Cleric Al-Sadr urges rivals to help oust Iraq's prime minister

Muqtada Al-Sadr joins anti-government demonstrators gathering in Najaf on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Cleric Al-Sadr urges rivals to help oust Iraq's prime minister

  • Muqtada Al-Sadr has offered his support to the protests sweeping southern Iraq
  • At least 240 people have died and 8,000 been wounded since demonstrations broke out

NAJAF: The Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr joined thousands of demonstrators in the holy city of Najaf on Tuesday amid a spiralling political crisis sparked by deadly anti-government protests.
At least 240 people have died and 8,000 been wounded since demonstrations broke out on Oct. 1 over unemployment and corruption, before evolving into calls for the government to quit.
Al-Sadr has spearheaded demands for Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation and early parliamentary elections.

He later called on his biggest political rival to work with him on ousting the country's prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi. Al-Sadr, who leads parliament's largest bloc, asked Hadi Al-Amiri, leader of the second-largest, to help him introduce a vote of no confidence.

On Tuesday, Al-Sadr was spotted by an AFP correspondent amid thousands of anti-government demonstrators in his native Najaf, a holy city in southern Iraq.
He was seen in a white car in the city just after airport sources told AFP he had landed from neighboring Iran.
Al-Sadr himself is one of the current government’s two main sponsors, after his Sairoon bloc won the largest share of parliament’s 329 seats in a vote last year.
But he tweeted in support of an initial six-day wave of protests that rocked the country early this month and resumed last week.
Demonstrators have so far been unimpressed by premier Abdul-Mahdi’s laundry list of reforms, which includes hiring drives and more social welfare.
Instead, they have increasingly pushed for early elections, a new government and a reworked constitution.
After failing to meet several times, parliament on Monday agreed to explore early polls and constitutional amendments, summoning Abdel Mahdi for questioning.
They reiterated their demand Tuesday, calling on him to appear at parliament headquarters “immediately.”
In footage aired on local media, MPs from the largest bloc of Sairoon — tied to Al-Sadr — could be heard chanting, “At once! At once!“
The parliament is deeply divided, with Al-Sadr backing protests while second-largest bloc Fatah — the political branch of the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force — backs the government.
Several Hashed offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraq in what observers say is likely an escalation of the rivalry between Al-Sadr and the Hashed.
Abdul-Mahdi has urged Al-Sadr to agree with Fatah chief Hadi Al-Ameri on a way forward.
“If the goal of elections is to change the government, then there is a shorter way: for you to agree with Mr. Ameri to form a new government,” the premier wrote in a public letter to the cleric on Tuesday.
“Once this agreement is reached, the prime minister can submit his resignation and the new government can receive its orders in days, if not hours,” said Abdel Mahdi.
He dismissed the idea of bringing forward polls, saying, “But the fate of early elections would be unknown. Will its results be definitive?“
The chaotic protest movement is unprecedented in Iraq, both because of its apparently independent nature and the ensuing violence.
The first wave of protests starting October 1 left 157 people dead, mostly protesters in Baghdad, according to a government probe which acknowledged “excessive force” was used.
A second wave starting Thursday has left at least 83 dead.
Overnight, at least one protester was killed in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, said the Iraqi Human Rights Commission.
The city’s forensics chief told AFP a 24-year-old had been shot in the head, but the governor and security forces said it was “categorically false” anyone had died.
Rallies escalated on Tuesday, with trade unions representing teachers, lawyers and dentists all declaring strikes lasting several days.
In Iraq’s southern cities of Hilla, Diwaniyah, Kut and Nasiriyah, most government offices remained closed on Tuesday for lack of staff.
Students gathered in those cities for their third day of demonstrations, ignoring orders by the higher education minister to return to class.
In the capital, protesters were massing on a key bridge linking their main gathering place in Tahrir Square to the Green Zone, where government offices and foreign embassies are based.
They managed to breach a first barrier set up by security forces, who have been holding back demonstrators there in recent days with volleys of tear gas.
Many had spent the night in tents or abandoned buildings in Tahrir in defiance of a curfew declared by the army.
“Their curfew changed nothing,” 30-year-old protester Duaa said on Tuesday morning.
“Did the government think we would stay at home? No way.”
About 60 percent of Iraq’s 40-million population is under the age of 25.
But youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, while one in five people live below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.
“We don’t want this government any more. We want a transitional government and constitutional change,” another female protester said.
“I’m a teacher, I have a salary, I have a house — but the young unemployed people are my brothers and relatives, too.”

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.