Why the Antichrist Will Abandon Iran (Daniel 8)

The Iraq Report: Iran implicated in bombing Shia shrines

As Tehran-backed Shia paramilitary units continue to expand their power and influence in Iraq, Iran has been implicated in the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra that triggered a sectarian bloodbath more than a decade ago. While this accusation is nothing new, the significance of the allegation’s resurgence is that it comes from a militant Shia Islamist movement that had long been a recipient of Iranian financing, arming and training.

The astonishing about-turn from one of Iran’s Iraqi allies comes as Baghdad continues to be rocked by the interventionist policies of foreign powers. The United States has been implicated in a deadly attack against Shia militants near the Syrian border, while Turkish politicians have threatened that Ankara may intervene in Iraq, based on treaties that are almost a century old. With Iran continuing to play a dominant role across the full spectrum of Iraqi political, economic, cultural and security affairs, sovereignty continues to elude the war-ravaged country.

Iran linked to Shia shrine bombing

A senior leader of the Sadrist Movement, led by firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, has directly implicated Iran in the 2006 Askari shrine bombing that triggered a wave of sectarian bloodletting that lasted for years and cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis – mostly Sunni Arabs. The effects of the sectarian slaughter are visible to this day, with continuing examples of torture, murder, sexual violence and other atrocities having their roots in the violence that erupted in the bombing’s aftermath.

Speaking to Dijlah TV on Sunday, Awad al-Awadi said that Iranian operatives had infiltrated Iraq around the time of the Askari bombing, saying “many reports have revealed that there were interests, there were terrorist cells and groups that came in from Iran”. Awadi alleged that Iran had wanted a sectarian war that would pit Iraqis against each other, and ultimately weaken any chance of national reconciliation or future Iraqi sovereignty.

The Askari shrine bombing took place in Samarra, a Sunni Arab-majority city just north of the capital, and was blamed on al-Qaeda extremists – though no group formally took responsibility. Previously, al-Qaeda had been known to claim any attacks against Shia targets in order to boost its propaganda image of being a defender of the Sunnis, but then-leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mosab al-Zarqawi did not make any of his usual grandiose statements claiming responsibility. He was killed later that year.

However, since the attack, many have suspected Iran of ultimately being behind the bombings, with reports from WikiLeaks purporting to show that Tehran was actively supporting al-Qaeda by supplying them with innovative explosives for carrying out suicide bombings. More recently, the US Treasury sanctioned three senior al-Qaeda operatives in 2016, all of whom reside in Iran with Tehran’s knowledge and consent. This has led to claims that Iran had the most to gain by the sectarian conflagration that followed, and was either directly or indirectly behind the attack.

The shocking allegation comes amid Saudi Arabia’s recalibration of its strategy in Iraq, as Riyadh moves closer to long-time pro-Tehran stalwarts. Riyadh has increased its diplomatic presence in Shia holy cities in its northern neighbour, and has paid millions of dollars towards “legitimising” some Shia leaders over others – seemingly in an attempt to tip the scales more in its favour versus its regional foe, Iran.

That the allegation comes from a Sadrist leader is interesting in itself, as the Sadrist’s militia at the time, the Army of the Mahdi – better known as Jaysh al-Mahdi, or JAM, to counterinsurgency experts in the US military – was heavily involved in the sectarian killing spree. The Sadrists targeted Sunnis in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities, alongside many Shia militants, including the Badr Organisation that controls the interior ministry to this day.

However, following Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Shia cleric has adopted a more conciliatory stance towards Riyadh, offering to remove anti-Saudi posters in areas under his control. Saudi Arabia also took the step of blessing Sadr’s visit with $10 million to open a Saudi “presence” in the Shia holy city of Najaf, as a way of demonstrating Sadr’s influence and Saudi largesse all at once.

Sadrist statements implicating Iran in one of the most heinous bombings in post-invasion Iraq are therefore likely to be intricately tied to Riyadh’s charm offensive and attempts at prising Shia leaders out of Iran’s grip.

Militia granted further religious authority

Another side-effect of Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia was his call last Friday for the Iraqi government to dismantle Shia paramilitary organisations that have been formally absorbed into the armed forces. Sadr called upon Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to dissolve the Popular Mobilisation Forces, saying that “disciplined members” of the Iran-backed militia should instead be “integrated into the army”.

While the PMF, or Hashd al-Sha’abi in Arabic, is part of the armed forces, it operates as a parallel army to the main national army. The PMF has its own budget, barracks, equipment and most of its recruits come from pro-Iran Shia Islamist militant factions, including some associated directly with Muqtada al-Sadr’s militias.

The PMF is at least nominally under the command of Baghdad, but statements released by the group show that they appear to take their orders from Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force. Despite claiming to have been established by religious decree to fight Islamic State group militants in Iraq, the PMF has detachments inside Syria and are actively helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crush the uprising against decades of Ba’athist rule.

