By John Lee.

Fly Erbil, Iraq’s only Kurdish airline, successfully completed its first scheduled flight on Monday.

The plane set off from Erbil International Airport en route to Stockholm in Sweden.

The airline’s administrative director Ahmad Jamal told AFP that Fly Erbil currently has three planes and plans to increase to 10 in the future.

Other destination served include Gothenburg (Sweden), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Birmingham (UK), Kiev (Ukraine) and Nuremberg (Germany).

(Sources: AFP, Fly Erbil)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Saman Omer.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, Final Exam Questions Sold for $100, Posted On Facebook

As Iraqi Kurdish students prepared to take final exams, many found they could read all about the upcoming tests online and cheat if they wished. But where were the stolen exams coming from?

At the end of May, around 230,000 students in senior grades in Iraqi Kurdistan started taking final exams. The grades these young people in the semi-autonomous northern region get, will play a major role in their futures – so the tests are important.

The exams, held on May 27, start at 8.30 in the morning and as they do, the local authorities have been known to interrupt Internet access. This is supposedly so that students who already finished their exams and leave the examination rooms don’t get to circulate the questions or any advice to those students still working.

The students are handed the exam questions in an envelope. On the outside of the envelope are written the words: Very Confidential. Unfortunately, this year, that description has been disproven, as exam questions and answers were leaked on local social media accounts – again.

Screenshots showing the exam papers appeared two or so hours before the first exams were taken. Several teachers have complained about it.

“What an English exam!” one teacher, who could only be identified by his initials, BK, posted on Facebook. “The answers were posted two and a half hours before the exam was taken.”

BK posted screen shots from the account that had leaked the exam materials but, perhaps because this is an extremely controversial issue that has been causing problems in Iraqi Kurdistan for years and seen multiple arrests and dismissals, the original account that displayed the materials closed down.

Another teacher in the Juman neighbourhood in Erbil, Tekoshar Hussein, also protested online on June 6, talking about how exam questions were leaking. ”Unfortunately questions are being leaked every day and are being accessed easily by students,” the teacher said.

“The last people who get the exam questions are the teachers and the supervisors of the exam halls,” Hussein told NIQASH, adding that he had seen students showing the answers on their mobile phones to the exam supervisors, shortly before testing was to begin. The students told the supervisors that the answers had been posted, several hours before the exam.

NIQASH’s correspondent decided to try and find out more and befriended or liked several of the Facebook pages known to dispense the cheating exam answers. This meant staying awake almost all night. It’s common knowledge among the students that the pages will post the illicit information in the very early morning, just before the exams, so that the education authorities don’t get a chance to change anything.

On the night of June 5, questions for a senior school chemistry exam were published and on the night of June 6, the questions for a senior school English exam were published on the Facebook and Instagram pages. Both showed up on Facebook two or so hours before the exams were due to take place and before the Internet services were throttled. After they were posted, the leaked exams were then circulated by different students on social media.

Screenshots of the information that was posted were later compared to the government-issued exams after the tests had taken place: They were genuine, the questions were all identical.

NIQASH then contacted the various different sites that had posted the exams to help students cheat. Given the sensitivity of the material, it was difficult to get any answers from those managing the Facebook pages and Instagram accounts involved. However eventually one of the Facebook supervisors agreed to talk, after being promised anonymity.

“We have a relationship with a person who sends us the exam questions on Viber,” the page supervisor told NIQASH. “We pay them US$100, or we send credits to their phone. That’s how we got the questions.”

Asked more about who they were getting the questions from, the page supervisor only replied: “We are in Kurdistan and everything is possible.” No further details were given.

NIQASH also questioned a number of students, all on condition of anonymity. One said he had received questions from maths and English exams from a teacher, via Facebook Messenger. “The teacher did this to ensure that myself and some of my friends would get good grades in the exams,” he explained.

Another older student said he was part of a special Facebook group that had been set up specifically so that exam questions could be circulated among the members. He received the exam questions he needed at 6am on the morning of the exam. At first, he didn’t take them seriously, he says because he thought it was either a joke or a plan to deceive cheaters. But when he eventually took the test, he found that almost all of the questions in his maths exam were the same as the ones he had seen online earlier.

