The Antichrist Will Unify Iraq (Revelation 13)

As Mosul falls, a new threat to peace looms

Mona Alami

Fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Units after recapturing a village near Mosul from IS [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 March, 2017

Comment: The war on IS has partially suppressed disagreements among the different Shia blocs in Iraq, but as victory draws closer, tensions are rising once again, writes Mona Alami.

As the war against the Islamic State group (IS) appears to be entering its final stages in the city of Mosul, Iraq seems more divided than ever.

Yet the post-IS phase may be marked not only by increasing ethnic and sectarian strife, but also by internal communitarian struggles, particularly among Shias.

Divisions among the Shia community in Iraq are echoed in the country’s fractured nature as a whole.

The fight to push out the Islamic State group looks likely to end successfully in the next few months. But the military victory may be mitigated by dissent among the various Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) factions attempting to capitalise on the terror organisation’s losses, each with differing views of what the next phase should entail.

The PMU Shia militias were formed at the behest of grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who called on Shia volunteers to rise against IS advances in Iraq in 2014.

The respected cleric insisted that the formation of the militias should be temporary, to be disbanded once IS had been crushed.

Last year, a new law passed by the Iraqi parliament designated the PMU an official military force, operating in parallel to other security forces. In addition, PMU militias appear to have been eyeing Iraq’s upcoming local elections, and the 2018 federal elections, with tensions rising between the three main PMU blocs.

The first is led by Sayed Muqtada al-Sadr, a respected Iraqi cleric who has placed himself at the vanguard of the war on corruption. Sadr has also been pushing his Initial Solutions plan, a national reconciliation proposal for post-IS Iraq which is backed by many Sunnis.

But the plan seems incompatible with the views of another major Shia player, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sadr’s initiative encompasses a UN-supported entity focusing on human rights and minorities, and calls for a dialogue among political players and the dissolution of the PMU – with their integration into the standard national security forces.

Sadr also argues for the expulsion of “occupying” as well as “friendly” forces. The Sadrist movement has also called for electoral reforms, which would put an end to Maliki’s political hegemony.

This puts Sadr at odds with Maliki, Iran’s man in Iraq. A controversial figure, accused of rampant corruption and of contributing to the country’s divide – facilitating the rise of IS – Maliki still has ambitions for the premiership. Building on his role in the creation of the PMU, he feels a certain entitlement after the victories in the war on IS.

The third major Shia bloc is led by the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar Hakim. Hakim has been arguing for a large-scale reconciliation process that remains somewhat vague and does not, as yet, seem to have seduced the Sunni constituency.

The war on IS has, to an extent, suppressed disagreements among the different blocs vying for regional and political power, without preventing clashes. Last February, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s procession was attacked by pro-Sadrist university students in Kut. According to some, Sadr accused former Prime Minister Maliki of being behind the attack, claiming it was motivated by a desire to distort the Sadrist movement’s image.

Last April, pro-Sadrist crowds stormed parliament, with Shia factions coming close to direct paramilitary confrontation. The takeover of the parliament came after rival political groups blocked parliamentary approval of a new cabinet made up of independent technocrats.

The political infighting marked by intermittent episodes of violence offers a glimpse of what may lie ahead for Iraq in the post-IS phase. The prospect of domestic strife risks taking centre stage, with a resurgence in the struggle for dominance among the Shia constituency.

Mona Alami a non-resident fellow with the Atlantic council covering Middle East politics with a special interest in radical organizations. Follow her on Twitter: @monaalami

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 Prepares To Unify Iraq

Isis defeat in Mosul could spark ‘genocide’

The defeat of Isis in Mosul could spark “genocide” in Iraq as sectarian groups clash, a Shia leader has warned.

Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful cleric, political figurehead and warlord, believes divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims will worsen when Iraqis lack a common enemy.

“I’m afraid that the defeat of Daesh [Isis] is only the start of a new phase,” he told Middle East Eye.

“My proposal is inspired by fear of sectarian and ethnic conflict after Mosul’s liberation,

The influential role Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has in Iraq

“I want to avoid this. I am very proud of Iraq’s diversity but my fear is that we may see a genocide of some ethnic or sectarian groups.”

Mr Sadr is calling for dialogue between Iraq’s Shia-led government and Sunni politicians, as well as Arab and Kurdish representatives to avoid new conflict.

He previously warned of a “dark future” for Iraq in an interview with The Independent in 2013, when he predicted that its people would “disintegrate” amid worsening sectarian hostility between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Mr Sadr had little hope of tensions easing after decades of a “constant cycle of violence” seeing Saddam Hussein’s rule followed by the US invasion and then the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its successor Isis, which frequently bombs Shia civilians.

It is staging a last stand in western Mosul – its last city stronghold in Iraq – after months of advances by international forces that face residential areas ridden with guerilla fighters and explosives.

Mr Sadr wants wants all militias, including his own anti-Isis Saraya al-Salam militia to be disbanded after their expected victory. It is the successor of Mr Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which he stood down in 2007 following alleged atrocities as the group fought against the US occupation of Iraq.

They are not among the groups fighting alongside Iraqi government forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and foreign allies to drive Isis out of the city of Mosul.

The most prominent militia is the predominantly Shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), who were formally integrated into government forces in November but have been continually accused of war crimes against Sunni civilians.

Warlord: The rise of Muqtada al-Sadr

Troops from Britain, America and other members of the US-led coalition are also on the ground in Iraq, as well as militias backed by the Iranian government.

In a document detailing Mr Sadr’s proposal for peace, he demands Iraq “must request all invading and friendly forces to leave Iraq”, regardless of their affiliation.

His family were enemies of the Saddam regime, which assassinated his father and two brothers in 1999.

Mr Sadr was put under house arrest until the US invasion, which he then fought to oppose.

One battleground was Basra, where his Mahdi Army seized parts of the city from British forces in 2004 and forced the UK to withdraw in 2007 while battling in other parts of Iraq.

While still opposing all foreign intervention, Mr Sadr has now restyled himself as a peacemaker and politician, leading huge and occasionally violent anti-corruption protests in Baghdad.

Amid growing talk of a power struggle with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in December, the pair met in December and agreed to cooperate on political reforms after “fruitful” talks.

