Antichrist launches anti-LGBTQ campaign

Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sign a pledge to stand against homosexuality or LGBTQ, outside a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

Influential Iraqi cleric launches anti-LGBTQ campaign

By ABBY SEWELL and ANMAR KHALILyesterday

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Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sign a pledge to stand against homosexuality or LGBTQ, outside a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

An influential Iraqi cleric who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr posted a statement on Twitter Wednesday calling for “believing men and women (to) unite all over the world to combat (the LGBTQ community).”

He added that this should be done “not with violence, killing or threats, but with education and awareness, with logic and ethical methods.”

The religious leader’s call has stoked fears in the LGBTQ community, particularly given that al-Sadr’s followers have a history of violence. After the cleric announced his resignation from politics in August amid an impasse over government formation, hundreds of his angry loyalists stormed government buildings in the capital and set off clashes that left at least 30 dead.

On Friday, following the afternoon prayer session, thousands of al-Sadr’s followers lined up outside of mosques around the country to sign a pledge to “stand against (homosexuality) or (LGBTQ) by ethical, peaceful and religious means” and to demand “abolition of the homosexuality law.”

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It was not clear what law the pledge was referring to. Iraq does not have a law that explicitly criminalizes homosexuality, although it has one that outlaws “immodest acts,” which Human Rights Watch has described as a “a vague provision that could be used to target sexual and gender minorities.”

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Al-Sadr’s proclamation comes amid a World Cup in Qatar that has drawn international scrutiny to LGBTQ rights there and in the region more generally. Qatar, where gay sex is illegal, faced intense international scrutiny and criticism around the games, including questions over whether LGBTQ visitors would feel safe and welcome. Some fans were barred from bringing items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into stadiums.

The Gulf nation has said all are welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

Some of those who heeded al-Sadr’s call on Friday alluded to the World Cup culture wars.

In Kufa — a town in al-Sadr’s home province of Najaf province — hundreds lined up to sign the pledge on Friday. Kazem al-Husseini, imam of a local mosque, denied that the campaign was prompted by the World Cup, noting that al-Sadr had made similar statements previously. But he added that “at the World Cup there were attempts to promote this issue by Westerners who came to the (games).”

“There is a fear that the West is putting pressure on the Arab and Islamic regimes to legitimize same-sex marriage in the constitutions and laws so that they try to normalize this perversion,” he said.

In Baghdad’s Sadr City, Ibrahim al-Jabri, who also signed the pledge, said he is standing against the “corruptions that came to us from Europe and elsewhere, what they call freedoms. We also have the freedom to reject falsehood, to reject corruption.”

Sanar Hasan, an Iraqi journalist who has written on LGBTQ issues, noted that al-Sadr had previously blamed both the COVID-19 pandemic and monkeypox on homosexuality. As for the timing of his latest campaign, she said al-Sadr was “trying to gain the support of the Iraqi street again” by playing on social taboos, after his failure to win out in forming the country’s government.

Despite the campaign’s nominal commitment to non-violence, LGBTQ people in Iraq fear that it will lead to more harassment and abuse in a country where their identity already puts them in danger.

A Human Rights Watch report released earlier this year accused armed groups in Iraq of abducting, raping, torturing, and killing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people with impunity. The Iraqi government, it says, has failed to hold perpetrators accountable.

The report released by the New York-based organization in collaboration with Iraqi rights group IraQueer also accused Iraqi police and security forces of being often complicit in compounding anti-LGBTQ violence and of arresting individuals “due to non-conforming appearance.”

“Attacks against LGBT people in Iraq have long been a political tactic,” said Rasha Younes, an LGBTQ rights researcher with the group said in an emailed statement. Public speeches like al-Sadr’s “have served to undermine LGBT rights and fuel violence against LGBT Iraqis, who already face killings, abductions, torture, and sexual violence by armed groups with impunity,” she added.

A university student in Najaf who identifies as queer and who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety, said that despite not being openly LGBTQ, they have been frequently harassed in the street for wearing clothes in colors and styles that do not fit local conservative norms.