A further 18-year-old student told NIQASH she had heard about the leaked questions and she had heard many rumours. She says she also had the opportunity to look at them but she did not – because she was too busy studying. That may have been wise – there were certainly also old exam questions and materials that had nothing to do with this year’s tests online too.

Local education authorities’ rules say that an education department representative from each district gets the exam questions in a sealed, signed envelope about three or four hours before the testing begins. The representative then delivers the questions to examination halls and exam supervisors at 8.30am.

This means the questions must be being leaked between being given to the district representatives and their delivery to premises where exams will be held. But one might also speculate that the leaks are made at certain times to deflect suspicions from one group or cast them on another one.

This isn’t the first time that exam questions have been leaked in Iraq, or in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 1994, a whole grade had to repeat their exams because of this. It is common practice for the government to turn off Internet servers during exams. And two years ago 77 people were fired from their jobs in education in Iraqi Kurdistan – including senior managers and teachers – and some were even arrested. Exams were not retaken in that case.

The local education ministry is very sensitive about the subject.

Of course we know about the leaks, admits Shirko Hama Amin, an Iraqi Kurdish politician who sits on the education committee in the regional parliament. “But we haven’t spoken to the media about it as yet because we are worried about the students’ state of mind. But we have submitted all the evidence to the ministry of education and we will meet with the responsible ministers and with the exam supervisors about this topic,” Hama Amin told NIQASH.

At the moment, education officials are not confirming anything though. “No questions have leaked and we reject these accusations,” Karim Dizayee, the official supervising exams in Iraqi Kurdistan, told NIQASH. “There could be some irresponsible teacher who took photos of the exam questions and then posted them online, while the students were actually taking the tests,” he suggests. But that is all.

Once the politicians and the supervisors meet, if any wrong doing is confirmed, then it will be up to local prosecutors to decide how much further this goes.

Of course, his office will be investigating, says Dildash Fayez, a spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office. “But even if we do find evidence of leaks, the exams will not be held again,” Fayez concludes. “It would be impossible. But the law will be brought to bear on those who were behind the leaks,” he promises.

Project {integration} .. a meeting point between partners


Analyzes the legal, regulatory, institutional and economic
One of the characteristics of the government of Abbadi is that it works with an open horizon through visions, projects and strategic plans that are not cut off, but will be narrowed by the communities benefiting from them in the future.

These projects include Takamul, also known as the USAID-supported Good Governance and Performance Improvement Project, which aims to improve the capacity of the central and local government to deliver basic services and better respond to the needs of public citizens by supporting economic reform initiatives Led by Iraq and training on public financial management, as well as increased participation of civil society organizations in monitoring the work of governments.

The efforts of the Takamol project provide information, encouragement and opportunities for the government to agree on the policy reforms required to make local governments more powerful, efficient, professional and independent in the electricity, water, public health, primary, secondary, primary and sanitation sectors.

Consultations and fact-finding between the federal and provincial governments can lead to research, policy, analysis, and other diagnostic work.
The Takamol project analyzes the policy, legal, regulatory, institutional, economic and political context that affects these sectors and provides the governorates and central ministries (planning and finance) with substantial technical assistance (training and advisers).

These studies can be followed by structured meetings and forums, for sharing analyzes, assessing and sharing good practices and highlighting specific issues .

"The Tamkam project revealed very important issues and needs. The central government has an interest in solving the problems that arise in the provinces. Local governments also have an interest in solving these problems," he said. Partnership between the two parties can lead to a substantive dialogue resulted and will result in effective measures and basic service projects for citizens in the provinces. "

Development assistance undoubtedly strengthens the capacities of different institutions, increases their performance capabilities and gives them the necessary competencies to play their active and productive role, which casts a positive shadow on the services provided to citizens to achieve social satisfaction.

The training provided by the US Agency for International Training and training for the Iraqi side is proof of this and is continuing this support and training and its latest activities.