Antichrist Unifies Iraq (Daniel 8)

Mahdi army leader turned Iraqi peacemaker speaks to MEE of disbanding militias, defeating IS … and welcoming Brexit

Last update:
Tuesday 21 March 2017 12:34 UTC
NAJAF, Iraq – The beard has gone grey, the eyes are less stern but, above all, his ideas have changed dramatically

Muqtada al-Sadr, once dubbed “the radical firebrand cleric” in every Western media article that mentioned him, presents himself today, at the age of 43, as a promoter of sectarian tolerance and Iraqi national reconciliation.

I am very proud of Iraq’s diversity but my fear is that we may see a genocide of some ethnic or sectarian groups

Muqtada al-Sadr

In his first interview with a foreign journalist for three years, the man who created a Shia militia which fought the Americans and the British for several years of their occupation, told Middle East Eye that he wants all militias, including his own, to be disbanded.

He also said he favours urgent dialogue with Iraq’s Sunni politicians so as to prevent clashes between Sunni and Shia, as well as Arabs and Kurds, once the country no longer has an enemy to unite against.

“I’m afraid that the defeat of Daesh [Islamic State] is only the start of a new phase. My proposal is inspired by fear of sectarian and ethnic conflict after Mosul’s liberation,” he said.

“I want to avoid this. I am very proud of Iraq’s diversity but my fear is that we may see a genocide of some ethnic or sectarian groups.”

The interview took place in the upper floor of Sadr’s two-storey home in Najaf, a pilgrimage city which houses the shrine of Imam Ali, sacred to Shias around the world.

The reception room was small and almost intimate by the lavish standards of most Iraqi VIPs’ audience chambers. While some like to keep their guests waiting, Sadr was already in a chair when MEE was ushered in.

He listened to questions intently, smiling frequently, including during one surprise diversion when, unprompted, he suddenly said: “I’m very happy to see Britain leaving the European Union.”

Asked why, he said the EU echoed US foreign policy. When I said that Britain also did on many issues, he replied with another smile: “I will bless you if you separate from the United States.”

Muqtada al-Sadr in his home in Najaf (MEE/Jonathan Steele)

From militia chief to peacemaker

During 2005 and 2006 Sadr’s self-styled Mahdi army was involved in the sectarian killings which engulfed Baghdad. Hundreds of Sunnis were murdered by militias loyal to various Shia leaders. Hundreds of Shias were murdered in return.

The transformation from those days to Sadr’s current desire for reconciliation with Sunnis is remarkable. But the seeds were planted earlier. Sadr is reviving the stance he took in the first two years of the US-led occupation when he sent aid to the Sunni city of Fallujah after it came under attack from US marines in April 2004.

At the time Sadr’s supporters carried banners saying: “Not Sunni, not Shia. We are all Iraqis.”

Sadr is also following the line of his soft-spoken but passionately patriotic father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was murdered by agents of Saddam Hussein in 1999.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s overtures to Sunnis are having a positive effect. “He is the Shia who is closest to Sunnis. Of all the Shia leaders he is the most open to dialogue,” Mahmoud Mashhadani, a former speaker of the Iraqi parliament, told MEE. For the last decade the job has always been held by a Sunni.

Many ordinary Sunnis echo Mashhadani’s view. A Sunni translator in Baghdad, who did not want to give his name, recounted three cases in the last three years where Sunnis whom he knew had come under threat from Shia militias. They turned to Sadr’s militia who intervened and prevented further abuse.

Sadr had put his Mahdi army on ice in 2007, keeping it in reserve for future use. When IS seized Mosul in June 2014, he brought it back under the new name Saraya al-Salam [Peace Brigades].

Some 40,000 volunteers from the brigade are deployed north of Baghdad, mainly defending an important Shia shrine in Samarra. They are not engaged in the campaign to regain Mosul.

Sadr’s Peace Brigades were set up to defend Shia shrines in Iraq (AFP)

Mobilising for the future

As Iraqis begin to discuss the country’s post-Mosul future, the role of the various militias is a top priority. A particular problem is the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Units or PMU) which pledge allegiance to rival Shia politicians and have been accused of atrocities against Sunni civilians in cities liberated from IS.

Parliament passed a law in November to integrate the PMUs into the Iraqi army but it is not yet decided whether they will go in as individual soldiers or as whole units. If it is the latter, they could act independently again.

Sadr expressed concern in his MEE interview. “It’s difficult. Saraya al-Salam will be disbanded. But there’s a law that has been made for Hashd al-Shaabi so I can see that Iraq will be under the control of militia groups,” he said.

“Accordingly we need a strong attitude from the government [to resist this]. Security should be exclusively under the Iraqi army.”

He favours the disbanding of the PMUs but is not against individual members transferring to the army.

With IS on the run, some PMU leaders advocate Iraq forces going into Syria to finish them off in their capital, Raqqa. There is even talk of sending Shia militias to Yemen to help the Houthis resist Saudi forces.

Sadr opposes this, as well as a recent decision by Iraq to use its US-trained airforce against IS targets in Syria.

“Conflict in Syria may increase,” he said. “We can see this from Abadi’s decision to conduct air strikes in Syria. Many Hashd al-Shaabi leaders have talked of wanting to intervene in Syria and Yemen.

“I’m afraid conflicts may spill over into Iraq from neighbouring countries. My view is that we should not intervene in others’ affairs just as others should not intervene in ours. We want to save our blood. Enough has been wasted already.”

Sadr’s fears about an Iraqi intervention in Syria arise in part from recent statements by Abu Mohandis, a PMU leader who is close to Iran. He called for the PMUs to cross into Syria to pursue IS. Iraq’s former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is also reported to favour this.

Sadr said foreign powers should not interfere in Iraq’s affairs (AFP)

Future solutions

Sadr’s proposals for Iraq’s political future after Mosul is liberated were first elaborated in November in a 29-point document, called Initial Solutions.

Apart from obvious humanitarian issues, like helping internally displaced people to go home and have electricity and other public services resumed, the document suggests tribal delegations from the largely Shia south and the centre of Iraq should be sent to the mainly Sunni liberated areas and vice versa, so as to work on eliminating sectarian tensions.

It advocates a UN fund for reconstruction and a UN-supported commission to monitor human rights and the protection of minorities. There should be a mechanism to investigate war crimes.

It says “an honest Iraqi judge” should be appointed to investigate people suspected of having collaborated with IS, but “making sure not to count geographically based bias or misinformation from secret informants”.