Al-Sadr’s recent “hate speech” makes them more fearful, given the past acts of violence by his followers, the student said.

“I was thinking that I would wait until I graduated from the university and then go to Europe with a study visa, but now … I am thinking of taking precautions in case of any emergency event so I flee to the nearest safe place,” they said.

___

Associated Press writer Ali Abdul-Hassan in Baghdad contributed reporting.

The Antichrist launches anti-LGBTQ campaign

Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sign a pledge to stand against homosexuality or LGBTQ, outside a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

Influential Iraqi cleric launches anti-LGBTQ campaign

Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sign a pledge to stand against homosexuality or LGBTQ, outside a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr pray during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr pray during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
A supporter of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr signs a pledge to stand against homosexuality or LGBTQ, outside a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr pray during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)
People hold up pictures of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sign a pledge to stand against homosexuality or LGBTQ, outside a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Al-Sadr who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

An influential Iraqi cleric who announced his withdrawal from politics four months ago has broken a period of relative silence to launch an anti-LGBTQ campaign.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr posted a statement on Twitter Wednesday calling for “believing men and women (to) unite all over the world to combat (the LGBTQ community).”

He added that this should be done “not with violence, killing or threats, but with education and awareness, with logic and ethical methods.”

The religious leader’s call has stoked fears in the LGBTQ community, particularly given that al-Sadr’s followers have a history of violence. After the cleric announced his resignation from politics in August amid an impasse over government formation, hundreds of his angry loyalists stormed government buildings in the capital and set off clashes that left at least 30 dead.

On Friday, following the afternoon prayer session, thousands of al-Sadr’s followers lined up outside of mosques around the country to sign a pledge to “stand against (homosexuality) or (LGBTQ) by ethical, peaceful and religious means” and to demand “abolition of the homosexuality law.”

It was not clear what law the pledge was referring to. Iraq does not have a law that explicitly criminalizes homosexuality, although it has one that outlaws “immodest acts,” which Human Rights Watch has described as a “a vague provision that could be used to target sexual and gender minorities.”

Al-Sadr’s proclamation comes amid a World Cup in Qatar that has drawn international scrutiny to LGBTQ rights there and in the region more generally. Qatar, where gay sex is illegal, faced intense international scrutiny and criticism around the games, including questions over whether LGBTQ visitors would feel safe and welcome. Some fans were barred from bringing items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into stadiums.

The Gulf nation has said all are welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

Some of those who heeded al-Sadr’s call on Friday alluded to the World Cup culture wars.

In Kufa — a town in al-Sadr’s home province of Najaf province — hundreds lined up to sign the pledge on Friday. Kazem al-Husseini, imam of a local mosque, denied that the campaign was prompted by the World Cup, noting that al-Sadr had made similar statements previously. But he added that “at the World Cup there were attempts to promote this issue by Westerners who came to the (games).”

“There is a fear that the West is putting pressure on the Arab and Islamic regimes to legitimize same-sex marriage in the constitutions and laws so that they try to normalize this perversion,” he said.

In Baghdad’s Sadr City, Ibrahim al-Jabri, who also signed the pledge, said he is standing against the “corruptions that came to us from Europe and elsewhere, what they call freedoms. We also have the freedom to reject falsehood, to reject corruption.”

Despite the campaign’s nominal commitment to non-violence, LGBTQ people in Iraq fear that it will lead to more harassment and abuse in a country where their identity already puts them in danger.

A Human Rights Watch report released earlier this year accused armed groups in Iraq of abducting, raping, torturing, and killing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people with impunity. The Iraqi government, it says, has failed to hold perpetrators accountable.

The report released by the New York-based organization in collaboration with Iraqi rights group IraQueer also accused Iraqi police and security forces of being often complicit in compounding anti-LGBTQ violence and of arresting individuals “due to non-conforming appearance.”

“Attacks against LGBT people in Iraq have long been a political tactic,” said Rasha Younes, an LGBTQ rights researcher with the group said in an emailed statement. Public speeches like al-Sadr’s “have served to undermine LGBT rights and fuel violence against LGBT Iraqis, who already face killings, abductions, torture, and sexual violence by armed groups with impunity,” she added.

