The Antichrist Remembers the Large Horn (Daniel 8:3)

Muqtada Sadr: Iraq never stands against Iran, its interests

(AhlulBayt News Agency) – Leader of a political party, the Sadrist Movement and the leader of Saraya al-Salam Muqtada al-Sadr pointed to historic and stable ties between two countries.
Muqtada al-Sadr made the remarks in an interview recently.Iraq never stands against Iran and its interests, he said.He also denied the fact that his recent regional trips aimed at joining international lobbies. He referred to his trips as aiming at creating full understanding and coordination with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, reinforcing relations with regional countries and putting an end to tensions between Iraq and its neighbors

The Caliphate Under the Antichrist (Revelation 13) the Mahdi state to the Caliphate state!
Al Arabiya
The peoples of the East generally believe in inherited legends which, over time, turn into an unreliable part of faith. The idea of the Caliphate state which was promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood is a set of inherited mythical fantasies that claim that the Prophet (PBUH) promised the Muslims a Caliphate state which will unite the Muslim world under the same flag.
Naturally, this Hadith is challenged by many and is not proven by the authorities and scholars. In fact, the caliphate state is an idea which emerged after the death of the Prophet, and it is improbable that he had recommended it. However, the mixing of some of the Hadiths with fixed historical facts has created a kind of sanctity in the contemporary Islamic mindset.
The caliphate state, which they say will materialize at the end of time, is the basis of most of the Muslim political movements. At the forefront of these movements is the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sowing destruction
Among those who adopted this mythical idea is also ISIS, which shed the blood of many people, sowed destruction in countries and displaced people for the sake of the Caliphate state. In the end, all its efforts failed. They based their entire war and propaganda on a Hadith attributed to the Prophet which promised the emergence of this state at the end of time. In fact, it is believed that this state will conquer (Rome) in Europe, as is repeatedly vowed by its advocates.
By the way, when Juhayman occupied the Grand Mosque, and pledged allegiance to the person who claimed to be the Mahdi under the Kaaba, he also believed in the heritage of another newly inherited prophesy that predicts that when the Mahdi emerges at the end of time, all the Muslims in the Haram will pledge allegiance to him. Consequently, an army will come from the north to fight his supporters.
The defeat of ISIS and the idea of the state of the Caliphate, which some claim will emerge as strong as the Caliphate state in the beginning of Islamic history, requires us to purify our heritage from these myths that are not based on logical context as much as on the logic of miracles.
The story describes how the soil would crack and swallow the army and that the Mahdi and his supporters would conquer all. Yet, the truth was something else, something that is far away from myths and legends.
The question that we should urgently ask within this context is whether the fall of the so-called Caliphate State, along with the horrendous fall of ISIS, would fortify the Islamic mind and keep it from accepting these inherited heritage legends, which invade the law of logical causality under the pretext of the sanctity of the Prophet and make the miraculous supernatural somehow believable.
The defeat of ISIS and the idea of the state of the Caliphate, which some claim will emerge as strong as the Caliphate state in the beginning of Islamic history, requires us to purify our heritage from these myths that are not based on logical context as much as on the logic of miracles.
Just like the Juhayman incident and the myth of the Mahdi cost us human and psychological losses at the beginning of the current Hajri century, history is repeating itself. The same idea of the mythical state of the Caliphate cost the whole world human and material losses, which can be seen on the ground. In the end, it turns out that states are not based on desires or metaphysical reasons, but on rational reasons justified by reality, not by the cosmic law and miracles.
Hence, young people must realize that they were taken for fools. Indeed, some of the inherited heritage texts are only a form of rational abuse and myths.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper. He tweets @alshaikhmhmd
Last Update: Sunday, 6 August 2017 KSA 16:06 – GMT 13:06
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English’s point-of-view.

The Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)
Mini-Hizballahs, Revolutionary Guard Knock-Offs, and the Future of Iran’s Militant Proxies in Iraq
As the war against the Islamic State enters the final stretch, with less than a quarter of Mosul left to liberate, the Iraqi government must decide whether to allow a residual U.S. military support mission to stay on in Iraq. Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias have already weighed in on the matter. In early May 2017, Jafar al-Hosseini, a spokesman and senior commander of the Kata’ib Hizballah militia, told Iranian state media: “If [the] Americans fail to leave Iraq [following the defeat of Islamic State] they will be in the crosshairs of the Iraqi Islamic resistance.” Statements such as these, delivered confidently with little fear of government reproach, raise the question: Who is really in charge in Iraq?
The future of Iraq’s Hashd al-Sha’abi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and their constituent militias is one of the most consequential policy challenges facing the Iraqi government and its coalition partners, such as the United States. Raised by a religious fatwa and a political executive order, the PMF played a crucial role in stemming the advance of Islamic State in June 2014, eventually incorporating both Shiite and non-Shiite fighters. But the PMF consist of diverse elements. These include Iranian-backed Shiite militias, “shrine PMF” (whose leaders were selected by the quietist Shiite clergy in Najaf), and Sunni PMF. The latter two groups are assets for Iraq that will hopefully be incorporated into Iraqi Army, Counter-Terrorism Service and police forces. The Tehran-backed PMF, however, are a different matter and their future is a source of acute concern for Washington.
U.S. policymakers are particularly focused on the role that Tehran-backed PMF may play in Iranian efforts to remake parts of the region in its own image. One possibility is the Lebanese Hizballah model — entailing their transformation into political movements with military and social welfare wings, outside of state control but tolerated by the government. With the PMF formally incorporated as a temporary component of the Iraqi Security Forces there is also the possibility that the PMF could become a parallel official military institution akin to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Iran, to counterbalance U.S. and coalition-trained units in the Iraqi Security Forces.
What is the current and future relevance of these models to the Tehran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq? Our research indicates that some PMF elements with ties to Iran, such as Kata’ib Hizballah or Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, face an uncertain path and may continue their evolution towards the Hizballah model. Though presently at odds with Iran, the movement of Moqtada al-Sadr is, in many ways, probably the closest Iraqi equivalent to Hizballah. At the same time, the creation of an IRGC-like parallel military that answers to the country’s leadership is not very likely — at least at this time — in part because the Iran-backed Badr Organization is already determinedly converting elements of the Iraqi Security Forces into a parallel force not entirely under the control of the Iraqi prime minister. All of these eventualities present acute threats to shared U.S., Iraqi, and coalition interests and should be constrained through information operations, security force assistance, security sector reform, and political-economic assistance efforts, described in detail below.
The Hizballah Model
Iran helped create Lebanese Hizballah in the early 1980s and has been trying to apply the Hizballah model in Iraq through its support for groups like Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq for more than a decade. It has likewise been trying to apply this model in Syria since 2011, through its support for the pro-regime National Defense Forces and various Shiite Hizballah-type militias. Iraqi and U.S. decision-makers need to understand how this model is being applied in Iraq, in order to appreciate its implications and to better counter it there, and elsewhere.
The Lebanese Hizballah party, with its own parallel social-welfare and paramilitary institutions, is Iran’s most successful effort to export its Islamic Revolution. It plays a central role in efforts to aid the region’s “oppressed” Shiites, and to confront Israeli and American interests in the region and beyond. To this end, Hizballah fighters and advisors play a central role in Iran’s “Shiite Foreign Legion,” consisting of sectarian militias from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The Hizballah model refers to the techniques used by that group to garner influence and gain power in Lebanon. First, it used the credibility conferred by armed “resistance” and social welfare activities to establish itself as the dominant actor in the Shiite community and to garner support among non-Shiite constituencies at home and abroad. Second, it used this popular support to gain a foothold in the political system through elections to ensure that the party’s interests could not be harmed by the state. And third, it used its access to and influence over critical ministries and state agencies to protect and advance the party’s interests, and those of its Iranian patron, while preserving the paramilitary and social welfare organizations that undergird its parallel shadow state.
The slogan of resistance was fashioned into a quasi-religious doctrine of armed struggle by the Lebanese Hizballah in the 1980s. It holds special resonance for Shiites, recalling the death of Imam Hussein at Karbala in 680 CE. The successes of Shiite “resistance” in Lebanon (2000 and 2006) and Iraq (2011) has convinced its adherents that it offers a formula for defeating their enemies. To implement its doctrine of resistance against Israel, Hizballah created a quasi-conventional military force whose capabilities overshadow those of the Lebanese military. Hizballah’s successes against Israel (amplified by relentless propaganda) gave Lebanon’s previously downtrodden Shiites a sense of pride and empowerment. However, its resort to arms against its Lebanese rivals in 2005 and 2008 and its involvement in Syria in support of the Assad regime since 2011 have tarnished the appeal of its “resistance” brand in Lebanon and the region.
From its inception, Hizballah developed social welfare institutions to provide financial, educational, medical, and other services to Lebanon’s long neglected Shiite population, as well as needy members of other communities. These “good works” have been subsidized by some $100-$200 million in annual aid from Iran. Hizballah’s social welfare activities have been extremely important in building a base of support among Lebanon’s Shiites, and have become even more important in recent years. They have cushioned the impact of Hizballah’s 2006 war with Israel, with over 1,000 Lebanese killed, thousands of houses destroyed, and billions of dollars in damage to the country’s infrastructure, and its post-2011 intervention in Syria, with more than 1,700 Hizballah fighters reportedly killed and up to 7,000 wounded. However, intensified U.S. sanctions on Hizballah and the costs of intervention in Syria have forced Hizballah to pare back the provision of social-welfare benefits in recent years, causing grumbling in the party’s ranks.
Hizballah has also developed into a successful political party. The transition from military resistance movement to political party is of particular interest as Shiite-led militias seek to enter the political arena in Iraq. In Lebanon, Hizballah initially sought to strengthen the Shiite community by working as a social movement outside of the framework of the Lebanese state. Its goals and its stance toward politics evolved, however; Hizballah members ran for parliament in 1992, municipal councils in 1996, and joined the government as cabinet ministers in 2005. Meanwhile, Hizballah has abandoned (at least for now) its goal of establishing an Islamic State in Lebanon and has sought to work within the system to advance its interests by ensuring a blocking vote in the cabinet to veto government actions counter to its interests, or those of Iran. And in recent years, it has tried to build a cross-confessional coalition in Lebanon (the so-called March 8 Alliance) to further enhance its political influence. Hizballah’s participation in the Lebanese government and its ties to the military and elements in the security services has enabled it to use the resources of the Lebanese state for its own benefit by providing patronage to its supporters, and obtaining vital political and military intelligence it might not otherwise have had access to. And some non-Shiite Lebanese factions are increasingly coming to see Hizballah as a bulwark against Sunni jihadist groups operating at home and in Syria — and thus an asset to Lebanon.
An Iraqi Hizballah?
Several Iraqi Shiite militias and paramilitary organizations with long-standing ties to Iran, such as Kata’ib Hizballah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and the Badr Organization, see Lebanese Hizballah as a model and view its experience as a possible template for their own efforts to expand influence and political power. This is clearly evident in the political vocabulary, iconography, and modus operandi of these groups. Like Hizballah, the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias trade off the “resistance brand” — their armed struggles against Saddam, the United States, and most recently Islamic State and Syrian Sunni rebel groups. But for many, that is often where the similarities to Lebanese Hizballah end. Movements like Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (plus their spin-offs) do not yet operate social welfare networks and it will take at least a few years to develop them. The Iraqi Islamo-nationalist movement of Moqtada al-Sadr is the only Shiite militia that operates a relatively active social welfare arm, though not even the Sadrists can compare with the extensive network operated by Hizballah in Lebanon.
The multiplicity of Iraqi Shiite militias is one reason that Hizballah-style primacy probably cannot be reproduced in Iraq. In Lebanon, there was only one Hizballah from the earliest stage of its development. In Iraq, there are many Shiite groups that aspire to this role, and their leaders are often bitter rivals. This is due in part to the ideological and personality-driven fragmentation of the Shiite community, as well as Iran’s policy of splitting off extreme elements from more established mainstream Shiite groups to create proxies, further fracturing the community. Thus, when the Badr Organization joined the political process during the U.S. occupation and became an overt organization, Iran splintered off radical figures from it, such as Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, to form Kata’ib Hizballah. Likewise, Iran formed Asa’ib hl al-Haq from radical figures from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, such as Qais al-Khazali and Ismail al-Lami (a.k.a. Abu Dira — the notorious “Shiite Zarqawi”).
As a result, no single Hizballah-like group has been able to establish itself as the dominant element in the Shiite community. Thus far most of the Iran-backed militia leaders have found it difficult to transition from militia commander to political candidate. This could change in the 2017 provincial elections and 2018 national elections, although the smaller militias will likely be hard pressed to win many seats in an electoral system that favors large parties.
The smaller factions elevated by the PMF phenomenon such as Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq also face competition from larger and better-established Shiite militias, who broke onto the political scene well before the rise of the PMF in 2014. The key example is Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers, who won 34 seats in the 328-seat parliamentary elections in May 2014 and have been important players, and often kingmakers, at the national and provincial council level. Indeed, if anyone presently fills Hizballah’s position in Iraq, it is arguably Moqtada’s movement rather than any Iranian-backed group. Relying on resistance motifs and a basic social welfare network, Moqtada’s movement adopts an in-and-out approach to government. Oscillating between boycotting politics and providing ministers to the cabinet, Moqtada today launches major protest campaigns against the government in an effort to sway its policies from without.
Though Iranian-backed groups may try again to co-opt parts of Moqtada’s movement, his networks have proven to be resilient in the past and are likely to remain so. Iran nurtured Qais Khazali’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq from 2006 in order to carve off portions of Moqtada’s support base and draw them into an organization that was explicitly modelled on the Lebanese Hizballah. However, it evolved only in the military realm and failed to create an extensive social welfare network or attain a major political role (garnering only one seat in the last parliamentary election). Smaller PMF elements like Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq are unlikely to merge with each other or surrender their identities to Moqtada’s movement or Badr, and they face an uphill struggle to attract political constituencies away from established parties. This reduces the likelihood that these Hizballah clones will grow to play a dominant role in Iraqi politics.
The Revolutionary Guard and Basij Models
The IRGC differs fundamentally from Lebanese Hizballah because it sits at the center of Iran’s power structure, not apart from state, and answers directly to the Supreme Leader — the Commander in Chief of the country’s armed forces. Whereas Lebanese Hizballah can divert resources from the state, the IRGC is a major part of the state, operating significant economic ventures and military forces. Under the IRGC model, the state pays for the sustainment and growth of the militant guardians that ensure the very survival of the regime.