The workshop was held recently in Erbil aimed at agreeing on coordination mechanisms between local governments and the federal government regarding local revenues, The preparation of local budgets, both operational and investment, in addition to improving the method of financial reporting in the local.

The workshop was attended by Dr. Turhan Mufti, head of the Secretariat of the Supreme Coordination Committee between the governorates, Wasit Governor Mahmoud Al-Mulla Talal, Deputy Governor of Baghdad Jassim Al-Bukhati and Directors-General of the Ministries of Finance and Planning and the Federal Financial Control Bureau.

The workshop was dedicated to discussing ways to boost revenues for local governments and budgets between them and the federal government.

It was also emphasized to continue the decentralization approach and support local governments in order to streamline the administrative and technical procedures of the separate districts in light of the project and rehabilitation of cadres.

And provide them with the necessary expertise in financial, administrative and technical affairs for the purpose of providing the best services to all citizens in all governorates. "

The "Takamol" project provided a good opportunity for stakeholders within and outside the central government to present the issues that lack a unified government constituency.

This workshop enabled all parties to reach a broader perspective on the relationship between the central government and the governorates, In this context, the Governor of Wasit said, "As a result of the transfer of powers, the revenues of Wasit province increased significantly.

In 2016 revenues were 7 billion, and in this year reached 21 billion dinars. "

The Takamol project is a continuation of USAID’s "Tawaboot" and "Progress" projects, which have been allocated a value of US $ 160 million disbursed over a five-year period that does not focus on the reconstruction file but is designed by the United States Agency for International Development

In order to strengthen the administration of the provinces in terms of providing better services for citizens, and will implement this project in all areas in need of assistance and not only liberated from the Dahesh.

By Saad Salloum for Al Monitor. Any opinions here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

In a bold move, Iraq’s Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr spoke in favor of the return of the Jews who were evicted from the country half a century ago. Sadr responded to a question posed by one of his followers June 2 on whether Iraqi Jews have a right to return after having been forcibly displaced due to previous Iraqi policies, noting that they used to own properties and were part of the Iraqi community.

He said, “If their loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome.” His answer was taken as tantamount to a religious edict, or fatwa.

The response has won him even more popularity and admiration for his policies and unexpected moves. His bloc, the Sairoon Alliance, won the largest number of parliament seats after allying with the Communist Party in an unprecedented move. This opening to ethnic and religious diversity reflects a shift in the personality of a Shiite religious and political figure known for being rebellious and defiant over the past 15 years.

However, an overview of Sadr’s previous positions reveals that this positive attitude toward Iraq’s Jews is not really new. In an interview with journalist Sarmad al-Tai in 2013, Sadr said he “welcomes any Jew who prefers Iraq to Israel and there is no difference between Jews, Muslims or Christians when it comes to the sense of nationalism. Those who do not carry out their national duties are not Iraqis even if they were Shiite Muslims.”

Diyaa al-Asadi, a leader in the Sadrist movement, told Al-Monitor that while his movement criticizes the founding of the State of Israel for usurping the historical lands of Palestine, it distinguishes between Zionism as a secular political movement and Iraqi Jews as a religious minority rooted in Iraq.

Sadr, whose policy of openness to religious diversity is part of his comprehensive program to ease the sectarian and religious polarization of Iraqi politics, calls for the protection of Iraqi Jews and for granting them all their citizenship rights.

Tai, the reporter who interviewed Sadr in 2013, told Al-Monitor that by touching on the return of Iraqi Jews, Sadr has broken the silence on a sensitive issue that no other political or religious Iraqi leader has dared raise since the exodus of Jews in 1950-1951.

Sadr’s stance has sent a sigh of relief to the Jewish community outside of Iraq. Edwin Shukr [Shuker], a leader in the British Jewish community and personal envoy of the president of the European Jewish Congress, considers Sadr’s initiative a milestone and expressed his willingness to meet with Sadr and thank him on behalf of the Jewish community.

Sadr’s positivity toward a sect that has been neglected for more than half a century represents a real revolution that could change the perspective of large segments of Iraqi society.

