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.

By John Lee.

Nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri have reportedly announced an alliance between their political blocs.

The groups who won first and second places respectively in last month’s parliamentary election.

While Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance is opposed to Iranian involvement in Iraq, Amiri’s Fatah (Conquest) Coalition is head of an Iranian-backed militia.

At a joint press conference in Najaf, Sadr said “our meeting was a very positive one, we met to end the suffering of this nation and of the people. Our new alliance is a nationalist one.

(Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, Moqtada al-Sadr website)

By John Lee.

The alliance headed by former Shia militia chief Moqtada al-Sadr has won the parliamentary election.

But according to BBC News, Sadr cannot become prime minister as he did not stand as a candidate.

He is, however, expected to play a key role in forming the new government. Sadr is strongly opposed to Iranian and US involvement in the country.

The party of outgoing PM Haider al-Abadi was pushed into third place, behind a pro-Iranian alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri.

More here and here.

(Source: BBC, Reuters)

By John Lee.

According to media reports, the Nasr (Victory) Alliance led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is trailing in third place in the Iraqi general elections.

With more than half of votes counted, Saeroun (Marching Towards Reform) list, comprising Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Istiqama (Integrity) party and six mostly secular groups, is in the lead, says BBC News.

This is followed by the Fatah (Conquest) bloc, linked to Iranian-backed Shia paramilitaries who fought the Islamic State (IS) group.

Turnout was low, at just 44.5 percent.

More details here.

(Source: BBC News)

By Omar Sattar for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s firebrand Shiite cleric presents his political successor

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.

By Ammar Alsawad for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

On Feb. 28, hundreds of pro-Sadrist university students in Kut attacked Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s procession with stones and water bottles. Abadi’s security forces fired tear gas and live bullets at the protesters, injuring three.

Subsequently, Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr (pictured) apologized to Abadi for the breaches. Though he called on his followers to stop the protests in Kut until further notice, he accused former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of being behind the breaches to try to distort the Sadrist movement’s image.

The incident reflects the intense competition among Iraq’s Shiite leaders. There are currently three main Shiite figures competing for power: head of the Islamic Supreme Council Ammar al-Hakim, head of the State of Law Coalition Maliki, and Sadr himself. Each has his own plan to remain in power and remove the others or limit their influence.

On Feb. 20, Sadr announced a 29-point initiativeInitial Solutions — his vision for the future of Iraq once the Islamic State (IS) is forced out. Holding local primary elections was among the points. Sadr’s keenness on holding elections is likely to further deepen the Shiite split as the leaders fight for a majority position.

About a month ago, the Sadrist movement started calling for electoral reforms, seeking to reduce Maliki’s strong chances of winning the election as long as no radical changes are made to the electoral law and commission.

By John Lee.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has accepted the resignations of the ministers of oil, transport, housing and construction, water resources and industry, as well as interior, which had been previously announced.

Abadi has previously called for the cabinet to include technocrats, a call later taken up by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but has faced major opposition from powerful political parties that rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds.

(Sources: Middle East Eye, AFP)

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Thousands of Iraqis have defied a protest ban and rallied in the heart of the capital, Baghdad, to demand an end to sectarianism and corruption.

Al Jazeera‘s Natasha Ghoneim reports.

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

In a dramatic shift, 13 years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, the once-ignorable Shiite cleric, has reinvented himself as the central figure in a chaotic push to reform the country’s broken political system. After Sadr’s supporters stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone late April, many wonder what his ultimate aim might be.

Sadr’s political initiation began in a remarkable fashion: when his supporters were accused of murdering Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a promising rival Shiite cleric, the day after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled in April 2003. Loathed by US political and military officials and underestimated by Iraqi politicians returning from exile, Sadr was for years considered nothing more than a menace. The mainstream Western press often described him as a “firebrand” or “radical.”

Nevertheless, capitalizing on the spiritual legacy of his father and uncle, Mohammed Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr and Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, both senior Shiite clerics executed by Hussein, Muqtada’s political fortunes rose steadily, making himself an actor to be reckoned with. In April 2004, he led a major rebellion against the US-led coalition that he considered an occupation force.

Today, amid popular demand for change in Iraq, Sadr has put his political capital on the line in advocating an overhaul of the Iraqi political system. “Muqtada has clearly enhanced his status by adopting a populist, non-sectarian stance at a time when Iraqis are peculiarly conscious of the corrupt and dysfunctional nature of their government because there is not sufficient oil revenue to cover expenditure,” said Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for the British Independent and author of the book “Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the Struggle for Iraq.”