The IRGC was founded in 1979 during the early days of the Islamic Revolution, as a revolutionary military organization to counterbalance the regular Iranian military (Artesh) — whose commitment to the revolution was suspect due to its ties to the Shah’s regime and to the U.S. and British militaries. In the course of the Iran-Iraq War, the IRGC evolved into a military force with ground, air, naval, surface-to-surface missile components, and most recently a cyber arm, although its ethos has remained unconventional. The role of the IRGC is to defend the revolution and its achievements, protect against “soft warfare” (attempts to foment a “color revolution” in Iran), to export the revolution, and it has come to overshadow the regular army in both the country’s external and internal affairs. The IRGC (or its Basij militia auxiliary) played a role in quashing domestic unrest in 1994, 1999, and 2009 and threatened a coup against president Mohammad Khatami in 1999 unless he reigned in student unrest. It has also been involved in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In Iran this trend has swollen the Revolutionary Guard’s influence to the point where it is almost semi-autonomous and state-like in many areas of exclusive delegated authority such as operations in Iran’s near-abroad.
The Basij was founded in 1980 and is a volunteer paramilitary organization that is subordinate to the IRGC and deployed throughout the country. It was intended to be a “20 million man army” to counter foreign military intervention (the actual number is believed to be four to five million). The primary mission of the Basij is social control (achieved through ideological indoctrination and a pervasive presence on university campuses, in factories and offices, and on the street), internal security, and waging a “peoples’ war” against invaders. Following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Basij and IRGC were trained to conduct guerilla warfare against an invading force in accordance with a new, decentralized defensive concept — the regime’s so-called “mosaic” doctrine.
An Iraqi Revolutionary Guard or Basij?
Since 2013, the Iraqi state began to lean on Iranian-backed Shiite militias as a crutch due to the declining effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces and the expanding security threats posed by the Islamic State. The fatwa and executive orders that formalized the PMF were quickly seized upon by the existing Iran-backed Shiite militias and their allied politicians — including the ousted prime minister Nouri al-Maliki — to “empire build” a new security institution that might provide a permanent source of legitimacy, weapons and salaries for its constituent militias. Nearly three years into the PMF’s existence, the development of a PMF ministry with a line item in each budget is exactly the outcome that some PMF advocates seek, not least the PMF Commission’s operational commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
If this were to occur, the PMFs could play the role of the IRGC, with standing forces paralleling the missions of the regular security forces, or the PMF could play a Basij-like role as an auxiliary or reserve force with an ideological mission. (Indeed, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq has already spoken about creating a hashd “in every field,” including a student and a university hashd, to infuse civil society with AAH’s Islamist worldview and to combat the Western “cultural invasion”—much like the Basij does in Iran.) A permanent PMF ministry might be viewed as a counter to the influence of military units that have been trained by the United States and its partners. The creation of a new parallel security force would roughly conform to historical patterns of praetorianism in the design of Arab militaries, whereby a “Republican Guard” unit tied to the ruling clique by family and tribal connections is deployed in and around the capital city. In this case, the model would not be an indigenous template, but that of Iran’s “Revolutionary Guard” — and the result would be a sectarian military organization with a religious-ideological orientation, that is tied to a foreign power. Another likely mission for a standing PMF would be to maintain a presence along parts of the Kurdistan-Iraq frontline, particularly in mixed areas where tensions are high between Shiite Turkmen and the Kurds. Following the IRGC/Basij model, the PMFs could likewise be used to inculcate in Iraqi society the culture of jihad, resistance, and martyrdom as well as the anti-Americanism that are the hallmarks of the IRGC and Basij, and the ideology of the Islamic Republic. An Iranian-dominated PMF ministry would likely try to present itself as an authentically Islamic military organization that serves “Iraqi” interests, even as its members express fealty to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene’i or his successor, as opposed to the Iraqi military, which will be tarred as an instrument of Western influence based on an un-Islamic ethos and foreign institutional ties.
Both the February 2016 executive order establishing the PMF as a formal part of the Iraqi Security Forces and the November 2016 law were interpreted by many Iraqis as moves in the direction of a permanent institutionalized PMF that could become an IRGC/Basij equivalent. But the duration of the PMF’s existence was not described in either the order or the law, nor was permanent funding assured for the PMF. Instead, these documents emphasized that the PMF is under the prime minister’s command and under the military code of justice. The PMF law clarified that they were not being formalized at ministry-level, as the Counter-Terrorism Service were. According to many observers, the Shiite religious establishment headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani seems to be cautiously preparing to issue a new fatwa that would negate the religious decree that underpins the PMF, at which point the government would announce its plans for the re-employment and demobilization of many PMF volunteers.
Restrictions on the resourcing of the PMF is a key issue, and a clear differentiator (at least at present) from the well-funded IRGC/Basij, hinting at the intention of the political and religious establishment to maintain the institutional impermanence of the PMF until they can be dissolved or merged into other entities. At present, the PMF Commission of the Prime Minister’s Office is funded by an annual decision by the prime minister and to a lesser extent the parliament to include a PMF allocation in the Iraqi budget. In the 2017 budget the PMF Commission of the Prime Minister’s Office received funding for 122,000 PMF members, which included recurrent spending of 1.39 trillion Iraqi dinars ($1.18 billion). This includes 1.27 trillion dinars ($1.08 billion) for salaries and 120 billion dinars ($102 million) for other operating expenses. Our enquiries with Iraqi government officials in Baghdad provide further granularity that is not in the Arabic-language main budget but which is described in non-public budget annexes. The PMF also received an allocation of 518 billion dinars ($441 million) for capital expenditure (procurement), which was raised from a 3 percent deduction from state employee salaries, of which 60 percent is used for PMF procurement of “essential supplies” such as food, water and ammunition.
Total spending on the PMF in 2017, excluding any undeclared support from Iran, is 1.91 trillion dinars ($1.63 billion). This compares to 30.19 trillion dinars ($25.83 billion) of non-PMF security costs in the 2017 budget, including 8.8 trillion dinars ($7.51 billion) for the Ministry of Defense, 10.8 trillion dinars ($9.21 billion) for the Ministry of Interior and 0.8 trillion dinars ($683 million) for the Counter-Terrorism Service, plus over a billion dollars of military aid provided by foreign security assistance partners to non-PMF elements. By way of comparison, the $1.63 billion that Baghdad plans to spend on the PMF in its 2017 budget is about 22 percent of the $7.4 billion that Tehran plans to spend on the IRGC in Iran’s 2017-2018 budget. The PMF receives 6 percent of Iraq’s security-related spending, despite providing 28 percent of the country’s frontline armed strength.
Thus, in terms of per capita resourcing, the PMF still lag far behind all the other security agencies in a manner that suggests their growth into a permanent institution is being deliberately curtailed in favor of traditional security organizations. Of course, this allocation could change after the 2018 elections if a new Iraqi prime minister increased PMF funding — potentially a third-term Nouri al-Maliki or another member of Maliki’s Iran-leaning faction. The power of an IRGC/Basij-equivalent would then be tied to its ability to out-grow and intimidate the Iraqi Security Forces, which would in turn be determined by the willingness and ability of the Iraqi government and the international community to fund, protect and support the Iraqi Army, Counter-Terrorism Service, and possibly also Ministry of Interior forces.
The Badr Organization: The IRGC’s main project in Iraq?
Even if a new security ministry is not created in Iraq, one of the most well-established Iranian-backed Shiite militias — the Badr Organization — is arguably partway towards carving out an IRGC clone within the existing security forces. Badr conducted covert paramilitary operations in Iraq during the 1980s and 1990s under orders from the IRGC Qods Force, but the movement and its Iranian sponsors decided to join the U.S.-led democratic transition in Iraq after 2003. Badr maintained its operational ties to the IRGC Qods Force throughout its period of ostensible cooperation with the United States. Members of the Badr Organization now lead the Ministry of Interior, Iraq’s largest ministry, which, as noted above, has a budget larger than the IRGC. Badr has also developed informal dominance of the Ministry of Defense security forces within a large swathe of Iraqi territory in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. The Badr Organization enjoys fast-growing influence, with 22 of 328 seats in the Iraqi parliament, plus growing representation on the nine provincial councils in central and southern Iraq.
One of the reasons for Badr’s success is that the movement began its hollowing out of the Iraqi Security Forces in 2003, eleven years prior to the formation of the PMF. Between 2003 and 2005, sixteen thousand Shiite militiamen were incorporated into the nascent ISF. These so-called dimaj (direct appointment) personnel lacked any formal professional education as soldiers or policemen. Badr provided the lion’s share of these recruits, largely Iraqi Shiites who lived in exile in Iran throughout the 1980s and 1990s and who fought on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq War. Many have either dual Iraqi-Iranian citizenship or were born in Iran and only received their Iraqi citizenship post-2003. The Badr recruits were often assigned to Iraqi Army intelligence, Ministry of Interior special weapons and tactics teams, and the ministry’s National Information and Investigations Agency — Iraq’s FBI-equivalent. Because, prior to 2003, Badr personnel were trained and controlled by the IRGC Qods Force during their stay in Iran, their integration into the Iraqi Security Forces since then has produced an acute counterintelligence challenge. In addition to filling out key Iraqi Security Forces portfolios, Badr also eliminated hundreds of potential rivals within the security forces, notably Saddam-era intelligence personnel, and exacted revenge on Saddam-era pilots who flew bombing missions during the Iran-Iraq War.
Today, Badr leads the Ministry of Interior, which allows it to support or undermine provincial police chiefs across the country. The ministry also commands the 37,000-strong Federal Police, a five-division motorized infantry force, and the Emergency Response Division, a divisional-sized special weapons and tactics group akin to the Counter-Terrorism Service. Since 2005, Badr has also controlled the leadership and manning of the Iraqi Army 5th division in Diyala, and is interested in folding its dozen or so PMF brigades into a new Badr-controlled Iraqi Army or Federal Police division. Taken together, these represent the largest concentration of ground forces in the country, outnumbering the functional parts of the federally-controlled Iraqi Army and Counter-Terrorism Service.
Modelling the Future of Iraqi Shiite Militias
In Iraq, the development of a new institution based on the IRGC is perhaps the least likely evolution of the PMF, primarily because Iran and its proxies are not fully in charge of the diverse and fractious Iraqi state. For this reason, it may be effectively resisted. Nor is there the opportunity for a unitary Iraqi Hizballah to emerge from the PMF factions at the moment. In any case, the niche is already partly filled by Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement, which is recommending demobilization of the PMF into a veterans’ affairs department. Badr’s quiet hollowing-out of large portions of the Iraqi Security Forces represent a different model to either the “Hizballah-ization” of Iraq or the overt development of a new IRGC knock-off there. In many ways, Badr’s model is more problematic than either the Hizballah or IRGC models, and may serve Iran’s interests equally well.
Arguably, as long as Badr continues to consolidate security powers and to follow IRGC’s instructions, Iran has no immediate need to develop a new Hizballah, or a new IRGC or Basij inside Iraq. The case of Lebanese Hizballah may point to some future complexities of the Badr-Iran relationship. Hizballah has significant latitude to pursue its own interests in Lebanon, but remains tethered to Tehran when it comes to the pursuit of regional interests. Thus, the devastating 2006 war with Israel was the outcome of a kidnapping attempt by Hizballah that was undertaken without Iran’s blessing, to advance Hizballah’s domestic agenda. The war cost Tehran its massive investment in Hizballah’s rocket force, which was part of Iran’s strategic deterrent, as well as billions of dollars for reconstruction in Lebanon. Since then, Tehran has exerted much greater control over Hizballah’s military activities to prevent such a recurrence.
Iran may pragmatically allow Badr a great deal of latitude to pursue its own approach in normal times, but will expect it to act in accordance with Iranian interests when the latter’s vital interests are at stake. The key issue for the United States is whether Badr might one day play a role in attacking U.S. personnel or evicting U.S. troops from Iraq. Badr includes many deeply anti-American elements, not least the current Minister of Interior Qassem al-Araji, who spent 26 months in U.S. military custody and has been accused of supporting deadly attacks on U.S. personnel. Yet, Badr has also profited greatly by working alongside the United States since 2003. At the time of this writing, the Badr-led Emergency Response Division and Federal Police units in the Mosul battle have worked hand-in-glove with U.S. air power, for instance in the recapture of Mosul airport. Qassem al-Araji has even stressed the need for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. If directed by Tehran, could Badr be relied upon to risk its role in government, or its control over the Ministry of Interior, to answer Iran’s call to undertake attacks on U.S. military personnel in Iraq? Or might Tehran use radical Badr members to form another splinter group to continue to fight — as it did in the past with Badr members Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis?