Professor Ronen Zaidel, a specialist on Iraqi affairs at the University of Haifa, takes particular interest in Sadr’s policies. He believes that the fact that Sadr linked the return of Jews to their loyalty to Iraq as a conditional openness extended only to those holding non-Israeli passports.

However, he expressed cautious optimism that this could be just a first step to start a dialogue with the representatives of Iraq’s expatriate Jews. He does not expect that Sadr’s position will upend the Iraqi policy on all issues related to the future of the Jewish community in Iraq.

“The Iraqi authorities may permit members of the Jewish community to visit Jewish holy sites and shrines without granting them further rights or restoring their Iraqi citizenship,” he said.

Iraq is home to several Jewish holy shrines, including that of the Prophet Ezekiel (Al-Kifil in Babylon), Ezra HaSofer (Al-Azir in Maysan), the Prophet Daniel (near the castle of Kirkuk), the Prophet Jonah (in Mosul, destroyed by the Islamic State) and the Prophet Nahum (in the village of Alqosh).

Shukr hopes that “the openness of Sadr will be the start of public interest in preserving the holy Jewish places, which are common symbols of the Abrahamic religious heritage within Iraq and would pave the way for the rebuilding of ties between the new generations that are freed from the chains of hatred and fears of conflict.”

Iraq’s 2005 constitution did not recognize Judaism as one of the officially recognized religions such as Islam, Christianity, Mandean and Yazidi (Article 2.2).

A 1982 law that defined the officially recognized religious communities in Iraq included the Jewish community among the official religions but under the name “Mossawi,” or “follower of Moses.” The term “Israeli community” had been used in previous legislation and was changed to avoid mention of Israel for fear it could be interpreted as official recognition of the state.

The new Iraqi Nationality Law of 2006 also reinstated Iraqi citizenship for those who had lost it as a result of political, sectarian or racial decisions. A few minorities among Saddam Hussein’s opponents, including the Feyli (Lurs), benefited from the law, but Jews were excluded.

Government officials discuss with USAID "decentralization" and budgets


After the transfer of powers … Wasit expects to reach revenues to 96 billion dinars
Baghdad / Al-Sabah

Government officials discussed with representatives of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) the coordination of local revenues and budgets between the federal government and local governments during a workshop recently held in Erbil.

The meeting discussed the challenges faced by the federal government and local governments in organizing and framing the relationship between all technical bodies and working to unify visions and coordinate efforts and achieve an integrative relationship. Meanwhile, Wasit governorate expected that the volume of financial revenues will increase to 96 billion dinars during the current year, After decentralization.

The participants agreed on the importance of increasing coordination and development of local capacities while strengthening administrative decentralization through the transfer of financial powers to governorates, stressing the need to avoid problems and clashes that may occur between the federal government and local governments due to inconsistencies in the practical application of instructions or misinterpretation of the basic concepts of objectives.

The head of the Supreme Coordination Committee between the provinces, Tuhran Mufti, said during the workshop:

"The Authority is making great efforts to assist local governments in performing their decentralized functions after the transfer of powers of seven ministries to the provinces.

This requires the development and training of working cadres, especially in the financial and administrative aspects.

For his part, the governor of Wasit Mahmoud Mullah Talal that «the province succeeded in achieving more financial revenues during the past year after it worked to take advantage of the transfer of powers, which contributed to increase the volume of revenues to reach 21 billion dinars, after it was 7 billion in 2016 "

He predicted that« the volume of revenues to 96 billion dinars during the current year ».

The agency, has launched mid-last year in coordination with the Iraqi government, a project to improve performance and achieve good governance for 5 years, at a cost of 160 million dollars, and includes the first phase of the provinces (Baghdad – Basra – Arbil – Babylon – Anbar – Nineveh).

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has said the Kurdistan Regional Government is “firmly insistent to implement administrative reforms”.

These remarks were part of a speech he made at the ceremony of presention of the ISO certificate to the KRG Ministry of Interior.

He said the aim the KRG wants to attain is “to eliminate bureaucracy, red tape and conduct government’s jobs in a timely and simple manner; also following up citizens’ matters in a more efficient way with better quality.

