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

There are strong indications that Gulf states want to keep Iraq away from Iran‘s influence by including Iraq under the banner of a US-backed Sunni Arab alliance.

The United States sees Iraq as a vital location in need of a clear US policy, especially with the presence there of US military bases and about 8,500 US soldiers, as well as the US impact on the country’s overall situation.

The most recent quest in this direction was the Arab Islamic American Summit held May 21 in Riyadh, attended by US President Donald Trump and Iraqi President Fuad Masum.

It also appears that Iraq’s participation in the Eager Lion maneuvers, an annual military exercise, launched May 7 in Jordan with the participation of more than 7,000 soldiers from over 20 countries, was part of the attempt to bring Iraq into the Sunni Arab axis.

The race to convince Iraq to abandon its well-known alliances with Iran and Iran’s allies was already underway when Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad on Feb. 25, declaring that “Saudi Arabia and Iraq face the [same] scourge of terrorism.”

This rhetoric reflects Riyadh’s keenness on overcoming the obstacles to developing its relations with Baghdad. Those relations took a bad turn when the Saudi ambassador to Iraq, Thamer al-Sabhan, was expelled from Iraq in August after the Iraqis took offense at his statements about the “Iranian intervention in Iraq” and “Iranian-backed armed Shiite organizations fueling the tension with Sunnis.”

Jubeir’s hopes of extracting Baghdad from Tehran’s grip were revived when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met March 20 with Trump in Washington.

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. 

Following controversial video leak, Iraq minorities seek to address hate speech

In undated footage that leaked earlier this month, head of the Shiite Endowment Alaa Abd al-Sahib al-Musawi is heard saying that non-Muslims have three options: take up jihad alongside Muslims, convert to Islam, or agree to pay jizyah — a yearly tax historically levied by Islamic states on Christians and Jews. The video sparked outrage on social media.

Subsequently, a group of 180 Christian families filed a lawsuit against Musawi, accusing him of spreading hatred against the minorities in the country.

Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, issued a statement on May 5 to contain the anger sparked by the leaked video and alert religious leaders of their historic responsibility in such critical times in the nation’s history. He urged the religious leaders to “adopt moderate and open-minded measures as well as ban hate and discriminatory speech.” The patriarch clarified that hate speech “does not serve Islam. Rather, it establishes walls among people, divides them, entrenches Islamophobia, dissolves the fabric of the nation, undermines peace, and violates freedom and human rights.”

In his statement, Patriarch Sako stressed the important role played by the state, arguing that the absence of its authority leads to a breakout of destructive hatred: “We hereby call upon the government to enforce the law and work on respecting the religion of every human being pursuant to the legislation of the graceful Quranic verse that says: ‘So whoever wills, let him believe; and whoever wills, let him disbelieve.’”

As angry reactions emerged, parliamentarians called for reform to integrate the religious endowments in Iraq with a civil administration in order to achieve unity, taking fully into consideration that “the position is held by a secular figure, and whoever is proved to have incited religious dispute or sectarian strife in the country is dismissed,” according to the statement made May 12 by a representative from the parliamentarian Sadrist Al-Ahrar bloc.

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

On March 12, US Consul General Steve Walker visited Al-Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra to pay his respects to wounded members of the Popular Mobilization Units. The visit marked the first time a US official has publicly met these troops.

This is particularly remarkable as until now, the official US position toward the Popular Mobilization Units was negative, and the United States had even demanded that the Iraqi government prevent the forces from taking part in the operations to liberate some areas, such as the city of Ramadi in Anbar, that were freed without their participation by US request.

Walker made it clear that the trip was not just a courtesy visit. Accompanied by TV stations such as the US-based Alhurra, which broadcast the visit and his remarks in Arabic, Walker said, “The US recognizes the important contribution of the Popular Mobilization Units under the command of Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi], and most of the Popular Mobilization troops came from the south. This is why I would like to express my condolences to the people of Basra and the south who have lost their loved ones or friends in the war against the Islamic State.”

Walker expressed his solidarity with the wounded, who welcomed his visit. He told them, “The US and Iraqi people are very, very proud of you.”

The visit coincided with the debate on the Popular Mobilization Units’ participation in the battle for Mosul. On Feb. 29, the Ninevah Provincial Council voted against their participation in the operations to liberate the city. Atheel al-Nujaifi, the former governor of Ninevah province and head of a small military force consisting of volunteers from Mosul called Hashid Watani (Arabic for “National Mobilization”), said, “The Popular Mobilization Units’ participation in the battle for Mosul is unacceptable … and the insistence on such participation implies an insistence on the destruction of Mosul.”