A university student in Najaf who identifies as queer and who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety, said that despite not being openly LGBTQ, they have been frequently harassed in the street for wearing clothes in colors and styles that do not fit local conservative norms.

Al-Sadr’s recent “hate speech” makes them more fearful, given the past acts of violence by his followers, the student said.

“I was thinking that I would wait until I graduated from the university and then go to Europe with a study visa, but now … I am thinking of taking precautions in case of any emergency event so I flee to the nearest safe place,” they said.

Iraq Pushes Back the Iranian Horn: Daniel 8

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi walks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani during a welcoming ceremony in Tehran, Iran Nov. 29, 2022. (Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout)
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi walks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani during a welcoming ceremony in Tehran, Iran Nov. 29, 2022. (Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout)

New Iraqi Prime Minister Tells Iran’s Supreme Leader that Baghdad Will Stop Attacks Against It

November 30, 2022 10:14 PM


Iraq’s new prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, met Iran’s top leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during his first important trip abroad since being named to head the government by the Iraqi parliament.

Sudani told journalists in Tehran after meeting Khamenei, that Iraq would not allow any attacks on its neighbor from inside its territory and that its security forces are being deployed along the two countries’ common border.

He said that his government is committed to enforcing the Iraqi constitution and preventing any groups or parties from damaging Iran’s security and that Iraq’s national security advisor will meet with his Iranian counterpart to coordinate operations on the ground.

Sudani added that Iraq considers dialogue and mutual comprehension to be the best policy to solve problems on the ground.

SEE ALSO:

Iran Bolsters Border Security to Prevent ‘Infiltration’

Hussein Allawi, a top adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that Sudani’s top priorities in his meetings with Iran’s leaders are to have detailed and sincere talks that will not drag out for a long period of time that cover the issues of Iran cutting off the flow of water to Iraq and Iran’s recent bombardment of Iraqi territory.

The prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan visited Baghdad recently to meet with Sudani and coordinate the deployment of Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga forces, along Iran’s border to prevent any infiltration or attacks on Iran and any further Iranian military response to such attacks.

Iraqi media reported that Sudani also discussed Iran’s supplying of gas and electricity to Iraq, in addition to trade issues and joint oil and gas exploration along the two country’s border.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA that relations between Iraq and Iran are in total disequilibrium and that Prime Minister Sudani is a political ally of Iran who is going to Tehran to give an account of his government’s actions.

He said that Iran worked to have Sudani named prime minister even though allies of the Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won parliamentary elections. He said they allegedly threatened Sadr and his family, which lives in Iran, to desist from choosing a prime minister, so that Iran could have influence over the government in Baghdad. Sudani, he argued, is visiting Iran like a favorite son returning home.

Abou Diab stressed that Iraq has absolutely no leverage in its dealings with Iran and will have to accept whatever Iran decides, due to the totally unbalanced relations between the two countries, both economically and politically.

Iranian media reported that Vice President Mohammad Mokhber told Sudani that countries in the region must solve their security problems among themselves, rather than resorting to outside parties. Iranian officials have made similar statements in the past.

Iraq’s Political Crisis, the Antichrist and a Divided Shia House

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    Iraq’s Political Crisis, Moqtada al-Sadr and a Divided Shia House

    This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Iraq expert Lahib Higel about the crisis in Iraq, with parties unable to form a government almost a year after elections and the deadliest clashes the Iraqi capital has seen in years erupting in late August.

    Almost a year since Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October 2021, the country’s political parties have struggled to form a new government. Despite doing well in the vote, the Sadrist Movement, led by powerful Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, has been thwarted in its attempts to build a governing coalition, thanks to a decision by Iraq’s Supreme Court. The court required a two-thirds quorum to convene parliament to select a president, who in turn would nominate the prime minister. In protest, al-Sadr threatened to quit politics and withdrew his deputies from parliament. Days later, his supporters, who had occupied parliament and entered the presidential palace, clashed with paramilitary groups loyal to al-Sadr’s Shia rivals. The fighting was the worst the capital Baghdad had seen in years. Violence has abated for now, but it is far from clear whether Sadr and his rivals can reach agreement on a way forward.