Sadr’s call was almost immediately shot down by the government, as Abadi not only flatly refused to dissolve the PMF, but said that the controversial organisation would stay with government and religious backing. Speaking at an event organised by the PMF on Saturday, the Iraqi leader said the PMF would “never be disbanded, and will remain under the command of the state and the religious authorities”.

Abadi’s remarks have raised concerns that the transformation of Iraq into a theocratic rump state under the influence of ayatollahs both in Iraq and in Iran with a religious armed force to enforce the status quo will kill any chance of Iraqis obtaining the democracy promised to them by the United States when it invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

By legitimising and strengthening the PMF and other armed factions, Abadi has shown that continuing torture in Iraqi prisons perpetrated by sectarian elements of the Iraqi armed forces primarily against Sunni Arabs is not an issue that concerns him as he struggles ahead of the general elections due next year. The continuing torture – as well as the transformation of homes in Mosul into headquarters for the Iraqi Hizballah – are leading to fears that political failures will lead to a revival of the circumstances that led to the rise of IS in the first place.

US accused of killing dozens of Shia militants

While Saudi Arabia and Iran increasingly have their say in Iraq, other major powers – including the United States – continue to try to secure their interests in the country.

IS has not been the only target of American airstrikes, as the PMF accused the US of bombing its positions in Iraq, leading to the deaths of dozens of fighters as well as Iranians fighting alongside them.

According to Iraqi military sources, as well as the PMF itself, a pair of American air raids killed no fewer than 60 Shia militants in two separate strikes, all on the Syrian border. At least 20 of the casualties came from one group, the Tehran-leaning Sayyid al-Shuhada Brigades militia, one of the many militias under the overall control of the PMF, and under the command of Iranian military leaders. The Brigades vowed they would retaliate against the US, saying they would “not be silent” after the attack.

US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the US-led anti-IS coalition, said on Twitter: “Allegations of #Coalition strikes vs. Popular Mobilization Forces near #Iraq – #Syria border are INACCURATE. No coalition strikes there ATT.”

Although the US has denied any involvement, one of the strikes hit the Iraqi side of the border near al-Tanf, the site of several such incidents in Syria, where a US military outpost is positioned. Washington has been quietly concerned that Iraqi Shia extremists to whom they have provided air support in the fight against IS are being quietly sent across the Iraqi-Syrian border on Iranian orders to threaten US interests in Syria.

Antichrist Opposes Iranian Forces

Assessing Sadr and Sistani’s opposition to the Hashd al-Shaabi

By Paul Iddon yesterday at 11:17

Hashd al-Shaabi members at Tal Afar airport late last year. Photo: Achilleas Zavallis/AFP file
Two of Iraq’s most influential Shiite figures are in favour of disbanding the Shiite-majority Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries and placing them under the complete command and control of the regular Iraqi armed forces.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently rejected the powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s call to dissolve the Hashd, integrate it into the army and place its weapons “in the hands of the state too.”

“Sadr and [Ayatollah Ali al-] Sistani have taken a similar stance towards the future of the Hashd for slightly different reasons, and Sadr has been more out front on this matter,” Iraq analyst Joel Wing told Rudaw English. “Sadr has called for the Hashd to be integrated into the armed forces and the undisciplined ones to be disbanded.”

The “undisciplined ones” Sadr refers to, Wing explained, are the groups closely tied to Iran such as the Badr Organization, Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq. “Many of these organizations are political rivals of Sadr and contain many ex-Sadrists,” he added, pointing out that in recent memory Sadr’s forces and the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq “were having running gun battles in Baghdad.”

Sadr is worried that these groups will directly challenge him for the Shiite street after the war is over. They are also aligned with Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, another rival of Sadr,” Wing elaborated.

Sadr is “more open” to groups like his own Saray al-Salam and the Al-Abbas Division, which is loyal to the Shiite establishment headed by Sistani in Najaf. The commander of the Al-Abbas Division, Maitham al-Zaidi, recently said he is under instructions not to meet any figures who aren’t part of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), a clear indication that Sistani and Najaf oppose the continued existence of a Hashd fighting-force not under complete state command and control. Al-Abbas has also worked closely with the ISF.

Sadr’s position is rather ironic because he wants to be the rebellious one of the Shiite establishment, but now is threatened with being usurped and losing his base along with other parties to the pro-Iran groups,” Wing pointed out.

While Sistani has a similar position he is “less driven by the partisan machinations of Sadr.”

Wing concluded by pointing out that Sistani “does not want the pro-Iran Hashd to increase Tehran’s influence within Iraq,” and recalled that from the beginning, with his 2014 fatwa, the ayatollah never endorsed the creation of such a paramilitary force.

When Islamic State (ISIS) captured Mosul in June 2014 Sistani, the leading Shiite religious authority in Iraq, released a fatwa calling on Iraqis to join the country’s regular armed forces to defend Iraq against that threat, not to form paramilitaries in order to do so.

Nevertheless, the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries were formed to fight ISIS while the regular army got back on its feet after its infamous retreat from Mosul. Many Shiite leaders defend the continued existence of the Hashd, especially those whose groups have close ties with Iran.