This is designed to avoid score-settling or the assumption that every Sunni supported IS in the huge areas of Iraq which the group controlled.

It suggests turning the headquarters of Saraya al-Salam and the PMU into educational and cultural centres.

As for the future of foreign troops, Sadr’s document says the government “must request all invading and friendly forces to leave Iraq”.

Sadr has different views on Iranian and American motives for being in Iraq, but he wants Iranian revolutionary guards and advisers to go just as much as he wants American troops to leave.

The prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has said he wants a reduction in the current contingent of 5,000 US troops, but needs US trainers to remain.

In his MEE interview, Sadr rejected this. “I refuse every aspect of the US army in Iraq,” he said. He also declines to meet any US government official or British officials because “they represent the views of the US”.

While reaching out to Sunni politicians, Sadr has recently developed a surprisingly close working relationship with secular leaders from Iraq’s left-wing and progressive parties.

It began in 2015 after the secular movements started weekly protests against corruption and for reform and social justice in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

Raid Fahmi, the general secretary of the Iraqi Communist party, told MEE Sadrists asked to join the protests but conditions were set.

“Only national slogans, no pictures of personalities, and non-violence,” he told MEE. “We are calling for a civic state, electoral reform and moves against corruption. We talk of a civic state and a civic movement, rather than secular ones, because in Iraq secular sounds atheist or anti-religious.”

Fahmi took encouragement from another dramatic step in Sadr’s political evolution.

Iraqi Shia leaders do not advocate turning Iraq into a religious state, as Iran’s Shias have done, but they always used to be vague about their preferred model for the country. “In 2015 Sadr started calling for a civic state,” Fahmi said.

Sadr in a protest inside the Iraqi government compound in Baghdad in March last year (screengrab)

The civic movements hope that parties in Iraq will eventually abandon politics based on identity and adopt ones based on programmes and policies. There could then be “trans-confessional” co-operation in parliament and even coalitions to contest elections together.

Fahmi noted that even Ammar al-Hakim, head of the sectarian Shia party, the Islamic Supreme Council, sent a message of greeting to the recent Communist Party congress, whereas his father, an ayatollah, had issued a fatwa against communism some years ago.

There is a long way to go in establishing trust. On both sides there are discussions and doubts about the wisdom of co-operation, Fahmi said.

Some people in the civic movement were concerned that developments in Iraq could echo what happened in the Iranian revolution of 1979 where the new religious leadership first worked with secular parties before turning brutally against them.

For their part, Fahmi said, some people in the Sadrist movement worried that the unity of the Shia community, the so-called Beit Shii [Shia House] would be weakened. They feared Sadr was moving too fast.

MEE observed the two movement’s slightly nervous collaboration at the regular protest meeting in Tahrir square last Friday.

Demonstration in Tahrir Square, Baghdad last weekend (MEE/Jonathan Steele)

Streets were cordoned off with razor wire and scores of police were diverting traffic. Young Sadrist marshals on the stage wore caps with the national Iraq emblem.

Others ran the body checks on everyone coming into the square to prevent suicide bombers from infiltrating. Women in black abayas (long cloaks) huddled in a group at the front of the crowd of some 3,000, waving Iraqi flags.

The civic democrats tended to stand separately. Several carried the same banner, saying “Yes for a Civic State and Democracy. No to the system of sharing the spoils of power.”

There were shouts of: “Thieves, thieves. They [the current political leadership] have stolen your money, people.”

The speakers at the microphone came from both movements. There was also a Shia tribal leader in traditional headdress and robes.

Saraya al-Salam was formed to protect shrines. Once security is re-established, there will be no need

– Ahmed Abu Warith, Sadr supporter

“I’ve been coming here every Friday for two years,” said Ahmed Abu Warith, a clerk in a government office.

“I’m honoured to be a Sadrist. The Mahdi army was formed to fight the occupation. Saraya al-Salam was formed to protect the shrines. Once security is re-established, there will be no need for it.”

Louay Salman, a shopkeeper, said: “I come most Fridays to protest against corruption. We have so much natural wealth in Iraq yet our neighbours live better.

“We have strong religious currents in society but strong civic ones too. We’re working side by side.”

Then he added with a half-smile: “Ten years ago I would never have imagined I would be protesting alongside Sadrists. People evolve all the time.”

Antichrist Calls for Fresh Protests

 

Sadr calls for fresh protests on Friday condemning “corruption”

The Iraqi Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. File photo.
Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) 

Influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for fresh protests next Friday in Baghdad condemning what he views as corruption in the government and disregard to his proposed political settlement initiatives.

“Speeding events Iraqis are witnessing between a decisive battle with terrorism powers from Daesh (Islamic State) and the terrorists of politics, perpetrators of corruption that has worn out the state and consumed the people’s energy, requires to sustain the impetus of the reform project,” he said In a statement late Saturday.

He said he planned to deliver a speech to his supporters during the rallies scheduled in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square.

Protests urged by Sadr in February, condemning political influence over the formation of the country’s electoral commission, had developed into violent clashes that left five dead and dozens wounded, including security members.

Sadr’s parliamentary bloc has recently boycotted meetings by the country’s leading, Shia-led political alliance, the National Iraqi Alliance for allegedly ignoring a proposed political settlement and reform project submitted by al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr has been a central player in the political and militancy scene in Iraq, and had for sometime, following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, been branded an enemy to the United States, being an ardent opponent to foreign military presence in the country.

His settlement proposal, besides providing for U.N.-sponsored elections and sureties for minority rights, conditioned withdrawal of foreign,especially American, troops.

The Antichrist’s Iraqi Solution

Trump, here’s a solution for Iraq after the defeat of IS

The defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq alone is unlikely to bring stability and security to the country.

More than three million Iraqis have been displaced as a result of the war against IS, many of whom now live in deplorable conditions, forced to move from camp to camp, brave cold weather, without healthcare, education or other basic necessities.

The defeat of IS in Iraq alone is unlikely to bring stability and security to the country

After IS is defeated, conditions for those displaced – and for all Iraqis – will only improve if the political will is maintained to promote transitional justice, coordinate the reconstruction of destroyed areas, ensure weapons remain in the hands of the military (and not sectarian ethnic militias), build unbiased state institutions that respect all citizens, and decentralise power in order to give local communities the freedom to pursue their own interests.

