IN IRAQ, ELECTION RESULTS SHOCK IRAN & U.S., KURDS IN “DISARRAY” & CHRISTIANS DISAPPEARING

The Populist Revolt Reaches Iraq: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs Journal, May 22, 2018— The worldwide populist revolt toppling conventional politicians in the United States, Europe and even the Philippines has now reached Iraq.

The Results of the Iraqi Elections? A Slap in the Face to Iran: Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, JCPA, May 22, 2018— The results of the Iraqi legislative elections have taken both Iran and the United States by surprise.

Kurds in Iraq Adrift After Iraqi Election: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, May 26, 2018— At a meeting of Kurdistan Democratic Party officials on Saturday in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq, the party sought Kurdish unity in negotiations with Baghdad.

Iraq’s Christians: Eighty Percent Have “Disappeared”: Giulio Meotti, Gatestone Institute, Apr. 1, 2018— Persecution of Christians is worse today “than at any time in history”, a recent report by the organization Aid to the Church in Need revealed.

On Topic Links

Once Hated by U.S. and Tied to Iran, Is Sadr Now ‘Face of Reform’ in Iraq?: Margaret Coker, New York Times, May 20, 2018

Iraqi Election Opens New Chapter: Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, May 20, 2018

The ISIS Tactics That Have Left Iraqi Special Forces Weakened: Chirine Mouchantaf, Defense News, May 8, 2018

A Future for Kurdish Independence?: Michael Eppel, Middle East Quarterly, Mar. 01, 2018

 

THE POPULIST REVOLT REACHES IRAQ

Michael J. Totten

World Affairs Journal, May 22, 2018

 

The worldwide populist revolt toppling conventional politicians in the United States, Europe and even the Philippines has now reached Iraq. Most Westerners still following Iraqi politics assumed that incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Victory coalition would handily win the parliamentary election, but nope. Abadi’s coalition came in third. Firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sairun coalition came in first.

You remember Moqtada al-Sadr. He’s the guy who mounted an Iranian-backed Shia insurgency against the United States, the Iraqi government and his Sunni civilian neighbors between 2003 and 2008. He’s a very different person today. He still raises and shakes his fist in the air but today he’s shaking it at crooked elites, and he’s shaking it at his former Iranian patrons. “If corrupt (officials) and quotas remain,” Sadr declared, “the entire government will be brought down and no one will be exempt.” In other words, drain the swamp.

He’s Iraq’s version of the rabble-rousing populist: fundamentalist, anti-establishment and anti-foreigner. A champion of the working class and a declared enemy of liberal Western ideas. His list even included Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the colorful journalist who famously threw a shoe at President George W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad in 2008.

He would of course be nowhere without the Westerners he despises. Americans, after all, cleared Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian Baath Party regime out of the way and established the election system that put him on top. He’d also be nowhere without Iran. His former allies in the Islamic Republic next door armed his Mahdi Army militia and gave him refuge when the Americans were coming to get him. Now that the United States is (mostly) gone from Iraq, and now that Iran has been mucking around in Iraqi politics to disastrous effect for more than a decade, Sadr has become as anti-Iranian as he is anti-American. He’s not at all happy with a foreign capital using his government as a hand-puppet, whether that foreign capital is Washington, DC, or Tehran.

No need for surprise here. Many in Iraq’s large Shia majority feel a natural kinship with the even larger Shia majority in Iran, but ethnic tension between Arabs and Persians has been a feature of Middle Eastern geopolitics for as long as Arabs and Persians have inhabited the region, and nationalist tension between Iran and Iraq has been present throughout Iraq’s entire (albeit brief) history as a modern nation-state. Shia Iraqis and Shia Iranians are natural allies, but at the same time, Arab Iraqis and Persian Iranians are natural enemies.