An Iraqi parliament vote in November passed a bill that was signed into law recognizing the paramilitaries as a legal and a “permanent stand-alone component of the Iraqi armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense.”

They haven’t, however, been fully demobilized and integrated into the armed forces. As the defense journal Jane’s 360 noted last year, the law “will not increase government oversight or influence” over the Hashd.

Kyle Orton, a Middle East analyst at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, believes that the Sadr and Sistani “components of the Hashd are somewhat helpful in diluting Iran’s power in the paramilitaries.”

“Unfortunately, Tehran is also able to use them to legitimize the Hashd by presenting the involvement of these professed nationalist factions as if they represent the overall aims of the organization,” Orton told Rudaw English.

In “an ideal world”, he added, forces loyal to Sistani and Sadr will integrate into the regular army. “But there doesn’t seem to be a way to detach these elements of the Hashd now, and even if there were, the effect would be to strengthen Iran’s hold over this paramilitary formation.”

Orton points to “an ideological distinction between Sistani and Sadr, who conceive of political order within an Iraqi framework, and the most powerful Hashd battalions that are loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“There is also the more prosaic aspect of the power-struggle: for both Sistani and Sadr, the Iranians and their proxies are the main competitors for influence,” he concluded.

For now, the Hashd is a very formidable force in Iraq with an estimated 110,000 fighters. When driving ISIS out of Mosul the Iraqis used their best soldiers, the elite Golden Division, as shock troops backed by US-led coalition airpower. The Hashd sat out of that battle as the United States feared their participation would inflame sectarian tensions. They suffered fewer casualties than the regular forces as a result, which has left it in a position of significant strength.

While the Hashd also continues to have powerful supporters like former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and other Iranian-supported leaders in Iraq, it also has influential opponents in both Sadr and Sistani.

Antichrist Opposes the Separation of Iraq

A man sews an Iraqi Kurdish flag bearing a portrait of Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, Erbil, Iraq, Feb. 3, 2016. (photo by SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Author: Ibrahim Malazada

ERBIL, Iraq — Objections to the Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum scheduled for Sept. 25 have gone beyond the political arena. Mosques are now involved, and religion is being inserted into the equation of supporting or opposing the calls for an independent state.

Religious authority Mohammad Taqi al-Madrasi reiterated his previously stated opposition to independence in a July 28 sermon and advised the Kurds “to limit their demands to the confines of sense and reason and to the constitution.” Mohammad Mahdi al-Khalsi, the religious authority in al-Kazimiya, called on all Iraqis July 7 to stand up against “divisive projects” and asked to put a nail in the coffin of this “suspicious” project. He also warned the Islamic world against forming a new Zionist entity that is Kurdistan.

Ammar al-Hakim, who heads the Shiite alliance, the largest political Shiite coalition in Iraq, said on TV in Egypt April 19, “I personally do not know any country that might recognize a Kurdish state — if announced — other than Israel. The Arab countries have Iraq’s unity at heart.”

Remarkably, linking Israel to a Kurdish state goes as far back as the Baathists, when the Kurdish movement was described as “Israel’s spy.”

Another cleric defending the secularism of the state, Iyad Jamal al-Din, attacked Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani during an interview on Kurdish NRT television June 26. He said that there will not be a Kurdish state because there are vetoes against it from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and the world and that Barzani is building castles in the sand to cover up the constitutional void and instability in the Kurdistan Region. Jamal al-Din said, “There will not be a Kurdish state, not now, and not in 1,000 years.”

Sadrist movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr was the first to object to Kurdish independence and said, “I wish they wouldn’t implement this independence. The Kurds are our partners in this country.” He said in a statement released by his media office July 4, “I ask Barzani to postpone the separation as a first step to completely eliminating it in the future, because we are on the verge of liberating Mosul.”

Ayatollah Qasim al-Tai said in a statement on Jan. 25, 2015, that he firmly refuses the independence project. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential religious figure in Iraq, has remained silent on the topic.

Arab Sunni clerics also had a say. Sheikh Ahmad al-Kubeisi who is well-known in Iraq reiterated that he supports Kurdish stances in a post published July 19. He said, “Iraq will be divided. The strong Sunni area will be Kurdistan, and it will not be restricted to the Kurds, but all Arab Sunnis are insistent on joining it.” Arab Sunnis, especially in disputed areas, support the referendum and want to join the Kurdish region.

Kurdish clerics are also voicing their support for the referendum. The Ministry of Endowment will give instructions to preachers in mosques, according to Nabez Ismail, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs. Ismail said July 8, “Clerics will participate in the referendum by voting ‘yes’ with all their power. They believe this is a national duty.”

In an indirect response to the Shiite statements, the Central Council for the Kurdistan Islamic Scholars’ Union noted July 12 that it supports the referendum in the Kurdistan Region and the areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil. The Kurdish Islamic body called on Kurdish forces “to unite, declare national reconciliation and overcome their differences to make the referendum successful.”

Ihsan al-Rikani, the head of the Dahuk branch for the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Clerics made a fiery speech on July 4 and said, “Anyone objecting to the referendum is a traitor and must leave the country.”