Earlier this year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi emphasised the need for “social reconciliation” after the fall of IS and the importance of community reconciliation in Iraq, a point he reaffirmed at the Munich Security Conference in February

Along with political, economic and social reforms carried out by the Iraqi government, many Iraqis believe that, between two recently proposed agreements – one from a major Shia electoral bloc and a pro-Sunni proposal published for the first time here – a middle ground can be found that will free Iraqi society from its sectarian conflicts and bring about a peaceful social order.

But how do we get from the fall of IS to a final agreement?

A brief history of reconciliation efforts

Cohesion is missing in Iraq for many reasons, mainly the hampering of the country’s political system by ethnic sectarian conflicts between Iraqi communities and the interventions of neighbouring countries.

In recent months, there have been serious discussions among members of several different political factions in Iraq about the possibility of a political reunification settlement after the defeat of IS.

In October, according to the most recent UN secretary-general report, Jan Kubis, the appointed special representative for Iraq, met with Iraqi interlocutors, including “the parliamentary majority bloc, the National Alliance, and its newly elected chair, Ammar al-Hakim, to advance national reconciliation”.

Kubis stressed that sustainable peace and security could be achieved only through tolerance, cooperation and a reconciliation plan based on equality and justice.

Later that month, the National Iraq Alliance (NIA), a major Shia electoral bloc consisting of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and other Shia political parties, authored a document called the “historical settlement”.

It described their plan for national reconciliation after the defeat of IS and designated the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) as the would-be mediator between all Iraqi sub-groups.

At the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, UNAMI pledged to rally political support for the proposed settlement and to involve the Arab League, Islamic organisations and the governments of nearby states in the process.

UNAMI, for its part, still has no vision for a reconciliation programme of its own, but would only function as a courier carrying proposals from one faction to another.

The expected turbulence

But these positive efforts towards dialogue were damaged when the Iraqi government passed the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) law on 26 November, which designated Shia militias – mainly Iranian-backed militias – as part of the official, independent Iraqi army.

The majority does not have the right to determine the fate of everyone else

Sunni politicians protested the passing of the law, citing the PMUs’ incompetence and their inability to provide sufficient security in the country.

“I believe this committee has been politically motivated and it will have a similar impact as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” Raad al-Dahlaki, a Sunni member of parliament, said after the law passed. “(It) aims to weaken the Iraqi army.”

Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Osama al-Nujaifi, said that the Shia faction had not listened to Sunni objections to the law.

“The majority does not have the right to determine the fate of everyone else,” Nujaifi said.

In an act of defiance, he refused to receive the National Alliance’s “historical settlement” proposal.

In February, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr presented his own reconciliation proposal – “Initial Solutions“, a proposal that has been criticised and rejected by the National Iraq Alliance (NIA). Having already proposed their own agreement and already working towards mobilising it, the NIA believe Al-Sadr’s proposal will not work with their comprehensive solution.

On the other hand, al-Nujaifi believes Al-Sadr could be a better friend to the Sunni groups than the NIA and his proposal could easily meet the major demands of the Sunni blocs such as his stance against the PMU law.

The Sunni vision

Despite these tensions, other Sunnis in Iraq are still willing to cooperate and work towards reconciliation.

Independent Iraqi politician and former member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Hussein al-Falluji, authored a pro-Sunni reconciliation proposal, which has since been leaked to Iraqi officials.

The Sunnis advocated repealing the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which they believe have been abused along sectarian lines

When I spoke to him in Amman early this January, al-Falluji said that the “historical settlement” should be based on two pillars: the construction of state institutions based on the concept of Iraqi citizenship, and a historic compromise between all the components of Iraqi society in order to overcome its structural imbalances.

“The Sunni Arabs,” he added, “have a clear vision … for ensuring unanimous decisions on political, social, economic, and security-related issues.”

Mohammad al-Karbouli, chairman of the Al-Hal parliamentary bloc, claimed in a phone interview with an Iraqi newspaper in January that the leaked document is similar to the final version which will be handed over soon to the UN. He added that the paper represented the opinions of most politicians in the Sunni faction, including Osama al-Najaifi, Iraq’s vice president.

The Sunnis advocated repealing the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which they believe have been abused along sectarian lines and which served as justification for the arrest of thousands of innocent people.

The Sunni proposal also requests the enactment of a new general amnesty law and several constitutional amendments including a mixed parliamentary system that shares power equally between the president and parliament, the return of displaced Iraqis to their homes, a moratorium on the establishment of new autonomous regions until a political settlement has been reached, the adoption of fairer election laws, and the transfer of the “accountability and justice law” to a judicial body to reinstate jobs and pensions to low-ranking members of the ousted Baath Party.

Trump’s plan in Iraq?

President Donald Trump’s adviser to the Middle East, Walid Phares, should seize this opportunity to initiate a dialogue with the Sunni groups and become better acquainted with their positions.

IS is unlikely to weaken unless there are region-wide reforms

Phares is now planning to meet with representatives of Iraq’s Christian community to determine the future of the Nineveh Plains, a region located north of Mosul with a large Christian population.

Mouayad al-Windawi, retired major-general of the Iraqi General Security Directorate and a former political officer with UNAMI, said in an interview that Iraqis “badly need the support of international professional institutions, crisis management teams and peacebuilding and transitional justice-related organisations”.

The UN Security Council’s support will also be required, he said.

Ideally, this support would ensure more equitable distribution of power and resources, meaning that all Iraqi communities would be fairly represented in a future ruling government.

To these ends, the Iraqi government should cooperate with the international community and establish ethnic, national, and regional solidarity against future threats to Iraq and the region.

The United States, under the Trump administration, should similarly advocate regional peace and security, as the presence of the IS group is unlikely to weaken unless there are region-wide reforms.

– Khairuldeen al-Makhzoomi holds a degree in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Literature from UC Berkeley. He is currently working on research into obstacles to national reconciliation in Iraq. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, his articles also appeared in The Arab Weekly, Foreign Policy Journal and Berkeley Political Review.

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

Handing Over Iraq to the Antichrist

Fighting Daesh: a test for US-Iraq relations?

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at Area Study Centre for Europe, University of Karachi

Block American citizens from entering our country! This was echoed in the political circles of Iraq soon after US President Donald Trump’s executive order of January 2017. The order banned travel of citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries including Iraq to the US. The Iraqi legislators in a tit-for-tat move voted to demand their government for a retaliatory measure. The proposal was to bar American citizens from entering Iraq if the US did not withdraw the travel ban against Iraqi travelers.

