Following the US strike on Qassem Solaimani and Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has violently cracked down on youth-led protests in Iraq.
His paramilitaries and ‘blue hats’ – supposedly created to protect protestors from state and allied parastatal security forces – sought to end the months-long demonstrations by attacking the places where protesters have camped since October. In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, they successfully captured the famous Turkish restaurant which had become a symbol of Iraq’s ‘October revolution’.
Once the champion of Iraq’s protest movement, Sadr has seemingly changed course and now leads the counter-protests. This reversal has mystified many, from Iraqis who saw Sadr as an ally in their struggle for reform against an impenetrable elite to foreign diplomats who hoped Sadr could help pushback against Iranian influence in Iraq.… Seguir leyendo »
An unexpected bounty for Iran
The assassination of Qassem Soleimani has been an unexpected bounty for the Islamic Republic at a time when Iran was balancing multiple economic, domestic and regional pressures stemming from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign.
Coming on the heels of anti-Iranian demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and following Iran’s own November 2019 protests that resulted in a brutal government crackdown against its own people, the Soleimani killing has helped the Iranian government shift the narrative away from its perceived regional and domestic weaknesses to one of strength.
The massive funeral scenes in multiple Iranian cities displaying unending waves of mourners chanting against the United States has provided the Islamic Republic with a unique opportunity to showcase its mobilizing potential.… Seguir leyendo »
‘This was one the worst weeks in Iraq’s history. I never thought the government was capable of such crimes,’ exclaimed one civil society activist in Baghdad when describing the protests that ripped through Baghdad and other parts of Iraq from 1 October.
While protests have become frequent events in Baghdad over the past few years, this time was different. For the first time in Baghdad, forces seeking to defend the political system opened fire on demonstrators, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. The same forces, a mixture of official security forces and government-aligned paramilitary groups, also attacked independent media outlets and cut off the internet.… Seguir leyendo »
Over the past few summers, as scorching heat meets a growing dissatisfaction with their government’s inability to provide basic services and employment, Iraqis have taken to the streets to protest. These demonstrations have occurred primarily in southern Iraq and in Baghdad, where violence has been relatively contained for several years now. To many Iraqis, protest is the only voice they have left. They view the formal political and electoral process as just reinforcing the same elites who have repeatedly failed them since the U.S. invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Last summer’s protests in Basra, however, altered the dynamics of these public outcries.… Seguir leyendo »
State weakness and protracted conflict continue to plague Iraq and Libya. A breakdown of the unitary state, competition for power and influence, and the absence of a social contract all continue to drive conflict, while allowing a proliferation of local armed groups to flourish.
Yet while such groups in both countries are often viewed solely as security actors, many of them are better considered as ‘hybrid’ networks that also span the political, economic and social spheres. Western policies to mitigate the threats presented by these groups must therefore extend beyond security-based interventions to necessarily inclusive and political approaches focusing on accountability as a route to peace.… Seguir leyendo »
Tensions have again flared between the US and Iran. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, followed by Tehran’s warnings of resuming its nuclear programme, have revived a crisis that spans several decades.
Within the Trump administration, influential leaders – including National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – seem to be steering the US into conflict with Iran.
This conflict has never been a direct confrontation, instead mainly featuring in countries across the Middle East. Iraq has been the most cherished prize for both sides. Recently citing an increased threat, the US evacuated all non-essential staff from Iraq.… Seguir leyendo »
Earlier this month, Iraq’s paramilitary group raided the home of and arrested one of its own — a prominent and long-time paramilitary leader, Aws al-Khafaji. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — an umbrella organization of about 50 predominantly Shia paramilitary groups — has initiated a crackdown on groups.
The purging reveals an emerging reality in Iraq: the paramilitary groups that fought together against ISIS are competing against each other for power, legitimacy and resources. In this process, the PMU is further institutionalizing by centralizing power over the disparate groups that fall within its umbrella. This competition has profound implications for stability in post-ISIS Iraq — and for how we should understand its emerging state.… Seguir leyendo »
Earlier this month, Iraq’s paramilitary group raided the home of and arrested one of its own — a prominent and longtime paramilitary leader, Aws al-Khafaji. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — an umbrella organization of about 50 predominantly Shiite paramilitary groups — has initiated a crackdown on groups.
The purging reveals an emerging reality in Iraq: The paramilitary groups that fought together against the Islamic State are competing against each other for power, legitimacy and resources. In this process, the PMU is further institutionalizing by centralizing power and the disparate groups that fall within its umbrella. This competition has profound implications for stability in post-Islamic State Iraq — and for how we should understand its emerging state.… Seguir leyendo »
For the first time in its history, the Iraqi parliament voted freely for the country’s next president, with Barham Salih winning by a landslide vote of 219 to 22 over his competitor last week. In the past, the parliamentary vote served mainly as a rubber stamp.
