jobs, the majority of which was, so far, controlled by the Islamic Dawa Party since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Although Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi promised he would fight corruption and established the Supreme Anti-Corruption Council in January this year, the country’s largest parliamentary block, led by al-Sadr, seems to be determined to change the government.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Iraq is among the most corrupt countries in the world.

The Antichrist Reigns in the Iran Horn

Iraq’s prime minister orders Iran-allied militias to be reined in

Adel Abdul Mahdi’s politically risky move appears to be aimed at placating Washington following attacks on US interests

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sought on Monday to curb the powers of influential Iranian-backed militias, a politically risky move apparently aimed at placating the United States.

Two weeks after the first of several unclaimed attacks on bases in Iraq hosting US forces and on a site used by a US energy firm, Abdul Mahdi issued a decree ordering militias to integrate more closely into the formal armed forces.

Local officials blamed the militias for one of the incidents, but Iran has not commented.

At a time of sharply heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Iraqi leaders during a surprise visit to Baghdad in May that if they failed to keep the militias in check, the US would respond with force.

The militias, which helped Iraqi and US-led international coalition forces drive out Islamic State under an umbrella grouping known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), have broad influence in Iraqi politics.

„In the interest of the public good and as per the powers granted to us by the constitution… the following is decreed: all Popular Mobilisation Forces are to operate as an indivisible part of the armed forces and be subject to the same regulations,“ the decree said.

Sadr backs move

An electoral alliance made up of militia leaders and fighters came second in a 2018 parliamentary election and went on alongside influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr – whose political group came first – to jointly nominate Abdul Mahdi as premier.

Iraqi president: Keep us out of any US-Iran war

Abdul Mahdi is an independent who does not belong to any political group and has no personal allies in parliament.

Sadr, who presents himself as a nationalist opposing both Washington and Tehran’s influence, was quick to declare his support for Abdul Mahdi’s decree and announce the severing of ties with his own militia, which he urged to integrate into the armed forces.

„What came from the prime minister on the PMF is an important thing and a correct first step towards building a strong state,“ Sadr said in a statement.

Qais al-Khazali, a prominent militia leader, also welcomed the move.

‚American pressure‘

Tensions between Washington and its Gulf Arab allies on one side, and Tehran and its proxies in the region on the other, have been flaring for months, but Iran’s Iraqi allies have publicly spoken against the prospect of war.

The PMF already reports to the prime minister, who is the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, but Abdul Mahdi’s decree forces groups that make up the PMF to choose between political and paramilitary activity.

Unknown group claims Baghdad rocket attack as retaliation for Trump soldier pardon

The main difference between Abdul Mahdi’s decree and a similar one issued by his predecessor Haider al-Abadi that was largely unenforced was timing, said Hisham al-Hashimi, a Baghdad-based security expert who advises the Iraqi government.

„The conflict between the United States and Iran has made it so there are factions more inclined to rebel against the Iraqi state and the PMF law,“ he said.

Being formally part of Iraq’s security apparatus means attacks against the militias count as attacks on Iraq, and therefore dissuading such attacks against them, Hashimi added.

„At this time I think Abdul Mahdi was incentivised because of American pressure to put them all in one box in order to protect them, but will they comply?“ said Hashimi.

„Their compliance hinges on Iran’s receptiveness to these orders, if Iran is not receptive to these orders they will be like the ones Abadi issued.“

Those who choose to integrate into the military must abandon their old names and sever ties to political groups and Tthose who choose politics will not be allowed to carry weapons, the decree said.

Headquarters, economic offices, and checkpoints manned by militias are to be shut down.

Groups have until 31 July to abide by the new regulations. Those that do not will be considered outlaws, it said.

Antichrist limits influence of Iran-backed militias

Iraq moves to limit influence of Iran-backed militias

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s government moved Monday night to control powerful Iran-backed militias in the country, placing them under the full command of the Iraqi armed forces.

In a decree, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said offices of militias that continue to operate independently within or outside Iraqi cities will be closed and any armed faction working „openly or secretly“ against the new guidelines will be considered illegitimate. He said the militias will be subject to the same regulations as the army.

The move comes amid U.S.-Iran tensions and follows several unclaimed attacks near U.S. forces or U.S. interests in Iraq.

The militias fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a collection of mostly Shiite militias that fought the Islamic State group and were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in 2016. Together they number more than 140,000 fighters, and while they fall under the authority of Iraq’s prime minister, the PMF’s top brass are politically aligned with Iran.

Several powerful groups welcomed Abdul-Mahdi’s decree, but it was not immediately clear if they would fully abide by the order — and implementation could prove tricky.

Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the most powerful of the militias, was among those welcoming the order, saying its forces within Iraq would implement it. But it added that its men fighting outside Iraq would not abide by the new rules — an apparent reference to the group’s fighters taking part in the war in neighboring Syria alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Members of the group comprised the majority of protesters outside the Bahraini Embassy in the Iraqi capital that was stormed this week in anger over Bahrain’s hosting of a U.S.-backed conference to promote peace between Arabs and Israelis. An official with the group denied they stormed the embassy.

Populist Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also welcomed the move by Abdul-Mahdi, saying his faction known as the Peace Brigades, or Saraya al-Salam in Arabic, would implement it. In a tweet, he described the decision as an important „first step“ toward building a state, but he also expressed concern that the decision would not be implemented properly.