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

Iraq’s Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr is putting pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to carry out reforms to fight corruption.

Sadr has managed to rally a huge number of angry Iraqi protesters who are demanding Abadi introduce reforms to put an end to corruption.

Last month, Sadr demanded Iraqi politicians be replaced with technocrats and the country’s powerful Shia militias be incorporated into the ministries of Defence and Interior.

In the following weeks he called on his supporters to take to the streets, and each Friday their numbers grew.

While Iraq’s political leadership has proposed multiple reform plans, some echoing Sadr’s own demands, progress in parliament has been slow.

So, how far will Sadr go to push for change? And is this only about fighting corruption?

Presenter: Mike Hanna

Guests: 

  • Renad Mansour – Fellow at the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies.
  • Saad Jawad – Professor of political Science at the London School of Economics.

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

Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report Jan. 31 about the abduction and murder of dozens of Sunnis living in a town in the center of Iraq. “Members of [Shiite] militias, who the Iraqi government has included among its state forces, abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in a central Iraq town and demolished Sunni homes, stores, and mosques following January 11, 2016 bombings claimed by the extremist group Islamic State [IS],” the report read.

Deputy Middle East Director at HRW Joe Stork was quoted in the report as saying, “Again civilians are paying the price for Iraq’s failure to rein in the out-of-control militias. Countries that support Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization [Units] should insist that Baghdad bring an end to this deadly abuse.”

Saad al-Hadithi, spokesman for the information bureau of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, told Al-Monitor, “The report reflects a conflict or civil war, but the truth is not so. There are terrorist gangs that have targeted all Iraqis in Diyala province to spark strife that would end in civil war. We should stop them, unveil their crimes and show the unity of Iraqis.”

In its annual report on the situation of human rights in the world in 2015, HRW wrote, “Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias committed possible war crimes during 2015 in their fight against the extremist group Islamic State … by unlawfully demolishing buildings in recaptured areas and forcibly disappearing residents.”

HRW added, “Mostly [Shiite] militias fighting [IS] with the support of the Iraqi government, such as the Badr Brigades, League of the Righteous, and Hezbollah Brigades, carried out widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular by demolishing homes and shops in recaptured Sunni areas.”

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

In eastern Iraq, Sunni civilians are fearing revenge attacks from Shia militias following a suicide bombing by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group.

The targets were senior members of a Shia militia that were at a funeral of a colleague.

Al Jazeera‘s Bernard Smith reports:

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

Iraq’s top Shia cleric Ali al Sistani has called on the government to curb the activities of armed groups.

At least seven Sunni mosques were bombed in eastern Iraq earlier this week, allegedly by Shia fighters. That was in response to ISIL’s attacks against Shia mosques in the same town. And Shia fighters have also been accused of human rights abuses against Sunnis across the country.

Of the Shia armed groups accused of carrying out these attacks, the most prominent is the Popular Mobilisation Forces. It’s an umbrella organisation of non-state armed groups, some of which have been around for more than a decade. They were brought together by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in 2014.

But what does it take to deal with armed groups with sectarian allegiances?

Presenter: Sami Zeidan

Guests:

  • Juan Cole – Professor of History at the University of Michigan.
  • Renad Mansour – Fellow at the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies.
  • Ali Al-Dabbagh – Former Spokesman for the Iraqi government.

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

For displaced Iraqi citizen Saad al-Jabouri, this year’s Ramadan has been a good one. He left Kirkuk with his family of four on July 20, 2014.

They were generously welcomed in the city of Hillah, in the center of Babil province, south of Baghdad, where the residents provided them with a free iftar after a long day of fasting.

Jabouri told Al-Monitor that the food he received was more than he needed, noting, “Many displaced who moved from north and west Iraq to Babil feel the same.”

The UN delegation in Iraq announced June 23 that the number of displaced people in Iraq, largely from northern and western regions, had reached over 3 million people distributed among all provinces, as a result of the Islamic State (IS) invading vast areas in Iraq since June 2014.

Al-Monitor attended free iftars prepared for the poor in mosques in the holy city of Najaf. During one of these ceremonies, Ali al-Khalsi, a displaced Shiite from Diyala province, told Al-Monitor he “asked the local government to grant [him] permanent residency in Najaf because of the great treatment and hospitality expressed by the city’s residents.”

Al-Monitor noticed cooperation between different sects during a visit to the holy mosques in Karbala, south of Baghdad, where food was distributed to both the displaced and the city’s original residents alike. Said Hassan, a displaced Sunni from Salahuddin province, told Al-Monitor that he is considering “officially settling in the city of Karbala,” saying, “I even got a job as a taxi driver, which I was never able to do in my hometown.”