Below is the transcript of Prime Minister Barzani’s speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you to this event of presenting the ISO certificate to the Ministry of Interior of the Kurdistan Regional Government. This certificate is awarded to governmental and non-governmental organizations that adopt Quality Management System for their operation in which the citizens will be the first beneficiaries as their paperwork would be dealt with and followed up much quicker.

The KRG is pleased that the Ministry of Interior obtained such certificate. This shows that despite all the crisis and the hardship, the KRG has kept its strong will and stayed determined and continued carrying out its reform program. The KRG is very firmly insistent to implement administrative and management reforms; thus, provisioning more quality services to the citizens in a more efficient way.

I applaud the Ministry of Interior for successfully implementing this system in the Directorate of Traffic in Duhok as they already obtained the ISO certificate and now they repeated the same process in the Diwan of the Ministry of Interior and soon we anticipate the same system to be implemented in both Directorates of Traffic in Erbil and Suleimaniya.

This achievement by the Ministry of Interior, which is a first and exemplary step, could be used as model and encouragement for other governmental and non-govermental institutions to follow.

The KRG is making every endeavor to establish a modern IT infrastructure through utilizing the state-of-the-art technologies for better provisioning services to its citizens.

Our aim is to eliminate bureaucracy, red tape and conduct government’s jobs in a timely and simple manner; also following up citizens’ matters in a more efficient way with better quality. We want such high-quality services to be provisioned at every ministry, departments or organizations, be it on the border, in the towns or in the cities. We strive and continue until we fully achieve that.

We are seriously committed to implement reforms in all sectors and especially in administration system. This project which adopted first by Toursim Board in 2014, followed by the Directorate of Traffic in Duhok in 2015. The fact that the Kurdistan Region was in the middle of a full-scale war with Da’esh and facing a severe financial crisis. This showed the commitment of the KRG in establishing a modern system for provisioning deservedly high quality and most efficient services to its citizens.

Citizens come first! Yes, they come first. Our citizens’ satisfaction is important for us. When a citizens visit a government department, their work should be dealt with in a seamless way with utmost respect. They should feel like they are in a modern and forward-looking department. They should be welcomed and received in a highly respectful and ethical way. Government employees should make sure that the citizens leave happy and satisfied with the services provided for them.

We truly empathize with what the citizens go through when they apply for their paperwork to be processed through such complex system. We understand that citizens need to go through much for getting necessary approvals for their paperwork. We know that there are onerous routines that are totally unnecessary. We know that the citizens have to carry many documents and proofs and visit numerous rooms and places to get their job done and it could take them days or even weeks. This style of dealing with citizens’ paperwork needs to stop once and for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We know that all the bureaucracy and red-tape routines in the government services are not only attributed to the administration system, or to the way how employees treat citizens but sometimes laws and regulations could cause the routine and red-tape to occur! This also should be looked into. The KRG is looking to review the laws, bylaws and the responsibilities of the governmental organizations and departments. We collaborate with the Kurdistan Parliament to review the outdated laws and regulations so that technological and electronic innovations are incorporated in the laws to better serve citizens.

Technology’s role is to serve the humanity and make it easy to get the jobs done. It can play a pivotal role in the world of administration for getting the jobs done in a quality and more efficient way. The KRG continues working on its e-government project; its goal is to provide an online administration system just like the ones used by the developed countries, where much of the services can be accessed on a mere laptop from home, hence the need of all paperwork and documentation will be redundant.

The e-government must have a robust technological infrastructure so that it would be able to earn the ‘ISO’ certificate from the International Organization for Standardization and gain satisfaction from citizens when their paperwork are dealt with in no delay just like the way it’s done in the Directorate of Traffic in Duhok where, in few minutes, the citizen can renew their relevant documents.

The KRG will strive to make all its departments and offices ready to adopt the Quality Management System and obtain the ‘ISO’ certificate. This work is part of the multifaceted reform program endorsed by the KRG in all sectors. Just like in the energy sector where the Deloitte Company has been contracted to carry out audits. And, working with the World Bank in carrying out reforms in the banking sector. Similarly, we have been carrying out reforms in all sectors.