Sadr is painfully reactionary and more than a little bit dangerous. He’s also complicated. He is a Shia sectarian whose militia brutally “cleansed” Sunnis from neighborhoods in and around Baghdad but he’s also what passes today for an Iraqi nationalist, disavowing violence against all Iraqis and opposing all foreign influence. “We won’t allow the Iraqis to be cannon fodder for the wars of others nor be used in proxy wars outside Iraq,” says Sadrist movement member Jumah Bahadily of the Syrian civil war. He also forged an alliance with communists—a horrifying ideological cocktail from the point of view of any liberal-minded Westerner, but alas there are few Jeffersonian democrats in old Mesopotamia. There are however, some secular reformists and technocrats, and they also formed an alliance with the Sadrists. Tehran has taken notice and isn’t happy about it. “We will not allow liberals and communists to govern in Iraq,” says Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian ruler Ayatollah Khamenei.

Precious few Americans would enjoy living under a government run by Sadrists. Even so, his pushback against Iran is nothing to sniff at. Westerners and Arabs alike have bemoaned Iran’s rising influence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam, thanks in large part to Sadr’s own Mahdi Army, yet no one is resisting Iranian influence in Iraq as successfully right now as he is. Sure, the Sunni parties are pushing back as they always do, but the Sunnis are a small minority. Nearly all Iranian influence in Iraq comes through the Shias. Only they can successfully resist Tehran because they’re the only ones who can enable Tehran in the first place. With Sadr’s movement in the saddle, Iran faces the most formidable obstacle in Baghdad since Saddam flitted from palace to palace.

Sadr will not be Iraq’s next prime minister. His list won the most votes but he himself did not stand for election. He could be the next kingmaker, so to speak, but even that’s not guaranteed. While his party won more seats than the others, it did not win the majority. It’s still possible that the others will unite in a coalition against him. Nobody knows yet. Whatever ends up happening, the main takeaway here ought to be this: Iraq isn’t even in the same time zone as high-functioning liberal democracies like New Zealand and France, but we can parse the result and guess at the ultimate outcome of its fourth consecutive election as if it were.

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THE RESULTS OF THE IRAQI ELECTIONS?

A SLAP IN THE FACE TO IRAN

Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah

JCPA, May 22, 2018

 

The results of the Iraqi legislative elections have taken both Iran and the United States by surprise. The party of Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American and anti-Iranian Shiite cleric, succeeded in winning 54 out of the 329 seats in the newly-elected Iraqi parliament. By doing so, his Sairoun party list (Arabic for “going forward”) became the biggest parliamentary faction. Al-Sadr’s Sairoun beat the favorite pro-Iranian parties headed by Hadi al-Amiri, commander of the pro-Iranian Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi (Arabic for “popular mobilization units”) militia, which took part in crushing ISIS and presented itself under the name Al-Fath (Arabic for “conquest”), which lost by seven seats (47). Another party led by a pro-Iran candidate, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, won 26 seats.

The final results were published on May 19, 2018, seven days after the election day, due to allegations of massive fraud within the Kurdish-populated provinces of Kirkuk and Dahuk. The tabulations confirmed the partial results, which were published immediately after the elections, and the projection that Muqtada al-Sadr’s faction was the biggest parliamentary group. Although al-Sadr will not become prime minister since his name was not included in the list, he will likely play the role of the “kingmaker” behind the scenes and form the next Iraqi government – if Iran does not succeed in blocking him. In 2010, that is precisely what Iran did after Ayad Allawi won the most seats but could not form a government. Instead, Iran intervened and presented another pro-Iranian alternative. Indeed, despite the fact that al-Sadr’s faction is the biggest in the coming parliament, under the Iraqi constitution a larger coalition of factions is tasked with forming a new government.