This is why smaller groups like Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, as well as any new breakaway groups that Tehran forms, will continue to serve a very useful purpose for Iran and the IRGC, being easier to influence and deploy in Iraq and in regional struggles such as Syria or Bahrain. In the last three years Kata’ib Hizballah has fired rockets into Saudi Arabia, trained and armed Bahraini Shiite militants, and kidnapped Qatari citizens to build Tehran’s leverage over Doha. Most recently, Harakat al-Nujaba, a splinter of Kata’ib Hizballah, announced the formation of a unit to liberate the Golan Heights from Israeli control. Considering Badr’s prominent role in government and the political ambitions of Hadi al-Ameri, it is hard to imagine Badr making the same threat outside conditions of an armed clash between Iran/Hizballah and Israel. Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq are likely to welcome their ongoing independence from state security organs. The challenge for these groups will be maintaining armed forces and training camps inside Iraq if there is a formal demobilization of the PMF. To do so, they may need to resume a semi-covert mode of operation, move elements into Iran and Syria, and distance their political and military wings.
U.S. Policy Issues and Options
There is already an embryonic IRGC-like structure forming in Iraq, though it faces strong countervailing pressures from the Iraqi body politic and the Iraqi Army and Counter-Terrorism Service. It is also likely that an array of Iranian-backed Hizballah-wannabe militias will persist in Iraq and will not be neatly consolidated into one entity. Like the Lebanese original, these smaller Iraqi Hizballah clones will be used to attack Iran’s enemies such as Israel, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and possibly to pressure Iraqi political, military or religious leaders who push back too hard against Tehran’s priorities. Many of these mini-Hizballahs will be partially enmeshed within the security forces and their part-time involvement in foreign wars with Sunni neighbors will be politically difficult for Iraq’s Shiite prime ministers to prevent.
The thorniest issue is how Washington should treat Badr and its ambitious leader Hadi al-Ameri. The PMF phenomenon has empowered Badr, a movement that cannot be ignored or sidelined because it is a major and growing power in the parliament, the provincial councils, and the security forces. The United States has worked with Badr on and off during the past 14 years — but there is a persistent concern that in doing so, Washington is merely building up a future adversary that could displace more moderate leaders who are more amenable to working with the United States.
This is a discouraging picture, but far from the hopeless image of an Iraq “lost” to Iranian domination. The Iran-backed PMF factions do not have to be a political-military game-changer in Iraq as long as Iraqi factions and international partners continue to resist the creation of a new, permanent, well-funded security institution that operates independently of the Iraqi chain of command. While the United States is no longer an occupying power in Iraq and must conduct all efforts “by, with and through” its sovereign Iraqi partners, U.S. actions will nevertheless be among the most important factors influencing Iran’s ability to transform the PMF into an instrument of influence. The more Washington steps back in Iraq, the more Tehran will step forward; a repeat of the rapid coalition drawdown and disengagement after 2011 will likely embolden Tehran and better position it to expand its influence there.
To avert such an outcome, the United States should lock in the international coalition’s commitment to continue training the Iraqi Security Forces, deal with the heightened threat of ISIL terrorism after the latter’s military defeat, help secure Iraq’s borders, and maintain Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve as a broad multinational coalition even after the war against ISIL. Washington should also approve a new three-year Iraq Train and Equip Fund II package for the Iraqi Security Forces to cover 2017-2020, supplanting the current package covering 2014-2017. Building on this overarching policy framework, U.S. and coalition policy-makers should focus on three achievable objectives vis-à-vis the PMF.
Deny Iran-backed PMF Budgetary and Institutional Advantages
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani may issue a new fatwa after the liberation of Mosul that relieves Iraqis of their duty to take up arms, but in the lead–up to Iraqi elections it may be difficult for the Shiite-led government to fully disband the PMF Commission of the Prime Minister’s Office. In the likely event that a PMF agency of some kind does survive the war against ISIL, the priority of Iraq’s partners should be to minimize its negative potential. The PMF should be treated with respect and supported by the international community only if certain reasonable conditions are met. Controversial terrorist actors like Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis should be eased out. The cross-sectarian character of the PMF should be further developed to make it a more inclusive organization that reflects Iraqi society. The PMF should not be a parallel military, duplicating the role of existing agencies like the Iraqi Army and Counter-Terrorism Service. Instead, the PMF should fill existing gaps, serving as wartime reserve forces, as border security and critical infrastructure security forces, or as rural “neighborhood watch” forces that are not permitted to operate within cities. Over time, professionalization through coalition military training could loosen PMF ties to the Iranian-backed militias, with American vetting requirements ( as required by the Leahy Law) acting as a means of complicating the involvement of bad actors in the PMF.
Washington and Baghdad must also work to prevent Badr or another actor from carving out a factional army within the existing security forces. The best way to do so is by generously resourcing the most reliable and effective elements of the security forces such as the army and Counter-Terrorism Service. Of note, the PMF budget in 2017 is more than double the Counter-Terrorism Service budget ($1.63 billion for PMF versus $683 million for the Counter-Terrorism Service). This needs to be reversed. The Counter-Terrorism Service needs major international security assistance, as does a subset of Iraqi Army divisions — commensurate to the substantial role they played in defeating ISIL — to provide the government with the forces it needs to pursue ISIL into the desert hinterlands, borders and covert hideaways. The leadership of the Ministry of Interior should be rotated after elections between Iraq’s leading factions to ensure that this critical ministry does not become the fiefdom of the Badr Organization, no matter how reasonable or cooperative they may seem at any given moment.
Resist the Blurring of the Iraqi PMF “Liberation” Brand with the Hizballah/Iran “Resistance” Brand
In reflecting on the conduct of the war against ISIL, the United States needs to recognize the PMF phenomenon as a heroic chapter in Iraq’s history. Although the principal forces that liberated most of Iraq’s cities were the Iraqi Army, the Counter-Terrorism Service, and the Federal Police, the positive contributions of the PMF should be honored. To this end, the United States might make a powerful gesture on this issue, possibly including a monument and scholarships and medical support for select PMF veterans drawn from all ethno-sectarian backgrounds.
But there also needs to be a clear differentiation between Iraqi heroes who stood up to ISIL versus armed non-state actors who used the war against Islamic State to engage in criminal activities and build political franchises. The international community should help expose the crimes of those bad actors who are trying to hide behind the mantle of the PMF “resistance brand,” which is a disservice to the genuine heroes of the popular mobilization. The U.S., British, Australian, and Italian militaries hold ample evidence of the misdeeds of groups like Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq against Iraqi civilians and security force members, as does the Iraqi government. These movements and their spin-offs still have not answered for years of gangsterism, intra-Shiite bloodletting, and sectarian cleansing of non-Shiites. Likewise, governments in the region should be encouraged to release evidence that movements like Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq are active in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Syria at Iran’s behest, and in clear contravention of the Iraqi constitution and the Iraqi military chain of command. In March 2017, Prime Minister Abadi noted at the U.S. Institute for Peace that Iraq wanted to stay out of the region’s sectarian Cold War. If Iraq wants peace with its Sunni neighbors and their help with its reconstruction, these interventions by Iraqi sub-state actors working on behalf of Iranian interests need to be exposed, investigated and stopped. The United States should name Iraqi individuals involved in cross-border activities as special-designated terrorists, to make it more difficult for such individuals to travel, attain high office in Iraq’s government, or benefit from U.S. and international aid to the Iraqi Security Forces (including the PMF).
Moreover, Washington should avoid self-inflicted wounds such as the careless rollout of the travel ban on Iraqis in February 2017. These kinds of mistakes are easy to make, but are exceedingly difficult to fix, and often have consequences that are regional in scope and geopolitical in scale. As a result, the U.S. is always playing catch-up against the propaganda efforts of Iranian-backed PMF elements.
The United States and its allies should also undermine the resistance brand by remaining firmly committed to resolving the Syrian civil war and pursuing ISIL inside Syria, so as not to cede ground there to the Iran-backed PMF, and provide them with a pretext for additional foreign interventions. Likewise, America’s Gulf Arab allies should be strongly encouraged to pursue political processes with Shiite oppositionists in states like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as with the Houthis in Yemen, for these wars feed the resistance brand of the Iran-backed PMF elements. Against this backdrop, the United States and its partners should encourage the Iraqi government to establish and enforce legal limits on external activities by PMF-associated militias that have not been authorized by the Prime Minister, in his capacity as commander in chief. This would add force to Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s fatwa prohibiting the PMF from operating outside the framework of the Iraqi government and outside of Iraq.
Deny Iran-Backed PMF Social Welfare Advantages and a Sectarian Political Climate.
An underperforming government and a fractured society are fertile ground for Iranian-backed PMF elements seeking Hizballah- or IRGC/Basij-like attributes. For instance, since the end of the U.S. military presence in 2011, the development of social welfare institutions has not been a U.S. national security priority in Iraq, but that should change. Otherwise, Iran-backed groups will fill the social service vacuum for their own political benefit. U.S. and coalition assistance should focus on capacity-building at both the national (ministerial) and provincial levels. U.S. policy should continue to support key projects with tangible impact on Iraq’s public services such as the electricity, water and health sectors, to demonstrate that non-PMF political parties can deliver services. The United States should also strengthen its outreach into Shiite Iraq, particularly via its Basra consulate, which is located in Iraq’s poorest but most economically vital oil-rich southern province.
Likewise, the United States should work to deny Iranian-backed militias a propitious political and ethnosectarian climate in which to develop political wings by supporting moderate Iraqi political actors such as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. And it should foster cross-sectarian and multi-ethnic politicking, to produce cross-cutting electoral alliances that would undermine the appeal of sectarian Shiite groups like Kata’ib Hizballah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Badr. Meanwhile, the United States should do what it can to splinter Iranian-backed militant groups, by constructively engaging some Iranian-backed elements of Badr whilst continuing to treat Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq as terrorist actors and designating elements of Badr as such. Through this process and the general strengthening of the Iraqi government, the United States may incentivize the breakup or withering of sectarian militias and political movements.
Towards the Future
There is still time to offset the gains that Iran’s proxies have made in the last three years. The Iraqi state almost lost its monopoly over the use of force during the Iraqi Army’s collapse of 2014. The victories in Tikrit, Ramadi and Mosul, amongst other battles, have created a window of opportunity to rebuild the Iraqi Army and Counter-Terrorism Service as a bulwark against the return of ISIL, and against Iranian-backed militias currently embedded within the PMF. Iraq is too populous, resource-rich and centrally positioned to be surrendered to Iran’s domination. Placing Iraq — the world’s fourth largest energy producer – under the effective control of Iran — the third largest producer — would be an unprecedentedly destabilizing event. This very predicament — preventing the emergence of a regional hegemon that controlled most of the region’s oil — is what drew the U.S.-led coalition to use force against Saddam’s regime when he invaded Kuwait. And Iraq — thanks to its location — is the geopolitical lynchpin of efforts to prevent the emergence of a Shiite crescent controlled by Iran in the heart of the Arab Middle East. This prospect should alone give pause and should encourage all major nations to support Iraq’s government in reducing the risks posed by Iranian-backed militias.
Michael Knights is the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Michael Eisenstadt is Kahn Fellow and Director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Moderation of the Antichrist