I applaud the Minister and his staff for their efforts and I wish them all the success in their endeavor.

Thank you again

(Source: KRG)

KBR announced today that its global government services business, KBRwyle, has been awarded a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification to provide base life support services to the U.S. Army throughout Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR).

The Army Contracting Command (ACC) awarded this one-year task order modification, exercising the third option year on the task order. The ACC awarded the original task order in December 2014 under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) IV contract.

Under this contract, KBRwyle will continue to assist the Army in meeting base life and logistical requirements for its deployed forces. KBRwyle’s support will include firefighting, power generation and morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR).

KBRwyle will also provide waste and facilities management including custodial, laundry, post office, food and water, vector and pest management services.

In addition, KBRwyle will help transport and load cargo, as well as oversee fuel handling and airfield operations at military sites in Erbil, Al Asad, Taji, Al Taqaddum, Al Bashur and Q-West in Iraq.

Byron Bright, KBRwyle President, said:

“We have a legacy of serving the U.S. military, and are proud to continue through this task order modification … Whether it is preparing dinner for our soldiers or refueling an aircraft on the flight line, KBRwyle will go on providing dependable and expert services to the Army.”

KBRwyle has provided military contingency support to U.S. and allied forces through multiple LOGCAP contracts for more than twenty years. KBRwyle’s international footprint and military readiness expertise enables it to rapidly mobilize and respond to the military’s combat and exercise support needs.

Estimated revenue associated with this task order modification will be booked into the backlog of unfilled orders for KBR’s Government Services business segment.

(Source: KBR)

The Logistics Cluster, led by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), has welcomed a generous contribution of US$860,000 from the Iraq Humanitarian Fund (IHF). The Cluster facilitates the movement of humanitarian supplies including food, medicines and even ambulances on behalf of the entire humanitarian community in Iraq.

“This contribution is perfectly aligned with the objectives of the IHF, to provide timely and flexible humanitarian funding to enable effective emergency response, increase humanitarian access, and strengthen coordination and partnerships among local and international responders,” said Marta Ruedas, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.

With this contribution, the Logistics Cluster will continue to provide coordination and information management support to the humanitarian community. The Logistics Cluster will also continue to facilitate common storage services for humanitarian supplies at three main operational hubs in Baghdad, Dahuk and Erbil, while maintaining a stock of mobile storage units ready to be deployed and installed at short notice.

“The Logistics Cluster plays a critical role in the Iraq context, offering logistics solutions and technical support to humanitarian partners responding to the needs of highly vulnerable displaced families and returnees,” said Sally Haydock, WFP Representative in Iraq. “We thank the IHF, the Humanitarian Coordinator and donors that have made this timely contribution possible.”

Established in 2015, the Iraq Humanitarian Fund supports humanitarian partners, allowing them to respond to the complex and dynamic situation in the country. IHF allocations have been made possible thanks to generous contributions from the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland, United States, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Canada and Cyprus.

Since 2014, the IHF has provided US$3.5 million in funding to WFP activities in Iraq, including food assistance to internally displaced people and support for the Food Security, Emergency Telecommunications and Logistics Clusters.

As Iraq emerges from four years of conflict and unrest, the entire humanitarian community is providing critical resilience and recovery support for vulnerable communities after years of hardship, conflict and displacement.

(Source: WFP)

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Two pro-Iranian militias active in Iraq and Syria declared that possible US sanctions targeting them would be ineffective and claimed that such sanctions would actually strengthen their presence and expansion in the Middle East.

The US House of Representatives on May 24 passed sanctions against Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba as an amendment to annual defense legislation. The bill called for sanctions against “persons that are officials, agents, affiliates of or owned and controlled by” the two groups.

Laith al-Azari, a member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s political bureau, said on May 30, “Including Asaib Ahl al-Haq, along with some other Iraqi armed factions, on the terrorist list will increase our own ability to confront terrorism and confront US plans in Iraq.”