Abdul Latif Salafi, a Salafist preacher in Iraqi Kurdistan, said, “I fully support the referendum. Anyone opposing it is not a true Kurd.”

Fateh Sharestini, a well-known Kurdish preacher in Erbil, said June 18, “As Muslims, we should support Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence to the end. When we get the chance and the international stage is set — God willing and according to Sharia — we should be independent. If a person does not have an independent government and if their flag does not flutter above other countries’ flags, God will not accept their prayers.”

Al-Monitor contacted Abdullah al-Waissi, the head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Scholars, and asked him about the reasons behind the firm refusal of some Shiite clerics and the support or silence of the Sunni clerics. He said, “Most Sunnis have realized that coexistence among Iraqi components is long gone, unlike their Shiite counterparts who believe dividing Iraq would undermine its influence and strength in the region. For this reason, Shiites oppose the referendum.”

Historian and expert on Iraqi affairs Jabbar Qader told Al-Monitor that Shiite clerics are getting involved in this dangerous issue for specific reasons. He said, “Shiite ruling circles want to impose their control on a large stretch of Iraq because the gains they made have seduced them into holding on to Iraq’s unity. They appealed against the referendum and accused the Kurds of trying to divide the country, with Israel’s cheering.”

With the nearing referendum, Iraq might witness tenser religious interventions in addition to fatwas and different religious stances. Meanwhile, there are no tangible guarantees that armed militias will not dive right into the conflict.

Iraq PM Rejects the Antichrist

Abadi rejects al-Sadr call to dissolve Hashd al-Shaabi | Iraq News

Hashd al-Shaabi, a Shia unit alternatively called the Badr militia, was established in 2014 with the avowed purpose of fighting ISIL, also known as ISIS, after it captured vast expanses of territory in northern and western Iraq.

“The Hashd al-Shaabi … is for Iraq and will not be dissolved,” Abadi said in the capital Baghdad on Saturday.

“The next phase after liberating the land from Daesh is the battle of the unity of word.” Daesh is the Arabic term for ISIL.

Hashd al-Shaabi has faced accusations of abuses against civilians in Sunni-majority areas.

Last month, the Iraqi army recaptured Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, from ISIL, which overran the city in 2014.

Speaking to supporters on Friday, Sadr called for dissolving Hashd al-Shaabi and absorbing its fighters in the Iraqi army.

Sadr issued the statement after his visit to Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with the kingdom’s leadership.

He met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and discussed issues of common interest, Reuters news agency reported on July 30.

Anti-American figure

The visit came with the Gulf region embroiled in its worst crisis in years – a dispute between Qatar and four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia which severed ties with Qatar.

Sadr, an anti-American figure, commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and the southern cities, including Saraya al-Salam, or Peace Brigades militia.

He is now seen as a nationalist who has repeatedly called for protests against corruption in the Iraqi government, and his supporters have staged huge protests in Baghdad calling for electoral reform.

On Thursday, Sadr issued a new call for protests in Baghdad and other cities to denounce “corrupt politicians” and demand reforms.

The Antichrist Opposes the New Election

KUNA : Thousands of Iraqis protest new draft elections law – Politics – 04/08/2017

BAGHDAD, Aug 4 (KUNA) — Responding to a call by influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, thousands of Iraqis on Friday took to the streets in mass demonstrations calling for amending a new election law currently being prepared by the parliament.

Protestors gathered at Tahrir square in central Baghdad, holding Iraqi flags amid tightened security measures imposed by authorities, which cut off routes leading to the square.

In a televised speech to demonstrators, Al-Sadr said approving the current election law regarding governorate councils is a death of the Iraqi people’s aspirations towards a political process reform in the country.

He claimed that, if the parliament gives the thumbs up to the law, it would be similar to terrorism as corruption is systematic terrorism against the people.

He urged the United Nations to take part in observing the upcoming elections, if the elections’ commission, accused by some of being part of sectarian quotas, is not changed

Meanwhile, Al-Sadr urged Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to fulfill political reforms as soon as possible, and to drive terrorism out of the country.

The new election law is being described as controversial as it favors larger political parties and blocs. (end) ahh.hm

The Antichrist Controls His Men (Revelation 13)

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demands govt dismantle paramilitary groups

AFP Baghdad
Influential Iraqi Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr on Friday called on the Baghdad government to dismantle the paramilitary Hashed al-Shaabi umbrella organisation dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias.

Sadr was speaking to thousands of supporters in the Iraqi capital after a rare visit at the weekend to Sunni-ruled regional kingpin Saudi Arabia, a staunch rival of the Shiite-dominated Islamic republic of Iran.

In a speech broadcast on huge screens, Sadr urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to dismantle Hashed and “integrate into the army the disciplined members” of the paramilitary force, an AFP reporter said.

Sadr also called on the authorities to “seize the arsenal of all armed groups”.

The Hashed al-Shaabi is nominally under Abadi’s command, but some of its components have for years been sending fighters to support Damascus in its six-year-old conflict against various rebel factions.