The moderation of Muqtada al-Sadr

James Snell
Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a speech to his supporters, Najaf, April 2015 [AFP]
Date of publication: 9 May, 2017
Comment: Paradoxically, the threat of IS has created a new politics, putting nationalism before sectarianism. James Snell asks if a more moderate Sadr could provide the stability Iraq has lacked?
The name Muqtada al-Sadr used to inspire fear. His brand of Shia sectarianism contributed greatly to the turmoil following the deposition of Saddam Hussein in 2003. His militia, the Mahdi Army, fought against the United States and the forces of the reconstituted Iraqi state. It also engaged in street violence and intimidation.
For the American authorities, Sadr was a rabble-rouser and a barrier to peace, a hostile religious figure whose influence was significant and malign.
But times change, and now Sadr is cutting a more conciliatory figure. He may even be an essential participant in mainstream politics; undergoing a process of moderation himself.
Notably, his militia, now revived and renamed Saraya al-Salam, is participating in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). This conflict has put many disparate factions and forces within Iraq on the same side, for IS has given them a common enemy. This anti-IS campaign has the potential to become a war of Iraqi national unification.
Sadr’s place in all this could be difficult to pin down. But recent developments suggest that he is undergoing something approaching a process of moderation.
Gareth Browne, a journalist currently covering the Mosul campaign, wrote an important piece in February this year suggesting the same.
I contacted Browne to ask whether more recent events confirm his thesis. He said that there is a sense that “some Sunni leaders recognise [Sadr] isn’t going anywhere, and are willing to consider his olive branch”. Browne added that “there is talk of launching a cross-sectarian party in time for next year”, though this is “just talk at the moment”.
Sadr’s sympathies are nationalist, meaning that he rejects much regional Shia chauvinism, which is associated with Iran, and takes a more specifically Iraqi tack. He is therefore a strong critic of Nouri al-Maliki, formerly Iraq’s prime minister, who is seen by many as Iran’s man in Baghdad.
As ever, the fate of more than one nation is involved. Iranian intervention in Syria, which nakedly promotes regional sectarian interests, complicates matters. And opinions are frequently divided along sectional interest rather than secular political lines.
An important part of Sadr’s apparent moderation is his stance on Syria. Recently, Sadr called upon Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator, to resign. This was, tweeted Middle East analyst Nibras Kazimi, a “first for organised Shiism”.
Sadr went against the grain among Shia figures, and against the idea of a rigid sectarian division in the Middle East in general, and the Levant in particular.
This speaks to Sadr’s independence from Iran. Iranian forces support the Assad regime to the hilt, to the extent that it has effectively become an Iranian proxy, operating alongside numerous Iranian-backed organisations, such as Lebanese Hizballah and other Shia militias.
Asked whether Sadr represented a significant check on Iranian power within Iraq, Kazimi replied that “his presence, along with Sistani’s, already acts as a check on Iran’s influence within Iraq”. This remains, therefore, “a static situation”.
Then I inquired more about Sadr’s repositioning.
“I do think that part of this is a sincere reorientation of his thinking”, he said.
[Sadr] didn’t need the aggravation of mid-2012 when he joined the bid to unseat Maliki, even after reaching a detente with the latter for the 2010 elections. The reasons Sadr laid out for joining the anti-Maliki camp were very progressive if measured against what the larger Shia “establishment” was willing to say about the “oppression” of Sunnis.
“Sadr could have easily competed with Maliki for the Shia chauvinist constituency, given that he had a track record of beating up on Sunnis, or even to use that to cement his alliance with Maliki. Rather, Sadr chose to go the other way.”
This points to a sincere reorientation of Sadr’s politics.
Other analysts are less optimistic. Some think Sadr is simply jockeying for internal political power, repositioning himself as a reasonable figure and an honest broker in a bid to make himself indispensible.
There is some evidence to suggest this. And it cannot be forgotten that he is a man who led a sectarian insurgency against the new post-Saddam Iraq. His violent past cannot be swiftly forgotten.
At the same time, however, the conflict with IS has changed the state of play. Baghdad came close to capture. Many Iraqis have been killed, either in the face of IS’ rapid advance, or in course of the slow, grinding campaign which has retaken so much of the country from the caliphate.
These things tend to focus minds.
So too has the looming prospect of Iranian interference in Iraqi politics. Iran-supporting militias have, by dint of their numbers and the relative weakness of the Iraqi state’s armed forces, taken a large role in the anti-IS campaign.
For Iraqi figures such as Sadr, this could have seemed distinctly alarming. He is, as Browne says, a “staunch nationalist”. His politics is Iraqi before it is Shia. He has no atavistic loyalty to Iran.
Sadr’s militias represent a nationalist, Iraqi alternative to forces organised from the outside. None of them operate in Syria, unlike many Iranian-backed forces, which happily range across the border between the two countries.
His ambition is to diminish Iranian influence in Iraqi politics, and in doing so he may become an important moderating figure. Sadr could use his high profile and significant support to do something very important.
Even if he’s doing much of this for selfish reasons, Sadr’s purported change of heart is still for the good. Iraqi needs moderates, just as its politics needs to moderate. Sadr can counter Iranian influence while also promoting non-sectarian politics.
The Iraqi state has not been truly stable in many years. Paradoxically, the threat of IS has created a new political reality, one in which moderation may win the day, and with it, the sort of stability few thought possible. Sadr could be an essential influence on this new politics. His moderation is an important and positive step. It can only be welcomed.
James Snell is a writer and blogger whose work has appeared in National Review, Prospect, CapX, NOW News, Middle East Eye, History Today and Left Foot Forward – among others.
Follow him on Twitter: @James_P_Snell
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.

The Antichrist Claims Mosul

Iraqi forces gain foothold in Mosul after new push
06.05.2017 Madeline Patrick
In his statement, Haider Al-Abadi emphasized that there are no foreign combat troops on Iraqi soil and that any American troops who stay on once Daesh militants are defeated will be advisers working to train Iraq’s security forces to maintain “full readiness” for any “future security challenges”.
“[The source said] that these were people that were fleeing the clashes, the fighting [that is] going on between Iraqi security forces and ISIL in that neighbourhood of western Mosul, and that they had taken refuge in a “school house” in that area”, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoon, reporting from Erbil in northern Iraq, said.
It would represent a major symbolic setback for the group whose unprecedented experiment in jihadist statehood was heralded by the conquest of Mosul in June 2014.
Colonel Dorrian told Rudaw recently that their estimates show that there are fewer than 1,000 ISIS militants left in Mosul, down from at least some 6,000 militants when the Iraqis launched the Mosul offensive last October.
The US and its allies have been providing aerial support to the Iraqi forces backed by Shia paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).
A US -led worldwide coalition is providing key air and ground support to the offensive on Mosul, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq, which started in October. “There are defences in place”, he said.
The Mosul neighborhoods under ISIS control are still home to hundreds of thousands of people. Gen. Joseph Martin, commander of ground forces for the US -led coalition.
The Bush administration negotiated the 2011 withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq, but the Obama administration failed to reach an agreement with the Iraqis to provide United States forces with protections to stay beyond that date.
Since then, a highly publicized surge in civilian casualties, likely the result of increasing US airstrikes coupled with ISIS’s broadened use of human shields, has slowed the Iraqi momentum.
Members of the Iraqi Army clash with Daesh at a frontline in north west of Mosul, Iraq, May 5, 2017.
Iraqi army soldiers took over Mosul’s airport, providing them a gateway to the western part of the city.
Influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has long criticised the presence of USA troops in Iraq, even going so far as to describe them as a potential targetfor his supporters.
“I am looking at trying to strike right in front of him as well as deep, even into Old Mosul“.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have made territorial gains on the outskirts of Mosul, located some 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the capital Baghdad.