He did not explain how sanctions could lead to this result, but sees the action as an effort to thwart the pro-Iranian axis of resistance, which includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and confront Islamist movements. The sanctions vote followed US President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement withdrawing the United States from the Iranian nuclear deal, ostensibly in order to reach a better deal that would limit Iran’s military power in the region.

In a May 30 interview with Rudaw, Mohammad Mohi, spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, played down the importance of possible US sanctions, stating, “The US decision is not new as far as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba is concerned. This is not a new issue, but one that has been tackled on an annual basis.” Nujaba leader Akram al-Kaabi was sanctioned in 2008 by the Treasury Department, which designated him an individual “fueling violence” in Iraq.

Mohi linked the House vote to a decision by the Iraqi parliament three months ago obligating the Iraqi government to schedule the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, measures supported by the two groups targeted for sanctions. While condemning foreign interference in Iraqi affairs, including the US and Turkish military presence, Mohi praised the Iranian presence, stating, “Without Iranian support, Iraq would not have defeated the Islamic State [IS]. Had it not been for Iran’s support, Erbil would have fallen [to IS] along with Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. This is why Iran’s intervention was in the interest of the Iraqi people, and it came at a time when other countries were idly watching Iraq head toward an unknown fate.”

The House’s sanctions vote followed Iraq’s May 12 legislative elections, in which the political organizations of the pro-Iranian militias emerged as the second largest coalition, meaning they might have a shot at forming the new government. Asaib Ahl al-Haq looks like it will occupy at least 14 of the 47 seats won by the Al-Fateh Alliance, consisting of pro-Iran factions and headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization. Al-Fateh came in second, behind the Sairoon Alliance, headed by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which won 56 seats. There are 328 seats in the Council of Representatives.

Despite the Sairoon Alliance’s lead, its position could be undermined by independent candidates. It is being reported that a number of independents will be joining the Al-Fataeh Alliance. So far, only one such candidate for Shabak, Qusay Abbas, has joined Al-Fateh after winning a seat.

Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, expects his movement to end up with at least 15 seats once the official results are announced, following the resolution of disputes over balloting irregularities. The Badr Organization is also thinking that it will be allotted additional seats after the results are in. Meanwhile, the State of Law Coalition, another ally of Iran, won 26 seats, and is fully prepared to forge an alliance with Al-Fateh given their common political agendas.

All this means that should Al-Fateh’s natural allies join it, it would beat out the Sairoon Alliance and be in a position to form a government consisting mostly of pro-Iranian factions. If this scenario transpires, the United States could find itself in the very awkward situation of having to deal with a government it is sanctioning, should the sanctions ultimately be adopted. Would the United States actually sever ties with the Iraqi government, a key partner since 2003, or, finding that scenario unpalatable, simply decide to waive or put off new sanctions?

Another scenario that might be even more difficult for the United States would see Sairoon and Al-Fateh coming together around their shared goal of US forces withdrawing from the country and curbing US influence in Iraq and the region. Before that could happen, however, big differences between the two alliances would have to be overcome. Al-Fateh opposes the United States in favor of expanding Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region, while Sairoon wants an Iraq independent of Iran, free to manage its own internal affairs and regional positions.

Of note, Israeli-Russian understandings, with US buy-in, are being concluded to keep pro-Iranian militias away from the southern border of Syria, which would, of course, undermine the Iranian role in Syria. Regardless, in terms of US interests in Iraq, it appears the United States might ultimately find itself in the dilemma of having to choose between the lesser of evils.

The spokesman for Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Hashim al-Moussawi, believes Washington launched a war on the resistance axis when it reneged on the Iranian nuclear deal and then prepared to impose economic sanctions on Hezbollah supporters. “This is an expected reaction to the losses suffered by the US by the Islamic resistance factions,” he said. “The elections in Lebanon and Iraq and the victory of the resistance [against IS in Iraq] showed the US the high level of threat it is facing.”

Moussawi touts the showing by the Al-Fateh Alliance as a victory for the Iranian axis. “This is why it [the US] is seeking to plunge Iraq into the spiral of permanent chaos,” he said. “The entry of the resistance into political circles will embarrass Washington, which is politically seeking to bypass the axis of resistance.”