Though Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi refused to strike back, the request by the Iraqi parliament’s foreign affairs committee to deal reciprocally in ‘all’ issues with the US is enough for Washington to contemplate over its policy towards Iraq. The reasons are numerous. It is the same parliament which US reinstated after its Iraq invasion of 2003. Within a few years of its re-establishment, instead of being under US influence, many powerful lawmakers are urging their government to take measures against Americans. In spite of the fact that Washington is providing considerable aid, arms and training to Iraqi soldiers in their tough battle of Mosul, such criticism shows the resentment against Trump’s decision. It was taken as an insult by Iraqis who are sacrificing their lives for battle against terrorism.

The travel ban order also strengthened the anti-US narrative of prominent anti-American forces. Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential cleric, swiftly issued a statement on his website saying: “It would be arrogant for you to enter freely Iraq [sic] and other countries while barring them the entrance to your country … and therefore you should get your nationals out”. Similarly, Iraq’s pro-government Popular Mobilisation Forces, Hashd al-Sha’abi, urged the government not just to stop the entrance of Americans but also send back US citizens already present in Iraq. Troops of Hashd al-Sha’abi are fighting along with Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the battle to recapture the northern city of Mosul. Hashd fighters have played an instrumental role in the liberation of city of Tikrit, Fallujah city in the western province of al-Anbar and many other areas in Iraq. Hence, Hashd is considered a vital and powerful voice.

For much of the worry of Washington, such a move has provided its rival Tehran another opening to influence Baghdad. According to Dr Renad Mansour, “those that closely aligned with Iran might think this is a good idea – an opportunity to remove American influence from Iraq once and for all.”

Iran is already providing key advice to Iraq. Iranian generals are on the frontlines in the war against Daesh and Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. When Daesh reached near the border of Kurdistan, Iran was the first to provide aid to Kurds. US and the Western supplies arrived later. Iran’s military advisors are deeply involved in planning the battles against terrorist groups but keeping Iran’s national interest in mind. For example, the assault on Mosul was planned by the US keeping a western flank open to allow militants an escape to Syria. However, that could strengthen Syrian militants who were locked in a tough fight in Aleppo against forces of Bashar al-Assad, another ally of Iran.

Haider al-Abadi after 11 days of Mosul offensive moved Hashd to block this western escape route. It is believed that other than Iran and Russia, France – an opponent of Assad – was also not willing to allow terrorists to flee. French President Francois Hollande, vary of the situation, said that amid the people fleeing from Mosul, hundreds of terrorists linked to Paris and Brussels attacks would try to enter Raqqa.

US-Iraq relations have a history of oscillating — from being cordial to tense. The recent American decision to send its advisers, soldiers and aid to Iraq in the wake of Daesh’s invasion has regained the trust of Iraqi people and its leadership. However, Trump’s announcement destroyed this trust. The delicate Iraq-US relations have now taken a nosedive. Trump’s revised executive order of March 2017, excluding Iraq from travel ban, may be an attempt to regain the trust.

Has US influence started eroding from Iraq? This would be clear with the passage of time and with the changing ground situation in Mosul. The Iraqi forces have reached close to west Mosul. Its jets have recently attacked terrorist positions inside neighbouring Syria for the first time, in ‘complete coordination’ with Damascus. Travel ban or any other American decision of this sort, as lawyer Thomas Donovan rightly puts, would make Americans more vulnerable.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2017

 

Trying to Trump the Antichrist

Image result for trump iraq

Why Trump wants to deny Iran glory, ‘take Iraq back’

March 13, 2017 Features, Opinion & Analysis
Martin Jay Correspondent

Donald Trump’s campaign promises may have included “bombing the hell out of ISIS,” but does he really want to defeat the terrorist organisation? It seems he is hoping US journalists will be spoon-fed a dose of his own fake news from the Middle East. Winning Mosul is just the start of a propaganda campaign, which aims to airbrush away important facts about who are the real terrorists in the region; and who is actually killing them.

“Low hanging fruit” is a term, which springs to mind when thinking of America’s short-term goals in Iraq. The rise of ISIS in many ways can be attributed to failed US policies going back to 2003 when George W. Bush took the spectacular decision to stop paying the salaries of some 500 000 largely Sunni soldiers.

They were left without jobs and pay in the post “liberated” phase of early occupation by US troops in the country. Fast forward to 2008 when Obama trumped the mistake with an even better one — for US soldiers to pull out of Iraq — and two key events unfolded which in part go some way in explaining why Trump’s unfettered focus on crushing ISIS in Mosul is so important.

But not necessarily for the reasons, he states. Firstly, what is considered ISIS today emerged from Mosul, as the ancient town was always a bedrock for Saddam Hussein’s hardcore supporters who formed Al-Qaeda, which controlled the city as early as 2012. So, the location itself has special significance as the birthplace of regional terrorism. Secondly, consequently, Iraq became almost immediately an Iranian satellite as, buckling under pressure from hardcore Shiite leaders, Prime Minister Abadi had little choice other than to accept the hand of support from Tehran when quite suddenly a great part of the country — mainly the Sunni western flank — became occupied by the extremists.

It’s important to remember that in the early days, ISIS had more support from civilians in Mosul, Ramadi, and Falluja than at present. And it’s this last point which might explain why Iraqi special forces fighting ISIS in Mosul do not want to allow humanitarian corridors as they are afraid that many ISIS fighters might use them themselves — but more importantly that ISIS sympathisers will also flee.

What is often overlooked by the media is that Mosul is important for Trump as his grand scheme in the Middle East is to weaken Iran methodically — and in Iraq, he has found in Prime Minister Abadi, a willing partner who shares the same viewpoint. The Iraqi leader is floundering politically and badly needs to assure Sunnis there that Iran — and the influential Shiite leaders — will no longer wield the power that they had in the period from 2008 to present as Iraq is about to go back to being a US partner geopolitically. It’s not a huge triumph by any stretch of the imagination, more a cheap victory for Trump to take.