Muqtada al-Sadr (born 1973) became famous in 2003 after the U.S. invasion of Iraq as the leader of a militia who led two armed uprisings against the U.S. forces. He also incited sectarian violence but rebranded himself as a champion of the poor, promoter of social protests, and corruption fighter. Al-Sadr was also vehemently anti-Iranian and criticized Iraqi politicians who became vassals of the Ayatollahs in Iran. Muqtada al-Sadr’s success stems primarily from the fact that the 44.25 percent election turnout was the lowest since 2003 and a drop from 62 percent in 2014, which played in al-Sadr’s favor since his followers voted en masse while others either abstained or showed a lack of interest…Moreover, Muqtada al-Sadr called on all “patriotic” factions, while emphasizing his rejection of the two main pro-Iranian blocs – Hadi al-Amiri’s Al-Fath list and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s “State of Law Coalition” to join his coalition in order to restore to Iraq its dignity, independence, and freedom of choice.

By the end of the week (May 18, 2018), al-Sadr scored yet another victory by rallying Ammar al-Hakim, a cleric and politician, former leader of the Islamic Council of Iraq (2004-2017), and head of the “National Wisdom Movement” (Al Hikma), who won 19 seats in the elections and agreed to explore establishing a united faction. Ammar al-Hakim was part of Haider al-Abadi’s coalition in 2014, but he decided to split away before the 2018 elections. Muqtada al-Sadr, whose list included Communists and liberal factions, has called to form a technocratic government to fight party corruption. He emphasized in his Tweets after the elections the need to restore the independent identity of Iraq, “making Baghdad the capital of our identity” and pointing very clearly at the need to depart from Iranian tutelage…

Muqtada al-Sadr’s goal is to reach a coalition of 165 seats (which represent a majority of one seat in the 329-seat Parliament) to assure his government a majority and to block any attempts from pro-Iranian factions to form an alternative pro-Iranian government. To do so, he still needs to rally a plethora of petty political factions, such as Osama al-Nujaifi’s al-Qarar al-Iraqi alliance (14 seats ), Hanan al-Fatlawi’s Eradaa bloc (two seats), former Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi’s list (two seats), and the Kurdish Shasour Abd el-Wahed’s faction (one seat). There is no doubt that negotiations between the parties will last a long time. However, the chances are that those petty lists will agree to join the coalition in the “biggest bang” of politics in Iraq since the American invasion of 2003…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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KURDS IN IRAQ ADRIFT AFTER IRAQI ELECTION

                                                Seth J. Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, May 26, 2018

 

At a meeting of Kurdistan Democratic Party officials on Saturday in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq, the party sought Kurdish unity in negotiations with Baghdad. Two weeks after the May 12 election, the Kurdish parties, of which the KDP is the largest, are trying to determine how they can continue to play a central role in the coalition building that must take place for a new government to be formed.

But Kurdish politics has been in disarray since the independence referendum last September, and critics say the current discussions with Baghdad look more like begging for a role than playing the kingmaker as Kurds once did. The KDP came in fourth in the election, worse than Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon party, Hadi al-Amiri’s Fateh alliance and Haider al-Abadi’s Victory alliance. With 25 seats in the unicameral, 329-member legislature, they have the same strength as Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition. Maliki, Amiri, Sadr and Abadi all run parties whose main supporters are Shi’ite Arabs.

Together, all these other parties could simply run the country, without the Kurds or the Sunni Arabs. But politics isn’t so simple in Iraq. Amiri’s and Maliki’s parties are very close to Iran, while Sadr’s positioned itself as a nationalist party opposed to both Iranian and American influence in Iraq. This gives the Kurds the ability to sign on with one camp or another.

The current position of the Kurds illustrates how much things have changed in the last decade and a half since Iraq was liberated from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. In the parliamentary election of December 2005, Massoud Barzani, leading a united Kurdish list, came in second with 53 seats. Since then the myriad Kurdish parties have increasingly contested the elections on their own, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan taking around 20 seats each time and the smaller Kurdish Islamic parties and the Gorran (Change) movement taking a dozen seats between them. The fragmentation has weakened the Kurdish bargaining power in Baghdad.

During the four years of war against ISIS, this weakened bargaining power mattered less, because Baghdad’s policies appeared to have failed Iraq and allowed ISIS to take control of a third of the country.