    In our first episode of Season 3 of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group’s Senior Iraq Analyst Lahib Higel to make sense of the political turmoil engulfing the country. They talk about how the crisis came about and why Sadr’s attempts to form a government have failed. They discuss the opposition he faces from his main political rivals, the coalition of Shia parties known as the “Coordination Framework”, which is backed by Iran, and look at Tehran’s hand in the crisis and Washington’s influence on Iraqi politics more broadly. They talk about the prospects for rapprochement between al-Sadr and his Shia rivals, as negotiations on a new government look set to resume amid calls for early elections. They also assess risks of another bout of fighting. 

    What the resignation of the Antichrist in Iraq means in the Middle East

    What the resignation of popular Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr means in the Middle East

    August 30, 20224:05 PM ET

    NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks to Sarhang Hamasaeed, director of Middle East programs for the United States Institute of Peace, about popular Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s resignation.

    AILSA CHANG, HOST: 

    Violence in Baghdad has now killed at least two dozen people and injured hundreds in the last two days. Supporters of the popular cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, some of them armed, clashed with Iraqi security forces, which include members of Iran-backed militias. The fighting comes as a result of a deadlock in forming a government some 10 months after parliamentary elections. There’s a split between Sadr and Iran-backed groups. Sadr has now told his supporters to end their protests and to leave government areas that they have occupied. To understand more about the situation, we have reached Sarhang Hamasaeed, the Middle East Program’s director for the United States Institute of Peace. Welcome.

    SARHANG HAMASAEED: Thank you – good to be with you.

    CHANG: Good to have you. So can you just first help us understand better who Muqtada al-Sadr is? Like, he is one of Iraq’s most powerful leaders. What else can you tell us about him?

    HAMASAEED: Muqtada al-Sadr comes from a religious family. His father and his uncle have been known as to be religious credentials. In recent years, he has been able to brand himself as a Iraqi leader who is against foreign interference, including Iranian interference, who stands for justice, for Iraqi nationalism. And Iraqi civil society leaders have allied with him in different elections. And the jury is still out how much do you believe this rebranding.

    CHANG: Well, I understand that his bloc was the biggest winner in Iraqi elections last fall. But then this summer, all of his allies in parliament quit in protest. What happened there?

    HAMASAEED: He formed an alliance with the Sunni Arabs of Iraq and a major force of the Kurds, the Kurdistan Democratic Party. That gave him enough votes in parliament to be able to form a government and appoint a prime minister. The Iranians and their allies in Iraq have managed to form what was known as the obstructing third in the parliament – so about 120, 130 votes that prevented al-Sadr from forming the government. The deadlock in the political process and in the electoral process led to, as you rightfully mentioned, Sadr to decide that he would actually ask all the MPs who are representing him in parliament to quit. And they did so in June. And that meant to this date, it is a huge point of surprise why did he give up this much parliamentary power in the system.

    CHANG: Still, can you explain how this current power struggle in Iraq, how this current political situation could affect U.S. interests?

    HAMASAEED: Yes. So the U.S. has several interests in Iraq. Obviously, from a national security standpoint, a stable, democratic Iraq serves in the way where Iraq does not become a place for terrorism. Second, Iraq is a major oil producer. So for the stability of the global economy and for U.S. allies, this is an important factor. And third, for regional stability, Iraq is an important country where the – Iraq and the countries of the region are unhappy with the expansion that Iran had in the region. So there are several factors that Iraq plays an important role for U.S. interests. But the U.S. leverage to affect those outcomes is far less today than it was some years ago.

    CHANG: That was Sarhang Hamasaeed, the United States Institute of Peace’s Middle East Program’s director. Thank you very much for joining us today.