It is there to be taken, though. All of what we have seen in recent weeks, from the James Mattis’ visit to US soldiers being posted to the front line, to high-level talks with Abadi and other top officials, and even the more recent U-turn on banning Iraqis from traveling to the US, is all about this small but important first geopolitical step that Trump must take: Get Iraq back. Aside from the hysteria about a war with Iran, which Trump knows he cannot win as the number of body bags being shipped home to the US would destroy him politically, focusing on destabilising Iran’s influence in the region is more likely to be the sober approach which he will prefer to take. US special forces operating in Yemen just recently is a glimpse of the future, as are American soldiers leading a multinational force in Syria in the future, euphemistically referred to as the ‘safe zones’ plan which is still yet to be unveiled, but believed to be complete.

The recent news announced that he is mulling over a plan to send 1 000 US soldiers to Kuwait for an anti-ISIS operation is an indicator of where his strategy is leading.

Trump’s master plan will be to undermine and chip away at Iran’s power in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, with Iraq being the easiest one to start with as nailing ISIS in Mosul should be relatively straightforward and buy him tomes of PR coverage back home: “I said I would hit ISIS. I just hit ISIS.” But the US president is less bothered with the terrorist organisation.

Despite the fanfare, I would argue that ISIS is not at all important, per se, as the subject of the focus of getting rid of ISIS is more about creating fake news about Iran and its proxies and producing ‘alternative facts’ for sloppy journalists in the US. ISIS was never a focus of the Obama administration rather than the removal of Assad, a mindset mirrored by the Trump team: Assad is part of Iran’s power base which Trump and Mattis are so threatened by, according to a bevy of recent reports in the US media.

From what we have seen, ISIS is still not a focus for America in Syria, despite news this week of a force of a few hundred soldiers to be sent to Iraq. Put into context, George W Bush sent 130,000 US troops to Iraq in 2003. What probably irks Trump is that in almost every other battlefield across Iraq and Syria it is Russia, Syria and in particular Iran which has been hitting ISIS the most – a point made by many geopolitical analysts, like Professor Mohamed Morandi who recently said as much on BBC’s Hardtalk show.

The Iranian academic, who studied in the US, makes a strong case, no doubt one which must not jar well with the recent statement by Mattis: “Iran is the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.” If Trump can maneuver Iran out of the ISIS war, then this incorrect assertion, a triumph of absurdity, which is up there with his preposterous claims about rising US crime levels and climate change, will have more gravitas than it presently does with the American public.

Incredulously, most American media outlets lap the Iran line up. ‘State-sponsored terrorism’ is supposed to be a ‘geopolitics for dummies’ one-fits-all explanation for Hezbollah having the nerve to defend themselves against Israel in 2006 – and give the Israelis a bloody nose. Western media doesn’t even try and grasp that Hezbollah (Iran’s proxy) is at war with Israel.

And it’s just so much easier to call the army which is Uncle Sam’s buddy and which is the highest recipient of US military aid a legitimate sovereign state and Hezbollah ‘terrorists’, right? The Trump viewpoint on Iran and its activities in the region is even more absurd and blinded by dogma.

What few journalists will even bother to check, let alone report on, is that Mosul is a gift from the Iranians whose militias did all the really tough fighting in Ramadi and Fallujah before Mosul, which became the extremists’ last chance saloon; in the period while those other towns were fought over and liberated, US soldiers trained an elite Iraqi antiterrorism unit which is doing the lion’s share of the fighting in Mosul today.

It’s seldom reported that Iran and Hezbollah gave the Americans the time they needed so they could have their one PR triumph in Mosul. Abadi in Iraq would not be in a position to deny the Iranians the prize of Mosul if they insisted on taking it. But they stepped back, and Obama filled the void in his last months in office.

It’s news that you could hardly makeup, it’s so odd: Mosul’s victory was crafted by Obama and given to Trump on a plate by Iran and Hezbollah. In fact, it’s a similar story in Syria. Most of the key battles which kept Assad in power and denied the country being taken over by extremists like ISIS and Nusra were fought by Iran and Hezbollah, starting off with Al-Qusair in 2013. But many more after that. Naturally, that’s not a straightforward fact which Trump’s people neither like nor acknowledge: ISIS and Nusra would be running Syria if it weren’t for the Iranians and Hezbollah who have probably killed more ISIS and Nusra terrorists than anyone else.

But Trump is unlikely to acknowledge that when, in the coming months, Mosul finally falls and he can take the credit for America’s ‘victory’ over ISIS. Iraq must be liberated not only from ISIS but also Iran’s firm grip which in the short-term Mosul will allow to happen. In the long run though, Trump will have to work out a new PR strategy of fake news and alternative facts when America’s own troops get caught in yet more crossfire in Iraq when Shiites under the powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr lose their patience with a new US ‘occupation’ and, inevitably, drag the US into yet another regional conflict.

If Trump leaves a good number of US soldiers in Iraq to help Abadi contain the threat of a new ISIS emerging in the Sunni heartlands, then American soldiers being killed is a price Trump should be prepared to pay even though there is so little to glean in the longer term.

And so far, there are indications that he is willing to pay it. In the meantime, despite trying to imitate a Middle East despot by treating journalists with this splenetic contempt which is normal in many of the failed states in this part of the world, he needs to re-write the history books, so will be looking for some ‘call-center’ journalists in DC to help him with manufactured fake news about Iran, of which there are many. Take your pick. – Russia Today

Antichrist Seeks To Overtake Iraq

Intra-Shiite Tensions Heat Up Ahead of Iraqi Elections

This article was published in collaboration with the Middle East Institute, where Omer Kassim is a research assistant. The views expressed are the author’s own.

While Iraqi forces are fighting to retake the western half of Mosul from Islamic State fighters, internal divisions regarding the future of Iraq’s political process are escalating ahead of provincial elections scheduled for September, especially within the country’s largest Shiite political bloc, the Shiite National Alliance.

Vice President Nouri al-Maliki is hoping to win a political majority in parliament that will return him to the premiership. His rival, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, vigorously opposes Maliki’s bid to return to power. Al-Sadr is also calling for political reforms to stem corruption and end the control of big parties over the country’s political system. On the other hand, Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Citizen Coalition, a large alliance of moderate political and tribal figures, is championing a plan known as the “historic settlement.” The proposal calls for ending all outstanding conflicts among the country’s political parties through a dialogue that would then lead to the formation of a national government after ISIS-occupied territories are liberated.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, despite his continued attachment to the Maliki-led Dawa Party, is seen as an emerging independent political force in Shiite politics. Observers contend that Abadi is looking to convert the military victories against ISIS by the Iraqi military and the Popular Mobilizations Units (PMUs) into political capital in the upcoming elections. But the prime minister is facing a hostile parliament. Late last year, lawmakers voted out of office several key ministers on charges of corruption. Maliki is seen as the force behind those efforts. He wants to weaken Abadi’s government in order to pave the way for his return to power.