The paramilitary force took part in the battle to retake Iraq’s second city Mosul from the Islamic State group, and could join future operations aimed at routing the jihadists from areas of the country they still hold.

IS still controls swathes of western Iraq, including much of the desert province of Anbar. Rival forces, which largely cooperated against the jihadists in Mosul, are expected to compete for a share of the spoils.
Sadr led a militia that fought against the US occupation of Iraq.

He is now seen as a nationalist who has repeatedly called for protests against corruption in the Iraqi government, and his supporters have staged huge protests in Baghdad calling for electoral reform.

On Thursday, Sadr issued a new call for protests in Baghdad and other cities to denounce “corrupt politicians” and demand reforms.
Last week he paid a visit to Saudi Arabia, with his office saying in a statement the trip was in response to an “official invitation”.

The official Saudi Press Agency published pictures of Sadr with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, and said they discussed Saudi-Iraqi relations and “a number of issues of mutual interest”.

The visit came with the Gulf embroiled in its worst crisis in years — a row between Qatar and four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia which severed ties with Doha, accusing it of funding extremism and fostering ties with Iran.

Antichrist Moves Away From Iran (Daniel 8:8)

Addressing Iranian Influence in Iraq

by Giorgio Cafiero

As Iraqis celebrate Mosul’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), their country’s future is anything but certain. Although it is premature to conclude that the fight against IS in Iraq is over, the Trump administration’s approach to Iraq is likely to focus more on countering Iran’s influence in the Shi’ite-majority Arab country. Saudi Arabia will support Trump in this. Until recently, Riyadh avoided engaging the Shi’ite leadership in Baghdad based on the view that the post-2003 political order in Iraq has been entirely under Tehran’s thumb. Last month’s rare visit to Riyadh of Muqtada al-Sadr, a prominent Iraqi Shi’ite cleric who has called for the disbanding of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, signaled how the kingdom too has a heightened interest in attempting to bring Iraq farther away from the Islamic Republic’s orbit of influence.

Although Washington and Tehran have fought IS in parallel, no mutual interest in defeating it has resulted in any substantial or official cooperation. The Obama administration was far more accommodating of Iran in the fight against IS than Trump’s administration. For example, last year then-Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that, despite all the problems in Washington-Tehran relations, “Iran in Iraq has been in certain ways helpful, and they clearly are focused on ISIL-Daesh, and so we have a common interest, actually.” Trump and his team, nonetheless, are determined to distinguish themselves from Obama by conducting a foreign policy that is more hawkish and aggressive toward Iran in areas where they believe the previous president was “weak” or willing to concede too much to Tehran for the purpose of peacefully resolving the nuclear standoff.

Despite reluctantly certifying Tehran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the White House is imposing new sanctions on Iran, signaling its intention to sabotage the accord, and even talking of regime change against the Islamic Republic. Additionally, Trump recently praised Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government for fighting on the “front lines in the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.” Since he became president earlier this year, the United States has intentionally conducted direct military strikes on Syrian government military infrastructure and Washington has increased support for the Saudi-led campaign against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

Odds are good that Iraq will become more of a flashpoint in tension between the United States and Iran as the post-IS chapter begins in Mosul, leaving the two countries with even less common interest in the city and Iraq at large. In May, while speaking at the Arab Islamic American Summit, Trump said that in Iraq Iran “funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos.” In turn, Tehran maintains that the US military presence in Iraq is a root cause of much of the country’s chaotic tumult.

Iraq’s position in the Middle East’s geopolitical order will also largely depend on the extent to which Baghdad and Riyadh can overcome their tensions that prompted officials in the latter to avoid engaging with the Shi’ite leadership in the former. In light of the recent visits of the Iraqi prime minister, minister of interior, and al-Sadr, the kingdom is clearly set on reaching out to elements in Baghdad with which Saudi Arabia seeks to work, rather than Nouri al-Maliki, whom Riyadh views as an Iranian puppet. Underlying Saudi Arabia’s new approach toward Iraq is pressure from the White House and a desire to counter Tehran’s expanded clout in the Arab country.

By bringing Iraq further from the Iranian-led “resistance axis” and closer to the Sunni Arab fold, Saudi Arabia hopes to cultivate ties with Shi’ite politicians in Baghdad who advocate a foreign policy that restores Iraqi’s leadership role in the Arab world. Ultimately, in a battle for geopolitical leverage in the region, Saudi Arabia and Iran will compete when it comes to the reconstruction of parts of Iraq destroyed by the campaign to defeat IS.

On July 23, Iran and Iraq signed a military cooperation agreement to combat “terrorism and extremism,” marking yet another blow to Washington’s efforts to counter Tehran’s consolidated influence in the Middle East. The memorandum of understanding, according to Iranian state-owned media, “includes expansion of cooperation and exchange of experiences on combating terrorism and extremism, security of borders, as well as educational, logistic, technical and military support.” The following day, Iran’s Foreign Ministry declared that Iranian-Iraqi relations were a bilateral matter of no business to any other government. The message was directed toward both Washington and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, chiefly Saudi Arabia.