The Antichrist’s Men (Revelation 13:18)

Iraq’s firebrand Shiite cleric presents his political successor
Posted May 4, 2017
Author: Omar Sattar
BAGHDAD, Iraq — In a meeting with the ministers of defense and interior in Muqtada al-Sadr’s Najaf office May 3, Sadr’s nephew Ahmed al-Sadr stood directly behind his uncle in what was taken as the younger Sadr’s introduction as the second-highest authority of the Sadrist movement after Muqtada al-Sadr himself.
A few weeks ago, Ahmed al-Sadr appeared on the Iraqi scene as the head of the Sadrist movement’s reform committee, introducing its political agendas and plans for the post-Islamic State period. The Sadrist movement presented its strategies at the end of April to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Masum, parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani and former President Jalal Talabani.
The Sadrist movement has long been closely associated with the civil movement, having forged an alliance at the start of the demonstrations calling for reform that broke out in 2015.
Ahmed al-Sadr is the son of Muqtada al-Sadr’s brother Mustafa al-Sadr. Ahmed al-Sadr was born in Najaf in 1986 but did not receive a religious education in traditional Shiite schools. Instead he was guided and supported by his uncle, who sent him to Lebanon to major in political science at Beirut University, where he completed a master’s degree.
Ahmed al-Sadr returned to Iraq and made public appearances a few days after Muqtada al-Sadr’s announcement that he had received death threats March 24 from what he called the “trinity parties,” people involved with the US occupation, terrorism and corruption. He subsequently had to delegate powers to his aides.
As a result, Ahmed al-Sadr was appointed to head the recently formed committee to administer the Sadrist initiatives for political reform and the post-liberation period. He began with meeting with several Iraqi leaders.
Muqtada al-Sadr seems to be looking for loyal leaders close to the Sadrist movement, in light of the movement’s tense relations with the Shiite National Alliance, particularly the State of Law Coalition, led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Muqtada al-Sadr had previously called upon Abadi to start a political reform process and led popular demonstrations demanding change and efforts to fight corruption.
Several Sadrist leaders have been implicated in major corruption cases and local elections are scheduled for September. Thus, Muqtada al-Sadr had to rely on those close to him during this critical phase, and no one is better suited than Ahmed al-Sadr, groomed to take up this mission.
Leading the political committees means that Ahmed al-Sadr’s mission will be political and not religious. This separation will allow the movement’s political body to later become a political party under Iraqi law, which prohibits the formation of political parties on a religious or sectarian basis. Muqtada al-Sadr himself would become the movement’s guide or mentor, as he believes in the separation of religion and politics.
Following his April 18 meeting with Masum, Ahmed al-Sadr said, “Muqtada al-Sadr’s initiatives are aimed at strengthening the state and the rule of law and applying it to help improve citizens’ lives, freedom and security.”
Ahmed al-Sadr also said he met with Abadi on April 21 to discuss electoral matters. Ahmed al-Sadr said, “The terms of the two [Sadrist] projects the importance of holding elections under a new professional and unbiased electoral commission and a fair electoral law that would meet the aspirations of citizens for true representation of the Iraqi people.”
Sadrist movement senior Ibrahim al-Jabiri told Al-Monitor, “Muqtada al-Sadr has put forward several political projects, including a proposal for initial solutions to the country’s situation in post-IS period, in addition to the reform project, including a change in the electoral law and the Independent High Electoral Commission. These projects and initiatives will be presented to the different political parties for consideration, refinement and implementation, to serve the country and correct the course of the political process.”
Jaafar al-Mousawi, head of the Sadrist movement’s political committee, denied reports of the formation of a cross-sectarian electoral bloc between the Kurds and the movement after a Sadrist delegation headed by Ahmed al-Sadr visited the Kurdistan Region.
“The delegation representing Muqtada al-Sadr, led by Ahmed al-Sadr, had one specific mission, which was to discuss the projects of Muqtada al-Sadr after the liberation of Mosul, in addition to reform in the electoral commissions,” Mousawi said in an April 23 statement to al-Ghad Press.
“We heard from the committee that Kurdish parties welcomed Sadr’s initiatives regarding reform and the post-liberation period of Mosul,” Mousawi added.
Sadr’s “Initial Solutions,” introduced Feb. 21, aim to provide support for the areas liberated from IS, including reconstruction projects, the return of the displaced and “eliminating foreign forces from the country while integrating the Popular Mobilization Units in the security forces.”
Sadr’s electoral reform project, launched Jan. 10, outlines mechanisms for selecting the members of the Independent High Electoral Commission and reform Iraq’s electoral law.
It appears that Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement are standing before a historic opportunity to use a civil political approach to shake off the criticism and resentment of political Islam, which has struggled in an attempt to rule the country since 2003.
Read More:

Antichrist is a Major Shi’a Player
Frenemies forever: Iraqi Shi’a after Mosul
With the liberation of Mosul a certainty, if not an imminent one, international attention on Iraq is largely focused on rebuilding the war-torn city and fostering intra-communal reconciliation.
The former is understandable as the immediate needs of Mosul are great and tangible. The latter also fits into western conceptualizations of Iraq, two decades after intervention, which views the country as comprised of three distinct and uniform communities: Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurd.
Meanwhile, back in Baghdad Iraqi Shi’a political parties and elites have long shifted focus away from defeating the Islamic State. Instead, they are returning to patterns of infighting habituated by decades of coalition- and relation-building in both the pre- and post-Saddam Iraq.
No such thing as structural political unity
While Iraqi Shi’a parties and elites did circle the wagons as the Islamic State bore down on Baghdad, once the Hashd al-Shaabi militias (Popular Mobilization Units) emerged, at the behest of Ayatollah Sistani’s fatwa calling Iraqis to arms, and American-led airstrikes began the existential nature of the threat of the so-called Islamic State was effectively nullified.
Political unity of Iraq’s Shi’a parties and elite [nearly] only occurs in response to a common enemy, which most recently took the form of the Islamic State and in previous periods had been Saddam Hussein and the United States.
Contrary to popular discourse, Iraq is not three cohesive ethno-religious blocks that act in unison. In fact there has been no such thing as structural political unity for Iraqi Shi’a for at least the past two and a half decades. When such unity does materialize it quickly disappears and is replaced by vicious competition.
Drain the Baghdad swamp
A contemporary example of the unscrupulous nature of Iraqi Shi’a coalition- and -relation building is Moqtada al-Sadr, who has rather opportunistically seized upon the pro-reform, anti-corruption protests that have been taking place in Baghdad since the summer of 2015 by throwing his and his movements weight behind the protests.
The protests were in support of a reform drive that was primarily the work of another Shi’a politician Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi, which on its surface would suggest either support from a fellow Shi’a, Sadr, or at least disagreements kept behind closed doors.
Al-Abadi, however, has little political base within his Dawa party of State of Law coalition and as a result has seen his efforts at reform stymied. Instead of supporting, Abadi Sadr took the public position that the reforms do not go far enough, creating headaches for Abadi who struggled to elicit any support for the reforms from fellow Shi’a inside and outside his own party.
Many see Sadr’s calls for reforms as disingenuous since members of his movement are integral partners in the political process. Sadrists representatives sit on the Electoral Commission, for example, which was recently the target for reform by Sadr and his followers. Sadr is likely supporting the protests calling for reform, and not necessarily the reforms themselves, to energize his political base and attract new supporters in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary elections.
Moqtada al-Sadr and his movement are deeply enmeshed in the political system that he currently rails against and the protests are a tool employed to try and hammer his opponents with.
Preserving a kleptocratic pie
In this environment of renewed competition Iraqi Shi’a political elites do not share common views on much. Deep divides persist between Iraqi Shi’a parties over what role clerics should have, whether Iraq should move towards a federal structure, and the desirability of Iranian influence in the country. These fundamental positions of the major Iraqi Shi’a parties make long-term alliances an impossibility.
Perhaps the sole thing they can agree on today is the preservation of a political system that permits state capture for the sake of perpetuating patronage networks. This system was consolidated after intra-Shi’a violence abetted in 2009 with the defeat of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
Although violence throughout the country raged on, the fighting between Shi’a groups was replaced by competition over resources of the Iraqi state, a trend that accelerated under the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki (2006-2014).
Today, corruption is a deeply entrenched feature of the Baghdad political terrain. Iraqi Shi’a political groups and elites shifted away from violence to competing over revenue from oil sales and control over ministries and parliamentary committees in order to employ family members and supporters.
In addition, Iraqi political elites continue to favor the status quo of a centralized state, despite the promises of devolution to Iraq’s provinces. The reason for this being that a centralized state in Baghdad is one that is easier to steal from.
Plus ça change aux Baghdad…
While these elites have so far managed to fight off attempts at reform, popular grievances against poor governance, insecurity, poverty and inadequate service delivery remain unaddressed. Even the storming of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone in May of 2016, jarring as it was, proved unable to move the needle on the substantive reforms so desperately needed. So then what becomes of Iraq if the status quo is maintained?
The last 25 years of Iraqi history shows that despite violence and acrimonious political rhetoric, Iraqi Shi’a parties are still likely to form alliances to contest upcoming elections with their ostensible rivals. If the sustained pressure of the reform protests can continue to be contained, Iraq’s political elite will likely manage to cobble together a government after the 2018 parliamentary elections that is no more responsive to its constituents than before.
Steps forward
Mosul will require substantial bandwidth and resources from external actors for the near to medium term, deservedly so. The next crisis, however, will almost certainly involve the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 2018.
External stakeholders should look to ways to support more productive competition between Shi’a parties that results in parties and leaders that are more receptive to the needs and wishes of their constituencies. This can be accomplished at least in part by facilitating confidence building and reconciliation between existing Iraqi Shi’a political groups.
In the spirit of more productive competition, external stakeholders can provide long-term support to Shi’a social movements, civil society advocacy groups and even nascent parties. Fostering a counter weight to the stagnant Iraqi Shi’a political class external stakeholders can help to challenge the complacency of the established elite. This could take the form of long-term core funding to these groups or discrete training courses held outside the country.
Ultimately, an additional focus on promoting the quality, legitimacy and diversity of Iraqi Shi’a political representation will translate in strengthening cross-ethno-sectarian reconciliation efforts in Iraq.