    HAMASAEED: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

    Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

    NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

    The Revenge of the Antichrist Muqtada al-Sadr

    Iraqi populist leader Muqtada al-Sadr delivering a speech in Najaf, Iraq, August 2022
    Iraqi populist leader Muqtada al-Sadr delivering a speech in Najaf, Iraq, August 2022Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters

    The Revenge of Muqtada al-Sadr

    Why Iran Could Be the Real Loser in Iraq’s Intra-Shiite Struggle

    By Mohamad Bazzi

    September 13, 2022

    On August 29, the Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he would withdraw from politics after months of failed attempts to form a new government. Thousands of supporters of the nationalist leader, who has emerged as a staunch opponent of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, surged into the streets in anger, clashing with Iraqi security forces, breaching concrete barriers around Baghdad’s Green Zone, and storming the seat of government. After dozens of people were killed, Sadr went on television and instructed his supporters to go home, easing—for the moment, at least—a political crisis that has paralyzed Iraq.

    The Antichrist Wants to Be Iraq’s Ayatollah Khomeini

    A crowd of men protesting hold flags and a large portrait of Sadr.
    A crowd of men protesting hold flags and a large portrait of Sadr.

    Moqtada al-Sadr Wants to Be Iraq’s Ayatollah Khomeini

    Despite the Shiite cleric’s apparent efforts against Iranian influence in Iraq, his chief inspiration is Iran’s founder and most famous supreme leader.

    August 5, 2022, 2:43 PM

    In recent months, Iraqi populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has gone from the forefront of efforts to formulate a government in Iraq to leading the country toward what he calls a “revolution.” Sadr’s supporters are now protesting in and occupying Iraq’s parliamentary building and the International (Green) Zone of Baghdad, catapulting Iraq’s government formation process into chaos.

    After his success in Iraq’s October 2021 parliamentary elections, Sadr appeared to shake up Iraqi politics by forming a government that excluded his Iranian-backed opponents from power. As the leader of the bloc with the largest number of seats, Sadr rejected the formula for consensus-based power-sharing governments that has been the norm since former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

    Instead, Sadr formed a tripartite “Save the Homeland” alliance with the largest Kurdish party, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), as well as parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi’s Sovereignty Alliance, a Sunni political bloc—thereby cementing a majority in Iraq’s parliament. The alliance was then tasked with forming Iraq’s government.

    Inside Iran’s plan to make Ammar al-Hakim the Antichrist’s chief rival

    Ammar al-Hakim (right) meets with Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in 2018 (Reuters)

    Iraq: Inside Iran’s plan to make Ammar al-Hakim Sadr’s chief rival

    The Hikma leader has finally taken up an offer made to him years ago by Qassem Soleimani. But observers are sceptical the Iranian gambit will pay off

    Ammar al-Hakim (right) meets with Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in 2018 (Reuters)

    By Suadad al-Salhy

    Published date: 26 October 2022 09:48 UTC | Last update: 3 weeks 3 days ago

    In August 2018, all eyes in Iraq were trained on the Babylon, Iraq’s most luxurious hotel, where political leaders were gathering on the banks of the Tigris to thrash out a deal to form the largest parliamentary alliance seen in the country.

    Three names stood out: Muqtada al-Sadr, the influential Shia cleric, Haider al-Abadi, a former prime minister, and Ammar al-Hakim, a key Shia player.

    But it wasn’t Hakim’s first meeting that day. The Babylon summit may even prove to have been the least important.

    A few hours earlier, Hakim had a meeting that one of his assistants described as “seductive”.

    It took place at his political headquarters, a few blocks away from Baghdad’s Babylon.

    Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general who would later be slain in a US drone strike, was there, presenting what seemed at the time to be “the opportunity of a lifetime”, a Shia political leader familiar with events told Middle East Eye. 

    According to Hakim’s assistant, Soleimani proposed the scion of a clerical family become the dominant figure in Iraq’s Shia politics, backed by Iran and overseeing the mosaic of ferocious armed factions. He would be given wide powers, a huge budget, and political, media and religious backing.

    In return, Hakim had to forget the alliance he was about to form with Sadr and prepare for life as his rival, ready to oppose the cleric whenever necessary.