In those years it was common to hear Kurdish Peshmerga on the front line say that Iraq was finished as a country; how could it recover from the divisions created by ISIS. Increasing Iranian influence and the growth of sectarian militias, called the Popular Mobilization Units, appeared to show that Iraq was slipping into corruption and chaos. Kurds could point to their region in the northeast as the one stable and economically viable area. The stability in the Kurdish region began to change after the referendum, when Baghdad took advantage of Kurdish divisions to retake Kirkuk in October 2017 from the Peshmerga, who had defended it against ISIS. Anger over late payment of salaries and accusations of corruption at the highest levels led to a series of mass protests in December.

It was in this context that Kurdish parties contested the recent election. But any thought that voters would punish the leading KDP and PUK parties did not materialize. Instead the traditional parties performed as expected. Nevertheless the bitterness from the fall of 2017 remains. After the election in Sulaimaniya, the Gorran party headquarters was fired upon. Four smaller Kurdish parties (Gorran, Coalition for Justice and Democracy, Kurdistan Islamic Union and Kurdistan Islamic Group) met with US anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk this past Tuesday, demanding the election results be annulled due to allegations of fraud. It’s unclear why they thought McGurk could get the results changed, he’s ostensibly in Iraq to coordinate the anti-ISIS fight, but there is widespread perception that he is there to represent US interests in coalition building after the election.

The KDP and PUK pursued a different avenue. On Wednesday, Sadr met with representatives of the PUK and KDP, and on Thursday the two leading Kurdish parties met with Maliki and Amiri in Baghdad. It’s not entirely clear what came out of the meetings between the Kurdish parties; it wasn’t so long ago that Maliki and Amiri were despised in Erbil; Maliki accused of being an Iranian pawn, and Amiri’s Shi’ite militias seen as a Shia version of ISIS. But power politics now takes precedence over old biases. There are rumors that Iran would like to see a coalition without Sadr, which would include the Kurdish parties and the other Shi’ite parties. But there are also rumors that the Kurdish parties could work with Sadr to undermine Iran’s influence.

Either way, Erbil’s demands appear to be mostly about salaries and economic rights. The region exports oil and wants its public salaries paid by Baghdad. The region is holding out hope that the new US strategy on Iran will mean more support for the Kurds as a traditional ally of Washington. The Kurdish region can only hope that it is needed as a coalition partner in Baghdad and by Washington to continue playing a vital role in Iraq.

 

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IRAQ’S CHRISTIANS: EIGHTY PERCENT HAVE “DISAPPEARED”

Giulio Meotti

Gatestone Institute, Apr. 1, 2018

 

Persecution of Christians is worse today “than at any time in history”, a recent report by the organization Aid to the Church in Need revealed. Iraq happens to be “ground zero” for the “elimination” of Christians from the pages of history. Iraqi Christian clergymen recently wore a black sign as a symbol of national mourning for the last victims of the anti-Christian violence: a young worker and a whole family of three. “This means that there is no place for Christians,” said Father Biyos Qasha of the Church of Maryos in Baghdad. “We are seen as a lamb to be killed at any time”.

A few days earlier, Shiite militiamen discovered a mass grave with the bodies of 40 Christians near Mosul, the former stronghold of the Islamic State and the capital of Iraqi Christianity. The bodies, including those of women and children, seemed to belong to Christians kidnapped and killed by ISIS. Many had crosses with them in the mass grave. Not a single article in the Western mainstream media wrote about this ethnic cleansing.

French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia made an urgent plea to Europe and the West to defend non-Muslims in the Middle East, whom he likened to Holocaust victims. “As our parents wore the yellow star, Christians are made to wear the scarlet letter of nun” Korsia said. The Hebrew letter “nun” is the same sound as the beginning of Nazareen, an Arabic term signifying people from Nazareth, or Christians, and used by the Islamic State to mark the Christian houses in Mosul.