Tehran opposes America’s military presence in post-IS Iraq. Iran’s security apparatus has maintained the same view of America’s military intervention in nearby countries, which has endured through all the changes in Washington-Tehran relations since 1979. The regime’s perception of the existential threat of the US military in Iraq did not fade even when the Obama administration made diplomatic overtures to Iran.

Iran’s regime sees militant Salafist-jihadist groups in Iraq as an existential threat too. The leaders of the Islamic Republic maintain a popular narrative based on the premise that the world has plotted against Iran. It believes that extremists near its borders, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s and 2000s and IS in Iraq today, are not outcomes of the dissolution of authoritarian secular regimes, failed states, wars, and other multifaceted problems. Instead, according to the narrative, these violent forces have conspired to topple the Islamic Republic after spreading chaos to other Muslim countries with support from Saudi Arabia and other GCC states at every step.

Although Iranian officials affirm that their country’s military action in Iraq and Syria is not geared toward expanding Tehran’s regional clout but instead toward promoting regional security and protecting Iran and its neighbors from global terrorists, there are undeniable geopolitical interests driving the country’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Iraq. Based on Tehran’s pursuit of logistical links between Iran’s capital city and Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast via a host of its Shi’ite proxies, chiefly the Popular Mobilization Units that work closely with the Iraqi army and Lebanese Hezbollah, Mosul’s future matters immensely for the Islamic Republic and its strategies for countering security threats as well as asserting greater leverage throughout the Levant and greater Middle East.

An important factor shaping Iraq’s future will be the extent to which the central government in Baghdad can improve its relationship with Iraq’s Sunni minority in al-Anbar province and build trust that was entirely absent at the time of the caliphate’s meteoric ascension to power just over three years ago. Doubtless, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias’ human rights violations waged in their fight against IS bode poorly for the prospects of national Iraqi unity under the Shi’ite-led government’s authority in the future. Failure to hold such militias accountable may well create the breeding grounds for an IS 2.0 to regain territory in Iraq’s Sunni-majority western territory in the future.

Facing new pressures from its neighbors and the Trump administration, the Iraqi government must not only take on the domestic challenges of resolving the issues in Mosul that enabled IS to seize control of the city and other swathes of Iraqi territory in 2014, but also navigate the region’s volatile geopolitical order as outsiders compete for influence over the country’s future now that attention is shifting away from the fight against the caliphate. In reality, Iran essentially has free rein in much of Iraq now that many of Tehran’s militant proxies have consolidated their positions of power. It remains unclear how Washington and Riyadh will be able to meaningfully change this reality.

Photo: Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman

The Small Horn Grows From the Large Horn (Daniel 8:9)

Iran’s Dominance Over Iraq Could Be Coming to an End

London, 2 Aug – The Iranian Regime dominates its neighbour Iraq in almost every way and is unwilling to surrender this power, but could Iraq evict them with help from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)?Abdulrahman al-Rashed, the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, wrote an op-ed on Al Arabiya in which he assessed that Iraq, which is an oil –rich country, is more than capable of restoring its powers if the Iraqi nationalists work together and that it is in the interests of the GCC to support Iraqi independence.

Rashed wrote: “ I reiterate my opinion that the Gulf’s dissociation policy was a wrong policy that made it easy for the Iranians to interfere and expand and that viewing Iraq as a sectarian component is a misrepresentation of the political facts and it reflects a lack of understanding of the dynamics of politics and the society there.”

Why would Iran seek to control their fellow Gulf state?

In Iraq, Iran rules the roost, controlling everything from the government to the economy and even, according to a New York Times report, the media and the illegal drug trade.

Iran claims that Iraq will collapse without the Iranian Regime and that they reclaimed Mosul from ISIS, but there are both lies.

The truth is that Iraq is necessary to the Iranian Regime’s dream on a Shiite Crescent stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Meditteranean and they have been working on this for 14 years now.

According to Rashed, Tehran has now become the centre of Iraqi politics and Iraqi politicians visit Iran to receive support from their commanders.

The veteran journalist compared this to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Iraqi politician who rejects Iranian domination and wants independence for Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi recently visited Saudi Arabia on separate occasions, which many have seen as a restoration of traditional allyships.

This is a clear about face from the official Iraqi line perpetrated by politicians like the current vice president Nouri al-Maliki.

Rashed wrote: “[Sadr and Abadi’s] stance is not based on rejecting good relations with their neighbour, Iran, but on rejecting its domination.”

These are just some of the awful things that Iran currently does in Iraq:

• Seizing resources, be it drilling for oil in Iraqi oil fields or diverting water from Iraq to Iran

• Laundering money through Iraqi banks

• Establishing Iraqi militias that answer to Iran, not Iraq

• Interfering in the government by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)

• Appointing governors and heads of municipalities who work for Iran

• Managing state and private media outlets

Rashed wrote: “Iraq is a big country and it’s not a banana republic for the extremist security and religious regime of Tehran which the latter can financially drain to fund its military adventures in Syria, Lebanon and other countries.”