Maliki’s Vision

Maliki, whose eight years as prime minister earned him enemies across sectarian lines, is defying obstacles against his bid to return to power through what is perceived as an unspoken partnership with speaker of parliament Salim al-Jubouri, a Sunni, as well Maliki’s ties with the largely Shiite PMUs and Iran.

Jubouri, the speaker of parliament, appears to be a central component in Maliki’s vision of forming a cross-sectarian “political majority.” The two are rumored to have been behind the recent sacking of the Sadrist governor of Baghdad province, Ali al-Tamimi, as well as last year’s ousting of the former ministers of finance and defense, Hoshiar Zibari and Khalid al-Obaidi.

Maliki also hopes to capitalize on the popularity and military success of the PMUs against ISIS. He portrays himself as the founder of the force, which was drawn primarily from Shiite communities, after the collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014. Moreover, Hadi al-Amiri, one of the top commanders of the PMUs, is the head of the Badr Brigade, which is part of the Maliki-led State of Law coalition.

The vice president is also cultivating his ties with Tehran, which he visited in early January. During the visit, he commended Iran’s military support for Iraq at a time when Baghdad was facing arms shortages.

A Shia Schism

Sadr continues to utilize his vast popular support to exert pressure on the political factions inside Baghdad to enact reforms against corruption and to open the political process for smaller party lists. Recently, Sadr loyalists from various cities marched on the capital in support of their leader’s calls to amend the electoral law to include more constituencies. They also called for replacing the members of the Independent High Electoral Commission, which the powerful cleric deemed as being “controlled by the parties of corruption and injustice.” In response to the protests, the Dawa Party released a statement warning against “internal and external conspiracies” that aim to distract the Iraqi people from completing the fight against the Islamic State.

These developments come amid speculation that Sadr is attempting to create an electoral alliance for the upcoming provincial and legislative elections that would include Abadi, Vice President Ayad Allawi’s al-Wataniya list, and the Civil Democratic Alliance, all of whom have called for reforming the political system.

Hakim’s “historic settlement” proposal is perceived to be part of his Citizen Coalition’s electoral campaign. The proposal, to be negotiated and implemented in partnership with the United Nations, advocates for settling all outstanding issues between all parties on a no-winner-and-no-loser basis. Despite Hakim’s efforts to market the document around the country, it faces obstacles not only in Sunni and Kurdish circles, but also within the National Alliance, the country’s largest Shiite political bloc. Maliki emphasized that the settlement should not include “the Baath Party and those that facilitated the entrance of terrorists.” Sadr said the settlement should be “social and not political,” and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in the country, refused to meet with Hakim earlier this year to discuss the proposal. Sadr, moreover, has called the proposal a “popular rejection” of the national alliance and its policies.

Sistani spokesman Hamid al-Khafaf said that the National Alliance wanted to engage the Shiite religious authorities on this proposal, but the grand ayatollah “did not see a benefit in that.” The spokesman added that Sistani has severed contacts with the political class due to its inaction in combating corruption and the lack of reforms. The Marja`iyya, the Shiite religious authority, has largely retreated from the political scene after its vociferous calls for reform did not materialize.

While past election cycles have been centered around efforts to mask differences among the Shiite ruling elite, divergent political aspirations, combined with differing visions for the country’s future, are intensifying as the provincial and legislative elections draw nearer. Both electoral contests may reflect a drastic change in Iraq’s political map, especially as internal divisions are also deepening within Sunni and Kurdish blocs. While cross-sectarian political partnerships sealed around the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend may be politically expedient, they don’t bridge the divisions that have afflicted the country since 2003. For this to happen, it is vital that the Iraqi political class undertake real cross-sectarian dialogue to resolve outstanding disputes, and ensure the stability and the economic viability of the country post-ISIS.

The Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

Why Iraq’s law on Popular Mobilization Units isn’t all that popular

Al Monitor

BAGHDAD — As elections draw closer, there’s a tug of war in Baghdad over the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a mostly Shiite coalition of militias.

Under a law passed in November but not implemented, the PMU was to become an official security body affiliated with the Iraqi armed forces. On one side of the issue, opponents are pulling hard to keep that from happening; the other side wants to expedite the process so PMU members can run for office and otherwise participate in politics.

In Iraq, political parties and entities wishing to run for election must abolish their armed wings. The new law would allow the armed factions under the PMU umbrella to be incorporated into one officially recognized body. As a result, the affiliated parties would become purely political entities without actually dissolving the armed groups.

Unless the law is enacted soon, it will become more difficult for these entities to participate in the September elections. In the meantime, leaders of the armed groups fear opponents will amend or abolish the law. Opposition groups include the Sunni Union of Nationalist Forces (SUNF), which has explicitly called for implementation of the law to be canceled. Also, Shiite Sadrist Movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr, through his “initial solutions” initiative announced Feb. 20, urged that, rather than standing separately, the PMU should be dissolved, and then some “disciplined PMU” fighters could be incorporated into the Iraqi army and police.

Sadr is a rival of fellow Shiite and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is close with the PMU’s main groups.

A number of parties already have begun to dissociate from their armed wings by changing their names or slogans. They now even refer to their militias only as the PMU. For instance, the PMU faction Asaib Ahl al-Haq removed the term “Islamic Resistance” from its official name and is now called the Asaib movement, and it also removed the rifle from its official logo.

But before officially dissociating from these factions, Shiite parties will want to understand how large their representation will be within the official PMU organization, as well as the military ranks and posts that will be assigned to the fighters and leaders.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces, met Feb. 15 with the leaders of some factions to coordinate the PMU law’s implementation. They each presented a list of their armed brigades and their sizes. The factions included the Badr Organization, Kata’ib al-Imam Ali, Saraya al-Salam, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Saraya al-Jihad. The next day, Abadi spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told Almasalah website that when the law was passed, it granted Abadi “the authority to issue the rules and instructions necessary for the implementation of the law.”

However, Abadi still faces pressure from some political parties.

PMU spokesman Karim al-Nuri explained the delay to Al-Monitor, saying, “The process of transforming the PMU into an organization according to the law passed by parliament requires the prime minister to form specialized committees to sort and classify the fighters. Such a process needs time and cannot be finalized before the end of the battle of Mosul.”