    An aerial view of Babylon Hotel in Baghdad (Reuters)
    An aerial view of Babylon Hotel in Baghdad (Reuters)

    Hakim was propelled into politics in 2009 when he succeeded his father as leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), one of the key parties that set up Iraq’s post-Saddam political system.

    But a year before the two meetings, Hakim left ISCI to establish his own project, al-Hikma, to distance himself from both the politics of his father’s old comrades and Iran, the assistant said.

    That move achieved some results. Hakim emerged from the May 2018 elections with relative success, his newly formed bloc obtaining 25 seats. It was a platform he felt could propel him on the road to become a leading moderate Shia voice attractive to Shia liberals.

    ‘From our point of view, Shia rule will not be strong and effective unless everyone is under the umbrella of the state’

    – Prominent Hikma leader

    Hakim rejected Soleimani’s offer and went to his meeting with Sadr, which would lead to a new parliamentary bloc including most political forces not associated with Iran. 

    Almost five years later, “in an attempt to put their cards in order in Iraq”, the Iranians tabled a similar offer to Hakim in July, Shia and Kurdish political leaders familiar with the talks told MEE.

    This time the offer includes empowering Hakim politically, militarily and in the media “to be the Shia counterpart to Sadr”, several Iraqi politicians told MEE.

    Both men come from two of the most famous clerical families of Najaf, and are symbolic of the religious authority associated with the holy city.

    Yet in the October 2021 elections, Hakim performed disastrously, winning just two seats. Weakened, he “eagerly seized the Iranian offer, and rushed to play the role required of him in the best way”, one of Hakim’s prominent Shia allies told MEE.

    The Iranians also began implementing some of what they promised. Media platforms and channels owned by the political forces and armed factions linked to Iran began presenting Hakim as the spearhead of the Iranian-backed Shia forces. 

    Hakim was able to grow his number of MPs to 11 when Sadr’s withdrew in June, and despite this modest number, he became one of three leading voices in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed forces. In fact, he has often been the strongest voice, bending the alliance’s direction to his will, several Framework leaders told MEE.

    Militarily, Hakim’s people were granted 3,600 positions within the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella organisation, much of which is dominated by Iran, Hashd commanders said.

    He also regained offices and equipment he lost to the ISCI in 2017.

    In return, Hakim began reconciling with his old ISCI colleagues “to unify efforts and resources” of the movement of the Martyr of the Mihrab, as Hakim’s late uncle and founder of the ISCI is known, against the Sadrists, Shia leaders told MEE.

    Already, Hakim’s public speech has taken a sharp turn. In a July interview with the BBC, he publicly criticised Sadr and his followers for the first time since 2003.

    Hakim, who is known to be reserved with journalists, spent two-thirds of the interview answering questions related to Sadr and the actions of the cleric’s followers.

    It was an “unprecedented challenge” to Sadr, said a prominent ally of Hakim. In response, Sadr’s followers shut down 15 of his movement’s offices in Baghdad and the south.

    “Ammar jumped with both feet from the American trench into the Iranian trench and burned all his cards,” a Shia political leader close to Hakim told MEE.

    Many Iraqi political parties and armed factions, particularly those who performed poorly, believe the US and UN conspired to manipulate the October 2021 election in some parties’ favour. Hakim is one of those who believe this to be true.

    “He switched projects after his recent loss. He felt wronged and that the last [western] project in Iraq, whether intentionally or accidentally, has crushed him politically.”

    When asked about the Iranian scheme to create a counterweight to Sadr, three al-Hikma leaders acknowledged that it began in June and did not deny Hakim was a key player. But none of them seemed confident in its agenda, effects or those behind it.

    “The Iranians tried to revive the [old] project, but there was no real and serious engagement with what they proposed,” a prominent al-Hikma leader told MEE.

    “The project is not feasible. It was presented as a reaction to what the Iraqi political arena is currently witnessing, and not as a conviction. The timing of the proposal is not appropriate and we do not think that the partners are ready to deal with it in a manner that satisfies us.”

    According to the source, Hakim will only accept the Iranian offer if three conditions are met: Iran’s proxies give up their weapons, their paramilitaries are disbanded and Iraqi law is followed.