Rashed noted that it is the duty of all countries in the Middle East to stand up to Iranian domination of foreign countries, like the domination of Iran’s Quds Brigade over Iraqi state institutions.

He wrote: “The Iraqis need the entire world to hear them say that they will fight Iranian domination and expel the Revolutionary Guards from their country. This is the Iraqis’ project and not the project of Gulf countries, Arabs or others.”

 

Iraq, Iran and the Antichrist’s Men (Rev 13:18)

After Mosul victory, Iraq mulls future of Shiite militias

 Associated Press

NAJAF, Iraq (AP) — In the wake of victory against the Islamic State group in Mosul, Iraq’s political, religious and military leaders are debating the future of the country’s powerful Shiite militias — the tens of thousands of men who answered a religious call to arms three years ago and played a critical role in beating back the extremists.

Some are demanding the mostly Iranian-backed forces be disbanded but the militias say their sacrifices on the battlefield and the fact they were sanctioned by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi have earned them a permanent place in the hierarchy of Iraq’s security forces.

The Shiite militias stepped into a vacuum when the Iraqi army largely dissolved after IS overran Mosul and pushed within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the Iraqi capital.

Shiite Sheikh Fadil al-Bidayri was among the clerics at an emergency meeting in the holy city of Najaf in June 2014, when Iraq’s Shiite religious elite — led by the country’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani — issued a call to arms as a last-ditch effort to protect Baghdad.

Tens of thousands of men, many of them members of the long-established Shiite militias with close ties to Iran, answered al-Sistani. In the days that followed, Iraq was flooded with training, money and weapons from Tehran. Billboards praising the groups — depicting Iraqi and Iranian paramilitary leaders side by side — popped up across Baghdad, alongside posters of martyrs honoring the fallen.

The government-sanctioned groups became known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, known as Hashed al-Shaabi in Arabic.

Although the Shiite militias did not play a central role in the battle for the city of Mosul itself, they moved into the deserts held by IS west of the city, massing around the town of Tal Afar and taking a border crossing between Iraq and Syria. They also took control of highways bisecting the Sunni heartland in western Iraq and used as vital military and civilian supply lines.

In past fights against IS, including the operation to retake for the cities of Tikrit and Fallujah, the Shiite militias were accused of sectarian killings and other abuses against minority Sunnis. They acknowledge some abuses may have occurred but say those responsible have been disciplined.

Over the past three years, as the military fight against IS in Iraq pushed the extremists back, Iran’s influence in the country grew.

“We always knew that Iran would use this (call to arms) to increase its own power in Iraq, but we had no other choice,” said al-Bidayri, recounting the meeting in Najaf and the panic-filled days after the 2014 fall of Mosul.

Al-Bidayri says now that Mosul has been retaken and the Iraqi military has been partially rebuilt, he believes the Shiite militias should be disbanded, to curb Iranian influence in Iraq and reduce sectarian tensions. The elderly sheikh, like much of Iraq’s religious establishment in Najaf, is a staunch nationalist and wary of Iran’s growing influence.

“From the very beginning … Iran used every opportunity to get involved in Iraq,” al-Bidayri said. “Each time they used the protection of the Shiite people as an excuse.”

Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also called for the militias to disband during a March anti-government rally that saw thousands of his supporters fill the streets of Baghdad.

According to the 2017 Iraqi budget, the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces now number about 122,000 fighters. The umbrella is dominated by Shiite militias but also includes Sunni and Christian groups.

“The Hashed (Shiite militias) will remain . and our relationship with Iran will remain,” said Hadi al-Amiri, a senior leader of the Badr Brigade, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militias.

Al-Amiri said IS’ insurgent capabilities will pose a long-term security threat to Iraq after the military fight against the group is concluded.

Iraq’s prime minister has also repeatedly professed his backing for the Popular Mobilization Forces, telling reporters at a press conference last week that they “must remain at least for years, as the terrorism threat still exists.”

When asked if the Shiite militias would play a role in the fight for Tal Afar or move into Syria, Ahmad Ghanem, a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces training at a camp in Najaf said “we are waiting for instructions … ready to move wherever they order us.”

As the conventional fight against IS winds down, it’s unlikely Iraq’s existing security forces will be able to absorb all the militia factions.

“If you add up all of the demands from all the different factions and militia leaders, and then you look at how much actual power and money Iraq has to distribute to them, their claims are like 250 percent of whatever pie there is to be divided,” said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk assessment newsletter.

Rabkin said he doubted the groups would be content with patrolling rural areas or hunting so-called IS “sleeper cells.”

“They want to have real power and control,” Rabkin said. “So I think there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people with small to medium-sized militias running around Iraq six months to a year from now.”

On the outskirts of Najaf, graves of militiamen who died battling IS have swelled among the plots in Wadi al-Salam, the well-known Shiite graveyard that is also the world’s largest. Garlands of plastic flowers adorn headstones bearing the crests of the most powerful militia groups: the Badr Brigades, Saraya Salam and Kataib Hezbollah.