The Antichrist Liberates Mosul (Revelation 13)

Arab News
After months of grinding progress in Mosu  it looks as if Daesh is preparing to flee, heralding the end of the “Islamic State” project in Iraq — in its current form. Good riddance to one of the worst scourges of modern times!
For three years Daesh has been a unifying force. Sunni tribes, Shiite militias, Peshmerga and even Iran and the US could all claim to be fighting on the same side against this menace. What happens when they wake up and realize that this shared threat is gone?
It had been convenient to ignore the issue of Kurdistan’s status, and whether the Kurds are simply looking after Kirkuk. What happens when the government demands its share of Kurdish oil reserves? Northern Iraq hosts minorities with demands for guaranteeing their security and interests, after their government failed to protect them from extermination, mass rape and many other horrors. And what about Turkey’s assertion of its military rights in the area?
Such issues pale in comparison with the potential for conflict between Sunni and Shiite factions. Sectarian Shiite leaders accuse Sunnis of facilitating Daesh. Meanwhile Sunnis have records of thousands of young men detained or summarily executed by militias — systematic war crimes amounting to sectarian cleansing. There are even tensions between Shiite factions over conflicting visions for post-Daesh Iraq.
A new Human Rights Watch report documents mass deportations of hundreds of Sunni families in Salahuddin province in acts of collective punishment, which allow for the expulsion of even distant family members of individuals accused of collaborating with Daesh. In a single incident in Sharqat last year, an entire district of over 1,000 people was evicted after five Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary fighters were killed by Daesh.
With provincial and parliamentary elections coming up, Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militants have exploited their role against Daesh to consolidate political power, by preventing displaced Sunnis from voting and relentless propaganda through well-funded media outlets.
Public frustration at massive levels of corruption and sectarianism was a major factor in why Mosul fell so easily to insurgents. In June 2014, Mosul’s security was managed by Gen. Mahdi Al-Gharrawi, who instead of facing charges for torturing inmates in secret prisons prior to 2008, was forgiven and promoted by former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. The corruption of his administration in Mosul so demoralized his troops that they fled when confronted by Daesh’s tiny force.
Purges by Al-Maliki forced out his rivals and left Sunni tribal forces, who risked their lives against Al-Qaeda, with nothing. Communities have seen young men rounded up like cattle and disappeared. It will take a miracle to convince Sunni communities to re-engage with a leadership unwilling to offer anything more than accusations of collaboration with the enemy.
Daesh has offered a convenient distraction to other disputes in the region — but what happens when this shared threat is gone?
Meanwhile, the insurgent movement will go underground, regain its strength and reappear under new guises. Its strategy again will be reaching out to disenfranchised youth — and Iraq is overflowing with such people, just as it is overflowing with arms, militias and all the ingredients necessary for renewed conflict.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr talk about demobilizing paramilitary groups, but militants could not be clearer. Militia leader Qais Al-Khazali said last week: “Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi will remain, will continue to expand and never will be dissolved. Just as the Hashd has been present on the battlefield, it will take its place in politics… Just as we smashed the heads of Daesh fighters, we will smash the heads of politicians who fell short and sold out their nation. We will purge them from Iraq.”
If after 2018 pro-Iran militias guilty of ethnic cleansing are in government, we can say goodbye to any notion that Iraq is a democratic, inclusive and sovereign state. In 2005, 2010 and 2014 there were intense US efforts to prevent pro-Iran figures monopolizing the government. In recent US Senate hearings on Mosul’s future, experts warned of the dangers of losing interest in Iraq and allowing Iran to consolidate the Hashd as a Hezbollah equivalent.
The visit to Iraq by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir drew a response from Hashd media outlets, because they know exactly what this visit means. Tehran installed its puppets in Baghdad because of a lack of GCC engagement. Sectarian thugs even forced the Saudi ambassador out of his post. A strong GCC role would help compensate for a bullying Iran and a negligent US — ensuring a power-sharing formula that puts the interests of Iraqi citizens as its priority.
There has been no serious preparation for the post-Mosul phase. This is not a moment to trust the good faith of the Iraqis themselves — those with a hostile agenda are too powerful. Iraq after Mosul will require even more muscular international support than Iraq prior to Mosul, including Western and GCC states working hand-in-hand.
Only such intervention can prevent the implosion of Iraq, the emergence of new and reinvigorated extremist groups, and Iran as the sole dominant power.
Does this scenario not sound frightening enough to deserve urgent action?
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Beware of the Antichrist (Revelation 13)

moqtada-al-sadr-264x300Beware of Muqtada al-Sadr

Also available in العربية
October 19, 2016
Whether the popular Shiite cleric’s motivations are ideological or political, Washington should make sure that neither his loyal militias nor any rogue splinter groups are tempted into further acts of violence against American personnel and interests.
This September, a McClatchy article outlined the kidnapping of three American defense contractors in Iraq, noting how they were held for thirty-one days and tortured after being snatched in January. Yet they were not taken by the Islamic State, nor by Iranian-backed stalwarts such as Kataib Hezbollah or Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), as many analysts and columnists speculated at the time. The true culprits belonged to Saraya al-Salam (the Peace Companies, or SAS), a Shiite militia headed by influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It is still unknown if this was a warning to the United States from Sadr himself, a rogue move by a splinter group, or a sign of a larger Sadrist effort against American forces in Iraq. Yet the news likely came as a surprise to many observers given Sadr’s high-profile focus on nonviolent political action in recent months, not to mention Washington’s repeated attempts to engage him. U.S. officials have been mum on the incident thus far — whether or not they remain so, they should keep a close eye on Sadr’s camp as the battle for Mosul and other important developments unfold.


Sadr has a strong ideological heritage of anti-Americanism. His late father, Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was known for his fiery rhetoric against the United States. And after the younger Sadr declared the existence of Jaish al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army, or JAM) following the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the group was involved in numerous bloody clashes with coalition forces, as was its partial successor Liwa al-Youm al-Mawud (the Promised Day Brigades, or LYM).
Since 2014, Sadr has rebuffed numerous U.S. attempts to engage him, according to Iraq-based contacts from the State Department. He has also issued sporadic threats against U.S. forces. On July 21, Alaa Aboud — the spokesman for SAS, the latest successor to JAM — stated there was no need for American participation in the battle for Mosul, and that Sadr’s forces were “thirsty for American blood.”
Despite such rhetoric, the decision to target Americans in January (and perhaps down the road) may have more to do with internal Iraqi politics than anti-Western ideology. Most notably, Sadr’s hostile posture could be a means of gaining leverage in his complex and often tumultuous relationship with Iran.


In the Iraqi political arena, Sadr has continually used forces under his control to demonstrate that he can project power anytime he likes. This includes the anticorruption protests he fomented earlier this year against Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government, during which his supporters took over Baghdad’s Green Zone. Sadr has also criticized the government’s cooperation with the United States.
Other protests this year have seen his supporters allegedly ripping down the banners of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, raiding their offices, and yelling anti-Iranian slogans. Further highlighting Sadr’s rupture with Tehran and Baghdad, SAS has been acting independently of the government-recognized umbrella network for Shiite militias, al-Hashd al-Shabi (aka the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMUs). Sadr himself has called the dominant Iranian-backed elements in the PMUs “brazen militias.”
To be sure, Sadr has publicly apologized for the anti-Iranian chants heard during this year’s demonstrations, and Tehran continues to provide direct military support to his forces. Sadr even attended an October 18 reconciliation event with leading Iranian proxy commanders, including two who split from his camp: AAH chief Qais al-Khazali and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba leader Akram Kaabi. There, he expressed support for Iraqi operations in Mosul and rejected Turkey’s involvement in the battle. Yet the divisions with Tehran are still deep, and more reports are emerging of assassination campaigns pitting Sadr loyalists against Iranian-controlled splinter groups, particularly AAH.
As Iran and Sadr compete to build loyalty within Iraq’s Shiite community, taking a stronger line against the United States plays to the widespread anti-Americanism among the general population. Going up against the world’s foremost military power could also help them demonstrate strength to domestic constituents and each other.
In the near term, if Sadr feels he is being pushed into a corner by Tehran or Baghdad, taking violent action against U.S. forces may give him an easy way to gain attention and bolster his claims that he is the only true Iraqi “nationalist” willing to oppose foreign “occupiers.” Such attacks could also be used to demonstrate the impotence of the Abadi government and sow divisions between Baghdad and Washington.