    “From our point of view, Shia rule will not be strong and effective unless everyone is under the umbrella of the state. This necessarily means that no one is above the law and no weapon is other than that of the state,” he added.

    “The Iranians want the whole package and are not ready to give up the weapons they control outside the umbrella of the state. This does not suit us and we do not adopt it.”

    Iran ‘no longer strongest player’

    It may be an overreach to say Iranian influence in Iraq has waned in recent years, but Iran’s ability to impose its will on Iraqi allies and opponents has certainly significantly declined.

    At least, this is what the course of events suggests over the past year, a period of chaotic politics and stagnation where neither Iran’s allies nor opponents have managed to seize control.

    Iraqi politicians and officials and western diplomats all note that, though three years ago Iran’s word was carried out far more easily and rapidly, Tehran has still obtained economic, financial and political gains during the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, more than ever before.

    Kadhimi helped to release Iranian funds frozen by US sanctions in TBI Bank, and bills for the Iranian gas exported to Iraq are paid without any delay.

    Also, Kadhimi played a pivotal role in restoring Iranian-Saudi relations, which were severed in 2016, and indirect negotiations are currently underway to resume Iranian-Jordanian-Egyptian relations with Iraq’s mediation, Iraqi officials said.

    “It is the Iranian approach to working in Iraq that has differed,” a senior Iraqi official close to Kadhimi told MEE.

    “It is certain that they are still a very strong player in the Iraqi arena, but they are no longer the strongest player. Iran is still able to inflict heavy losses on the political process and end any political player and remove him from the game, but it is no longer able to impose the alternative that it chooses.”

    The “approach” that the Iraqi official refers to is the way that different branches of the Iranian authorities – the Revolutionary Guard, the intelligence, and the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – all drive policy in Iraq, with occasionally competing interests, bemusing Iraqi partners and opponents alike.

    A senior commander of a prominent Iran-backed armed faction told MEE: “That confused our guys, and it still confuses most people. They have not yet understood the role-playing game that the Iranians are good at.”

    The armed factions, the senior commander said, operate between two extremes: seeing someone as a sworn enemy or as a close ally. So when Tehran encourages them to change tack, “they cannot move between the two situations without losing face”.

    Iran has simply been unable to overcome the absence of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the godfather of most Iran-backed armed factions who was also killed in the same January 2020 drone strike as the general. 

    Without them, the Iranian-backed armed factions have repeatedly squabbled with each other, their allies and their opponents, hamstringing Iran’s ability to manoeuvre in Iraq, political leaders close to Tehran and paramilitary commanders told MEE.

    With this in mind, it’s most accurate to say that we are currently seeing the effects of the Revolutionary Guard’s weakened influence playing out, the political leaders said.

    “The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is at its weakest [in Iraq] now. Their tools are the same, but the mastermind [Soleimani] is absent,” a Shia political leader close to Iran told MEE.

    “Soleimani’s relationship with his followers was exceptional and very special. It was even stronger than their relationship with Khamenei himself. 

    ‘The Revolutionary Guard is at its weakest [in Iraq] now. Their tools are the same, but the mastermind [Soleimani] is absent’

    – Shia political leader

    “This relationship no longer exists, and Iranians have not succeeded in overcoming the losses caused by Soleimani’s assassination in all the arenas in which he worked.”

    According to the sources, Iran believes it was a mistake to concentrate so much power and responsibility in the hands of one man, as the vacuum left by Soleimani’s death has proved very damaging.

    Instead, several Iraqi political leaders said, Iranian officials have forced members of the Revolutionary Guard working on Iraq to take several steps back and allow the intelligence service to mitigate the losses inflicted by Soleimani’s death.

    Meanwhile, all Revolutionary Guard operations in Iraq must now be done under the supervision of Iran’s National Security Council led by General Ali Shamkhani, they added.

    Neither agency has the right to act or carry out any operation without Shamkhani’s approval, the leaders said.

    One key Shia political leader speculated that the scheme to create an alternative to Sadr could be the work of “junior” Revolutionary Guard commanders working in Iraq, who have been resisting the recent changes in tactics pursued by Iranian intelligence.