Abdullah Abbas, a thin 18-year-old from Najaf, guarded a plot of graves of Katib Imam Ali fighters, a small militia closely tied to Iran and active both in Iraq and Syria.

In 2013, he left school at age 14, to become a fighter. The militia at the time mainly fought in Syria where it propped up President Bashar Assad’s government. Since then, he has bounced between Syria and Iraq.

Abbas said that if the government decides to dissolve the Shiite militias, he could easily find better paying work as a laborer. But he admitted he couldn’t imagine life without the purpose and prestige of being a militia fighter.

“I don’t think a normal life is an option for me now,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t imagine going back to what it was like before.”

___

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Bassam Hatoum in Najaf, Iraq, contributed to this report.

The Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/uK4Qex6rApw/maxresdefault.jpgIraq’s armed forces urgently need reform

The unsettling detail of the Iraqi army’s final conquest of Mosul from terrorist forces was the sectarian flags and icons that decorated military vehicles. The recapture seemed a pyrrhic victory that was caught up in the religious, ethnic and political divisions that plague Iraq.

With a supposed active force of some 270,000 military personnel, the army could only field 48,000 as Daesh overran swathes of Iraq in 2014. The country’s military institutions, babied by the US since the 2003 invasion, have suffered from corruption, administrative dysfunction and sectarianism that have affected their potency as a fighting force.

An understanding of the modern history of Iraq’s armed forces is essential to explaining its failure today. Set up by the British after the 1920 revolt, since its inception Iraq’s army has been a force geared toward internal security. Its first major action was putting down a Kurdish insurrection in Sulaimaniyah in 1924, and its subsequent involvement in the coups of 1936, 1941, 1958, 1963 and 1968 ensured it remained prey to factionalism and politicization.

Its only wartime battle engagements in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, the Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait were all military failures. Since then, sanctions and the consequences of the US-led invasion have stripped it of its ability to institutionalize, leaving it a hive of corruption and infighting.

Daesh’s dramatic initial success was in great part due to the unpreparedness and inefficiencies of Iraq’s army. In the context of the group’s initial conquest of Mosul, 800 fighters dislodged 30,000 Iraqi troops who scarpered from their 40-1 advantage over the enemy. Troops ill-trained to fight and unwilling to die for the authorities led to a state of affairs where the terrorists controlled up to 40 percent of the country.

The post-invasion Iraqi authorities have failed to build a state that all citizens are willing to subscribe to, reflected in the ineffectiveness of its fighting men and the ease with which civilians were absorbed by Daesh. The lack of inclusiveness in the Iraqi state is perfectly reflected in the security forces. Under the divisive tenure of former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, nepotism and rampant corruption came to characterize the military.

Hollowed out by the resignation of senior and experienced officers following de-Baathification, the force shrunk and became heavily reliant on sectarian militias. Between 70,000 and 120,000 militiamen have played a central role in the army’s push from the Shiite-dominated south to the Daesh-controlled north and west.

The sectarian nature of these militias has raised serious questions about their role in Iraq going forward. Hard-line cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has now been renamed the Peace Companies, has publically called for the role of such militias to be curtailed in post-Daesh Iraq.

The authorities must combat racism, discrimination and sectarianism to strengthen the unity of their fighting force, and to encourage all elements of society to take part in the defense of the nation. The army must be molded into a national institution that seeks to defend all Iraqis.

Zaid M. Belbagi

The sectarian nature of these militias alongside certain elements of the army has exacerbated an already very delicate state-building process that Iraq desperately needs. The military’s adoption of apocalyptic sectarian discourse alongside religious acts and iconography defies international conventions that oblige states to work to prevent racist practices and actions that cause intolerance and human rights violations.

The disproportionate violence of some Iraqi army units in areas retaken from Daesh are of great concern. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law; this includes most of the aforementioned violations.

In this context, the Iraqi authorities must combat racism, discrimination and sectarianism to strengthen the unity of their fighting force, and to encourage all elements of society to take part in the defense of the nation.

Arguably the most compelling case against the issues with which the army has been associated is that of “ghost soldiers,” when in 2014 50,000 fictitious members of the armed forces were identified. It transpired that over 120 billion Iraqi dinars ($104 million) had been diverted to the pockets of corrupt commanders as a result of the affair.

More worryingly, the scandal contributed to the significant lack of boots on the ground, deeply impacting the performance of Iraqi troops in Mosul, Salahuddin and Anbar — in some cases, the fighting capability of battalions was no more than 20 percent, according to senior commanders.

Such instances have highlighted to both the authorities and international audiences that Iraq’s forces are as yet unable to defend the country. Symptomatic of this problem, as the Pentagon signs off on the further supply of resources to Iraqi forces, the New York Times reported that “some of the weaponry recently supplied by the army has already ended up on the black market and in the hands of Islamic State (Daesh) fighters.”

Following a long battle against the terror groups operating in Iraq, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has promised a crackdown on corruption. Going forward, the army must be molded into a national institution that seeks to defend all Iraqis.

• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator. He also acts as an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).