Though elements of the old backroom politics remain, this vote marks a departure. After last summer’s election shake-up, some two-thirds of the members of parliament are new to the job. A growing protest movement has exposed citizen disillusionment with the political process, increasing pressure on the parliament. My conversations with many of these new MPs show how fragmentation of political blocs is challenging Iraq’s ethno-sectarian power-sharing agreement in place since 2003.… Seguir leyendo »
This year featured key parliamentary elections in Iraq and Lebanon. In both countries, formerly controversial populist figures performed far better than expected and are playing central roles in the scramble to form governments. In Iraq, the Saeroon coalition led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the notorious former leader of the Mahdi Army militia, won the plurality of seats. In Lebanon, the Samir Geagea-led Lebanese Forces, a former militia traditionally seen as a right-wing Christian party, doubled its number of seats in parliament.
At first glance, the two outliers, Sadr and Geagea, may appear to be diametrical opposites, but their surprising victories reveal an emerging form of populism sweeping the Middle East.… Seguir leyendo »
Iraqis and outside observers alike are still making sense of the surprise results of last weekend’s elections, the country’s first since the violent rise and fall of the Islamic State. In the biggest shock, the populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s political coalition—a nationalist, non-sectarian alliance between his political movement, secular activists and the Iraqi Communist Party, known as Sairoon—won the most seats in parliament. Trailing just a few seats behind were the pre-election favorite, the Nasr Alliance of incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the Fateh Alliance led by Hadi al-Ameri, whose list represents a majority of paramilitary groups associated with the mainly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units.… Seguir leyendo »
Iraqis head to the polls on May 12 to vote for their next federal government. This will be the first time they vote since the territorial rise and fall of the Islamic State. It is also the first vote since a widespread protest movement started in 2015, calling for the removal of the current ruling elite and major reforms to the political system governing Iraq since 2003.
This vote, and the subsequent government-formation process, will determine Iraq’s political future. Despite a number of polls, it is impossible to tell who will become the next prime minister. Yet, pre-election maneuverings and strategies offer glimpses into the country’s political trajectory and the prospects of stabilization and rebuilding.… Seguir leyendo »
Iraq today has a unique of opportunity to chart a new path away from 15 years of chaos and upheaval.
Following the defeat of ISIS, the security situation is better than it has been for many years. Politically, there are glimpses of a move from identity to issue-based politics in various cross-sect electoral alliances. For instance, Islamists associated with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have joined forces with secularists linked to the Iraqi Communist Party. Many Iraqis now see corruption as just as bad as terrorism, and the gap between elite and citizen has become more important than the gap between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.… Seguir leyendo »
As ISIS lost one of its last villages in Iraq, Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition battling the group, took to Twitter for a victory lap. The organization’s ‘phony «caliphate»‘, he wrote, is ‘coming to an end’.
It is true that ISIS has lost the vast majority of its territory, which at its peak in 2014 included about one-third of Iraq and half of Syria. Once dubbed ‘the world’s richest terrorist organization’ by the United Nations, it has also lost an estimated 80 per cent of the funds it acquired by conquering territory and mimicking the functions of a state, collecting taxes and tariffs from the citizens under its control.… Seguir leyendo »
Iraq is, once again, deeply embroiled in crisis. For three years, the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish region fought together to oust the Islamic State. Now, following the Sept. 25 referendum on independence for the region, they are pointing their guns at each other.
The dynamics in Iraq are far from simple, with intra-Kurdish rivalries; ethnic, sectarian and political divisions in Baghdad; and a war against the Islamic State barely in the rearview mirror. And yet too many people in Washington and elsewhere seem myopically focused on just one factor: Iran, which they view as controlling and dominating the situation in Iraq in pursuit of an ambitious, expansionist foreign policy.… Seguir leyendo »
Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered his forces to retake the province of Kirkuk from the Kurdish peshmerga’s control. Abadi moved with broad support, including groups within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Iran, Turkey, the Persian Gulf countries and the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State militant group.
The peshmerga, isolated and divided, withdrew, as leaders from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) commanding the area decided not to fight in objection to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
The latest tensions stem from the Sept. 25 independence referendum in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan, now widely considered a major miscalculation.… Seguir leyendo »
In 2014, the so-called Islamic State conquered one-third of Iraq in its pursuit of a Caliphate. By 2017, the organization is finding it difficult to claim statehood. It has suffered a series of territorial losses, from Tikrit (2015) to Ramadi (2015-2016) to Fallujah (2016) to Mosul (2016-2017), and is now facing an assault on its ‘capital’ of Raqqa. Its days of controlling and administering territory appear to be nearing an end.
However – and despite references to a post-ISIS Iraq – territorial losses do not mean the end of ISIS in the country, where it has existed in one form or another since 2003.… Seguir leyendo »
With the Mosul offensive underway, discussion has largely focused on the eventual fate of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), once it is ousted from the city. Yet the most significant barometer of this offensive remains unanswered: what happens if a military victory is not followed by a political accord among Iraq’s competing players? The signs are not encouraging.
The realities of victory differ when viewed from military and political perspectives. In the build up to the offensive, most of the focus has been on how to achieve a military victory. Here, much debate has centred on the makeup of the force.… Seguir leyendo »