According to Nuri, political disputes aren’t affecting the law’s implementation.

“Opposition parties demand the law be amended, rather than completely dismissing the idea or overlooking the factions’ efforts that led to the country’s liberation” from the Islamic State (IS). “Even though some parties voiced opposition to the PMU law, this should not be construed as a reason for delaying implementation, especially since the prime minister vowed to implement the law.”

However, the SUNF, in a “document for national settlement” announced March 2, explicitly called for a nationwide reorganization after defeating IS and the abolishment of the PMU.

“Sunni blocs have expressed their opposition to the PMU since the beginning. They even withdrew from the session that addressed recommendations,” SUNF leader Dhafir al-Ani told Al-Monitor. “National partnership requires agreement on important and sensitive issues. We have previously suggested formulation of a mutual stance among all the components with regard to the PMU.”

The failure to implement the PMU law can be explained by Abadi’s desire to amend it, or to the success of initiatives advanced by Sadr and Sunni blocs toward abolishing the PMU and incorporating its fighters into Iraqi security forces.

That said, the elections commissions and related bodies are faced with the crucial task of ensuring that political parties do not have armed wings.

The Antichrist Opposes His Rivals

Shiite political differences widen gap between Najaf, Qom

Al Monitor

NAJAF, Iraq — Amid the reform protests taking place in Baghdad, political differences between Shiite clerics interested in Iraqi affairs have been widening in the two cities of Qom and Najaf.

While controversial cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement, continues to support the demonstrations that significantly sparked these Shiite differences, Shiite clerics based in Qom have issued fatwas condemning the protests and saying that they would lead to a devastating mess. The most recent demonstration took place Feb. 17 in Baghdad and in other Shiite provinces in southern Iraq. On Feb. 11, five protesters were killed and 320 were injured in Baghdad. Other Shiite clerics close to the Iranian regime also issued fatwas against the protests in Iraq, such as Kazem al-Haeri and Sheikh Mahdi Asefi.

Kamal Al-Haidari, a high-ranking cleric close to the Iranian regime, said during his religious lectures Feb. 16, “My religious and political position is that institutional reform cannot take place through begging in the streets,” and that “reform should only be brought about through constitutional and legal institutions.”

Meanwhile, the Sadrists sharply responded to his statements by accusing him of unfairness, lack of impartiality and unawareness of Iraqi affairs. Saleh Mohammed al-Iraqi, a close associate of the Sadrist movement leader and an occasional spokesman of his, launched a scathing attack on Haidari, describing him as unauthorized and lacking expertise and fairness in opinion regarding the protests and the calls for reform.

“If you are to give your opinion about a certain topic, you should be fair, and you should be following the related developments. You cannot live in Qom and interfere in the affairs of Najaf,” Iraqi said.

This is a clear indication that the escalating dispute between Sadr and Haidari falls within the context of the different views of Qom and Najaf. The dispute is originally over the relationship between the religion and the state, and it started when some Shiite authorities in Qom led the Iranian Revolution against the Shah and got deeply involved in the details of the country’s political affairs at a time when Najaf kept a clear distance from politics and the government altogether — even after it was offered a chance to rule after 2003.

This led to a fierce debate between the Najaf and Qom schools. While the former represents the traditional vision of the Shiite opposition to the participation of the clergy in power, the latter represents the pro-velayat-e faqih (doctrine that hands supreme power to a religious figure) modern vision. While the controversy gradually started to evolve with the degeneration of the unstable political situation in Iraq, it is now expanding to include detailed political topics related to the political affairs of Iraq.

Haidari enjoys the full support of the Iranian regime. The official Iranian Al-Kawthar TV, an Arabic-language channel, offered him a show that has been on for more than a decade. The show aims to criticize the ideological positions and the related political affairs opposing the official Iranian stance, and it had provided Haidari with fame and influence among the Shiite Arabs, especially in Iraq.

A source close to Haidari said on condition of anonymity that Haidari has also received financial support directly from the office of the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on a monthly basis. In addition, the Iranian regime has provided Haidari with special security protection from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, while many other senior clerics in Qom were not treated with such privilege.

Consequently, Haidari allowed himself to claim the Shiite authority for his own and proclaim himself as “the religious authority, Sayyid Kamal al-Haidari,” as well as expand his circle of influence among Iraqis. Today, he gives weekly intensive lectures about Shiite theology, jurisprudence and mysticism, in addition to conveying his own political views.

Meanwhile, he has been trying to gain popularity within Najaf’s hawza since 2003, but he has been failing due to the opposition expressed by the traditional school there.

Haidari is known for not only opposing, but even attacking Najaf’s traditional school and its main pillars, such as Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei and Ali al-Sistani. The dispute between them was originally due to Haidari’s affiliation with the Iranian velayat-e faqih, clearly opposed by Najaf, and he is now one of the prime candidates for the Iranian regime’s endeavor in Najaf after the 86-year-old Sistani, the current authority there.

Meanwhile, instability prevails within the Sadrist movement over becoming associated with either Najaf or Qom. The Sadrist movement is believed to be the product of the fundamentalist Shiite vision that opposes Najaf’s traditional school. As a result, Sadr’s father, Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr, was involved in a bitter and long struggle with Sistani and other religious authorities in Najaf, which is why Sadr kept Sistani at a distance after the death of his father in 1999. He then became associated with Haeri in Qom, who provided him with a religious cover to form the Mahdi Army in resistance to the US forces.

However, political difference soon drove a wedge between Sadr and Haeri, who abided by the official Iran position to the word, while Sadr wanted to maintain a sense of independence in his positions.

This prompted Sadr to turn to Haidari in August 2013, when Sheikh Mahmoud al-Jayashi, the director of Sadr’s office, was able to arrange a meeting between the two because he was also one of Haidari’s most prominent disciples.

After the meeting was held, Sadr’s office stated, that both sides “discussed the region’s affairs in general and Iraq’s issues in particular,” noting that “the two agreed to coordinate future positions.”

Regardless, the current political disputes between the two are pushing Sadr to reconsider his positions so he does not lose popularity after losing his religious cover.

In a nutshell, all these developments are signs of broad political and religious disagreements that would take over Iraqi society after the death of Sistani, the strongest and most important sponsor of the political process in Iraq after 2003.