Tehran fury as Iraq’s Shiite leadership rejects Iranian ‘interference’

Iraqi demonstrators carry flags and an image of Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Husaini Al-Sistani, during ongoing anti-government protests in the southern city of Basra on November 1, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2019

Tehran fury as Iraq’s Shiite leadership rejects Iranian ‘interference’

  • Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and is the most influential man in Iraq, considered the godfather of the political process since 2003
  • Sistani’s message “irritated Khamenei and worried his allies in Iraq,” Iraqi politicians and sources close to Sistani told Arab News

BAGHDAD: The mass demonstrations in Iraq have heightened tensions between Najaf’s supreme religious authority, led by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al-Sistani, and Iran’s supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei, sources close to Sistani told Arab News on Saturday.
Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have been witnessing mass demonstrations since Oct. 1 as people protest over corruption, unemployment and lack of daily basic life services.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and his Iranian-backed allies led a brutal crackdown on demonstrations in its first week, killing around 150 protesters and wounding 7,000 others.
The demonstrations stopped for two weeks but returned last Friday after Abdul Mahdi vowed under local and international pressure not to use live ammunition. Despite this commitment, more than 250 demonstrators were killed and more than 6,000 wounded, mostly in Baghdad and Basra.
Most demonstrators in Baghdad and Basra were killed by tear gas canisters, while in the other provinces by gunfire of guards of political parties and armed factions, whose headquarters had come under attack from protesters.

BACKGROUND

Although there are many religious and sectarian points that Sistani and Khamenei share, Sistani does not recognize absolute right of the clergy to control the state.

Demonstrators’ demands increased to include the overthrow of the government and early national parliamentary elections preceded by a change in the election law and the appointment of a new election commission.
Iraqi political forces and armed factions backed by Iran would be the biggest losers if the demands of the demonstrators are met, top senior officials and politicians said.
Sistani is the leader of the world’s Shiite community and is the most influential man in Iraq, considered the godfather of the political process since 2003. Although there are many religious and sectarian points that he and Khamenei share, Sistani does not adopt the theory of velayat-e faqih and does not recognize absolute right of the clergy to control the state.
The two men have been at odds over managing the situation in Iraq for years, but it turned into a rupture a year and a half ago, according to Sistani’s associates.




A protester dressed as Iron Man walks on Saturday during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad. (AFP)

The dispute resurfaced last Wednesday, when Khamenei demanded in a public statement that the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon end. Many Iranian clerics have accused Iraqi demonstrators of being in the pay of Israel, America and Britain during their sermons at Friday prayers in the past few weeks.
Sistani, in an open letter read by his representative, Sayyed Ahmed Al-Safi, in Friday prayers said that no one is a guardian of the Iraqis and that no person or group or regional or international party has the right to impose their will on them or determine their choices regarding the management of their country or the reforms that they want.
Sistani’s message “irritated Khamenei and worried his allies in Iraq,” Iraqi politicians and sources close to Sistani told Arab News.
“The message was earth-shattering,” a top senior Iraqi official said. “No one, especially Khamenei, expected that Sistani would announce his rejection of their intervention in this way.
“Iran threw all its weight behind Abdul Mahdi. They believe that this government is their government and they cannot allow it to fall.
“Any early election or amendment to the election law would mean losing the control of their local allies over the country, which they would not allow.
“They (the Iraqi forces backed by Iran) are currently rejecting any solutions to get out of the crisis and any activation of the constitutional procedures that can dismantle the crisis, means launching an endless cycle of violence because they they have weapons and power.”
Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who runs Iran’s operations in Iraq, arrived in Baghdad on Thursday and asked to meet Sistani on Saturday to discuss the latest developments and try to calm the situation between Najaf and Tehran, sources close to Sistani said.
“Sayyed Sistani’s office agreed to his request to meet,” the sources said.
“Sistani now has an interest in meeting him to tell him directly about their displeasure with Iranian positions.
“Although Sistani stopped meeting with any of Sayyed Khamenei’s envoys more than a year and a half ago, now the country’s interest requires his meeting Soleimani.
“Their groups (Iranian-backed forces) are ready to burn the country and the message must reach them clearly.
“The Iranians must take their hands off the demonstrators and curb their groups.”


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.