Now a new report by the Iraqi Human Rights Society also just revealed that Iraqi minorities, such as Christians, Yazidis and Shabaks, are now victims of a “slow genocide”, which is shattering those ancient communities to the point of their disappearance. The numbers are significant. According to the report, 81% of Iraq’s Christians have disappeared from Iraq. The remaining number of Sabeans, an ancient community devoted to St. John the Baptist, is even smaller: 94% have disappeared from Iraq. Even 18% of Yazidis have left the country or been killed. Another human rights organization, Hammurabi, said that Baghdad had 600,000 Christians in the recent past; today there are only 150,000.

These numbers may be the reason Charles de Meyer, president of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, has just spoken of the “extinction of Christians”. Father Salar Kajo of the Churches’ Nineveh Reconstruction Committee just spoke of the real possibility that “Christianity will disappear from Iraq”. Many ancient Christian churches and sites have been destroyed by Islamic extremists, such as Saint George Church in Mosul; the Virgin Mary Chaldean Church, attacked by car bomb, and the burned Armenian Church in Mosul. Hundreds of Christian homes have been razed in Mosul, where jihadists also toppled bell towers and crosses. The Iraqi clergy recently warned, “The churches are in danger”.

Tragically, Christians living in lands formerly under the control of the “Caliphate” have been betrayed by many actors in the West. Governments ignored their tragic fate. Bishops were often too aloof to denounce their persecution. The media acted as if they considered these Christians to be agents of colonialism who deserved to be purged from the Middle East. And the so-called “human rights” organizations abandoned them. European public opinion, supposedly always ready to rally against the discrimination of minorities, did not say a word about what Ayaan Hirsi Ali called “a war against Christians”.

Some communities, such as the small Christian enclaves of Mosul, are now lost forever. Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II said there is a “real danger” Christianity could just become a “museum” in the Middle East. He noted that Iraq has lost 80-90% of its Christian population. A few Christian villages have begun a slow and painful process of reconstruction with funds donated mainly by international relief organizations such as the US Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need. US Vice President Mike Pence recently promised to help these Christians. Action now must follow words. Christians who escaped and survived ISIS cannot depend today only on aid from churches and private groups.

Among European governments, only Hungary took a principled position and openly committed itself to save Iraqi Christianity from genocide. Recently, the Hungarian government opened a school for displaced Christians in Erbil; Hungary’s Minister of Human Resources, Zoltan Balog, attended the event. Imagine if all the other European countries, such as France and Germany, had done the same. The suffering of Christians in Iraq would today be much less and their numbers much higher.

The West was not willing to give sanctuary to these Christians when ISIS murdered 1,131 of them and destroyed or damaged 125 of their churches. We must now stand by their side before it is too late. After the mass displacements and the mass graves, we must help Christians rebuild in the lands where their people were martyred. Otherwise, even the smallest hope of hearing the sound of Christian church bells in the ancient lands of the Bible will be forever lost.

 

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On Topic Links

Once Hated by U.S. and Tied to Iran, Is Sadr Now ‘Face of Reform’ in Iraq?: Margaret Coker, New York Times, May 20, 2018

Iraqi Election Opens New Chapter: Amir Taheri, Gatestone Institute, May 20, 2018— During the British House of Commons’ stormy debate on 29 August 2013 on whether or not to intervene in Syria to stop further chemical weapon massacres by President Bashar al-Assad, the then leader of the opposition Ed Miliband boasted that he could prove intervention wrong by just one word: Iraq!

The ISIS Tactics That Have Left Iraqi Special Forces Weakened: Chirine Mouchantaf, Defense News, May 8, 2018— It took Iraqi forces three years to significantly drive Islamic State militants out of the country, but the group’s nontraditional tactics have damaged Iraq’s special forces, according to one major Iraqi military commander.

A Future for Kurdish Independence?: Michael Eppel, Middle East Quarterly, Mar. 01, 2018— The Kurdish independence referendum of September 25, 2017, has proven thus far to be an ill-conceived high-risk gamble.