    Some have said it's impossible to give Hakim the same profile as Sadr (Reuters)
    Some have said it’s impossible to give Hakim the same profile as Sadr (Reuters)

    However, enabling Hakim to be a “social” match for Sadr, “is something entirely different”, a senior commander of a prominent Iranian-backed Shia armed faction told MEE. 

    “The Iranians are not pushing for a political or military counterpart between Hakim and Sadr. There is no idiot who does this, as the difference between the two men is too big and cannot be overlooked,” the commander said.

    “The proposed project aims to create a kind of social balance. A son of a clergyman vies with another son of a clergyman. It has nothing to do with the creation of symmetrical political or military forces on the ground.”

    The idea, he said, was to frame Sadr as a “religious radical figure” in comparison to Hakim.

    “The goal is to attract the head of tribes and Hakim has good relations with them and can be exported as a good front to develop and expand these relations.”

    Turning to tribes

    Iraqi society is not overtly tribal, but tribal customs nonetheless still dominate in areas where law enforcement is weak, especially in the southern provinces. 

    Even there, tribal sheikhs do not enjoy real influence, bar a few who have enough money and connections to secure people of their tribe jobs and therefore loyalty. This can be seen in Basra, Amarah and a number of border areas where some tribal sheikhs have mutual interests with smugglers and organised crime gangs active there.

    Acquiring these tribal sheikhs’ loyalty is a tactic used by colonial powers and leaders seeking influence in Iraq since the state was established in 1921, from US general David Petraeus to former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

    Most prominently, Soleimani and Muhandis leveraged tribal sheikhs to mobilise tribes against the Islamic State group.

    Money and jobs are essential if this tactic is to succeed. They can be used to ensure tribes’ loyalty, or at least stand back from a conflict.

    It is notable that Iran has begun to do the same. Iraqi officials, armed faction commanders and observers believe it means Tehran’s large-scale use of intimidation to subjugate local partners has resulted in losses, with the Iranians now preferring to use soft power.

    ‘The Iranians are trying to rebuild their political and ideological base within the Shia community, which in recent years was undermined by the armed factions’

    – Iraqi official

    Hakim will not be the only Iranian ally to seek the tribes’ backing. The leaders and commanders of Iran-backed armed factions are expected to do the same soon, using tribal leaders to cement their influence in preparation for another election.

    “The Iranians are trying to rebuild their political and ideological base within the Shia community, which in recent years was undermined by the armed factions. So they resorted to this classic tactic to limit these losses,” an Iraqi official specialising in tribal affairs told MEE.

    “Betting on tribal leaders is an expensive and exhausting bet, if not a loss, because it requires an open budget and hundreds of thousands of job vacancies,” the official added.

    “Without the money and the jobs, this project would be like cutting water with a sword, and the Iranians would make no real progress.”

    Antichrist calls on the judiciary to dissolve Parliament within a week

    Iraqi cleric Sadr calls on the judiciary to dissolve Parliament within a week

    Powerful Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Iraq’s judiciary on Wednesday to dissolve parliament by the end of next week, threatening vague consequences if it does not do as he says.

    The populist leader has helped fuel tensions in Iraq over the past two weeks by ordering thousands of supporters to storm and occupy Parliament, preventing the formation of a government nearly 10 months after the election.

    His political opponents, mostly Iranian-backed Shiites, have refused to accede to Sadr’s demands, raising fears of further unrest and violence in Iraq.

    The judiciary “should dissolve Parliament by the end of next week…if not, the revolutionaries will take another stand,” Sadr said in a statement on his Twitter (NYSE: TWTR ) account, without elaborating.

    Sadr has called for early elections and unspecified changes to the constitution after withdrawing his lawmakers from parliament in June.

    The withdrawal was a protest at his inability to form a government despite holding almost a quarter of Parliament and having enough allies to make up more than half of the chamber.

    Sadr blames Iran-aligned parties for the failure to form a government and accuses them of corruption, but his supporters also control some of the worst-run government departments.