For over a decade, splinter groups and individual defectors have continually plagued Sadr’s ranks. Indeed, the potential for more such splinters to form — including some that claim to carry Sadr’s banner — makes it uniquely difficult to assess threats arising from the cleric’s camp.
While autonomous cells within SAS and LYM could cause their own problems, groups sponsored by Tehran seem to pose the greatest challenge. As tensions rise, such groups could take action against American forces and then blame the attacks on Sadr. In that scenario, he might have to face the repercussions of the attacks, which could in turn spur him to adopt an even more hostile position toward the United States.
Following Sadr’s restructuring of JAM in 2008 and the creation of LYM, he often (correctly) asserted that splinter groups, not his own fighters, were the ones targeting U.S. forces. Some of these groups were disparate cells linked to the then-developing Iranian proxy AAH, while others were localized JAM factions that disagreed with halting their armed activities.
When SAS was announced in mid-2014, Sadr stated that it would be the only militia to represent his name and cause. Yet LYM was allowed to continue, showing that Sadr still had to deal with powerful and at times autonomous elements within his militia apparatuses. Accordingly, the cleric has often used a tactic he honed during JAM’s heyday: freezing his militias and monitoring which factions adhere to his orders. In February-March 2015, for example, he froze both SAS and LYM, claiming it was a gesture to encourage political interactions rather than violence between different Iraqi parties. In November 2015, he ordered a freeze on SAS elements in Diyala, claiming they were engaged in criminal activities. And this May, he called for his cadres to withdraw their armed presence from sections of Baghdad hit by Islamic State bombings. While this was likely meant to show the government that it needed him and demonstrate its impotence in protecting the capital, particularly those neighborhoods guarded by Iranian-backed forces, it may also have been another loyalty test for Sadr’s forces.
Whatever the case, more splinters emerged following the Islamic State’s 2014 advance in Iraq, this time with multiple new formalized groups declaring their presence. When the Iranian proxy Kataib al-Imam Ali (the Imam Ali Battalions, or KIA) was announced in late June of that year, former JAM commander Shebl al-Zaidi recorded video of himself and his fighters holding the severed heads of what they claimed were their Islamic State enemies. He then stated that KIA was aligned with SAS and was an integral element of JAM. Three months later, Sadr countered these claims and the attempted smearing of his campaign in a public address, declaring that his militias had a more cleaned-up reputation. Yet as of late 2015, some KIA-linked elements were still putting up martyrdom posters for fallen commanders that featured photos of Sadr.
Other splinter groups fighting in Syria have similarly claimed loyalty to Sadr even though he publicly opposed any armed Shiite intervention next door. On closer inspection, it is clear that these groups are no longer loyal to him — for many of them, Syria still serves as a good tool for recruiting fighters and further weakening his control.
Another major Sadrist splinter commander, Ahmed Hajji al-Saadi, announced on social media in 2014 that he was operating with SAS in Iraq — a curious assertion given his close relations with numerous Iranian-backed Shiite jihadist organizations and his claim to fame as cofounder of Syria’s first major transnational Shiite jihadist group, Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA). The LAFA offshoot Liwa al-Imam al-Hussein has also claimed to be Sadrist despite its open loyalties to Bashar al-Assad and Tehran. Other Iran-backed groups fighting in Iraq and Syria, such as Qaeda Quwat Abu Fadl al-Abbas and the newer Jaish al-Muwamal (Army of the Hopeful), have banked on their respective JAM and SAS legacies to recruit and craft militant networks.


To help prevent or prepare for potential troubles with Sadr and his splinters, U.S. policymakers should consider renewing their focus on the shifting moves made within his often opaque camp. This includes assessing which figures and networks Iran is using to foster more splinter groups. In the event American personnel are attacked again, such information could be beneficial in planning an appropriate, targeted response.
While Washington has remained publicly silent about Saraya al-Salam’s kidnapping of American contractors in January, seemingly preferring to work behind the scenes, it may not have the luxury of doing so in the future. If Sadr is truly embarking on a path of further conflict, U.S. forces will need to respond in a measured way — not only to discourage escalation, but also to send a strong signal of American power and resolve.
Phillip Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the Washington Institute report The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects.

Who Is The Antichrist? (Revelation 13)

By Jon Lee Anderson
Beyond the gruesome military showdown with ISIS, politics in Iraq, such as it exists, revolves around a small cabal of former insurgents. All of them were political players long before the U.S. invasion of 2003, and they variously endured imprisonment, torture, exile, assassination attempts, and all-out warfare for their opposition to Saddam Hussein, and then survived to compete for the spoils of power. Some gained control of vast resources through their authority over lucrative government ministries. Some command their own militias as well as portions of the country’s security forces. The original list of players included the Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Mustafa Barzani, the secular Shiite politicians Iyad Allawi and the late Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite Islamists Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nuri al-Maliki, and the late clerical Shiite brothers Muhammad Bakr and Abdulaziz al-Hakim. One of the most intriguing additions to this group is the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, an arriviste of forty-two who has never held elected office but who now commands thousands and has established himself as a key power broker in the country.
A chunky, black-garbed, bearded man with a perpetually baleful countenance, “Moqtada,” as his followers call him, is a remarkable character. The son of a revered cleric who was murdered on Saddam’s orders, in 1999, Sadr forced his way into the political scene, when he was still in his twenties, with a calculated act of violence. On April 10, 2003, three weeks into the U.S. invasion, Abdel Majid al-Khoei, a moderate Shiite cleric, whom the Americans had brought into the holy city of Najaf, crucial to the country’s majority Shiites, in the hopes that he would somehow help manage the city’s influential religious community, was stabbed to death. The word went out quickly that the assassination, which occurred in broad daylight in front of numerous witnesses, had been carried out by one of Sadr’s lieutenants, on his orders. The murder coincided with the appearance, on the streets of Najaf and Baghdad, of an armed rabble who called Sadr their leader and themselves his Mahdi Army. Within days, they had taken over the vast Shiite slum of Saddam City, which was renamed Sadr City.
As the blundering American occupation got under way, in the spring and summer of 2003, Sadr built up his power base. Then, in April 2004, coinciding with the Sunni rebellion that began in Fallujah, Sadr’s Mahdi Army rose up and attacked coalition soldiers in Najaf, Baghdad, and across southern and central Iraq and inside Baghdad, as well. The uprising had been sparked by the American arrest of one of Sadr’s aides, who was accused of Khoei’s assassination. As coalition troops and Sadr’s followers clashed, the Americans said that Sadr himself was wanted for the murder, and sent a large number of troops to surround Najaf. Sadr threatened to launch a full-fledged jihad if they entered the city. A standoff ensued. In the face of spreading violence, the Americans eventually backed off.
Coalition forces fought the Mahdi Army several more times, always without resolution. Sadr’s soldiers were heavily implicated in the brutal sectarian violence of 2006 to 2008, but he has since renamed his army the Saraya al-Salam—the Peace Brigades—and now controls a big bloc in parliament as well as his own political party. When two of his government ministers were accused of corruption, he ordered them to resign from their offices and to present themselves to the Iraqi courts. He is Shiite but has taken pains to show himself to be non-sectarian, embracing the Sunni-led “Arab Spring” demonstrations of several years ago, and more recently forming a committee, made up of secular Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish intellectuals, to come up with a “national plan” for Iraq.
Sadr knows how to choose his moments, and earlier this year he was back in the news, after a long and unexplained hiatus. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s failure to go through with promised reforms, including an overhaul of the government and new approach to tackling rampant official corruption, had been the focus of growing public discontent for some time when, in late February, Sadr resurfaced to demand action, and a hundred thousand of his followers joined him in one of Iraq’s biggest public demonstrations ever.
Sadr gave the government forty-five days to come clean, and as the clock ticked down thousands of Sadrists, a boisterous crew made up mainly of Shiites, camped noisily outside the Green Zone. Sadr threatened to storm the enclave with his followers if their demands were not met, but, in the end, he and the government agreed on a Solomonic denouement: Sadr alone stormed the Green Zone, allowed in by guards, who greeted him affectionately. Last Thursday, the Abadi government came up with an eleventh-hour planned government proposal, and the crisis ended. Sadr and his retinue departed, crowing victory, in a long convoy of S.U.V.s, which headed back to his stronghold in Najaf. Iraq’s parliament must vote on the proposal before next week. Depending on the outcome, Sadr, clearly, will keep his own counsel or hit the streets again.
Abadi, who acquiesced to Sadr’s latest show of force, is a more inclusive figure than his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, who was hated by Sunnis and forced out in 2014, after the ISIS takeover of most of Sunni Iraq. How long Abadi survives, however, remains to be seen. At the least, he knows he will have to contend with Sadr in order to retain stability on Iraq’s streets, and power for himself. In the rumbustious mosh pit of Iraqi politics, knowing how to survive is everything. At the rate he is going, Moqtada al-Sadr could well end up as the last man standing.