Attempt on PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s life shows destructive effect of pro-Iran factions on Iraqi state

Attempt on PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s life shows destructive effect of pro-Iran factions on Iraqi state
The influence of Iran on its neighbor was felt in 2019, when pro-Shiite militia demonstrators attacked the US Green Zone compound. (AFP)
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Updated 17 November 2021

Attempt on PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s life shows destructive effect of pro-Iran factions on Iraqi state

Attempt on PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s life shows destructive effect of pro-Iran factions on Iraqi state
  • Iraq’s pro-Iran groups accused Al-Kadhimi of fraud after faring badly in the October parliamentary election
  • The November 7 drone attack on the PM’s residence is seen by many analysts as a warning from the groups

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: In the early hours of Nov. 7, three quadcopter drones armed with explosives detonated inside the grounds of the official residence of Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, injuring seven members of his security detail.

Al-Kadhimi, who escaped with only light injuries, promptly released a statement appealing for calm. The question as to who was behind the attack, however, remained unanswered and open to speculation.

Topping the list of likely conspirators are fighters affiliated with Iraq’s vast network of Iran-backed Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi militias, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Established in 2014 during the war against Daesh, these groups have since morphed into something of a fifth column within the Iraqi state, officially absorbed into the state security apparatus, but largely operating under their own chain of command.

They have carried out similar drone attacks in recent months, targeting US troops stationed in Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region with the aim of forcing their withdrawal.

If Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi was indeed responsible for the attempt on Al-Kadhimi’s life, it raises the question: Did Iran sanction the attack?

Kyle Orton, an independent Middle East analyst, believes the identity of the culprit or culprits behind the attack on Al-Kadhimi’s residence is murky by design, giving the Iran-backed militias the luxury of plausible deniability.

“Iran’s militia network, especially in Iraq over the last few years, has worked to create various splinter groups to claim responsibility for some of their more politically sensitive attacks,” Orton told Arab News.

“It isn’t clear whether these groups actually exist beyond social media — at most, they are cells answerable to preexisting Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-run militias.”

The IRGC and its extraterritorial Quds Force exert tight control over their Iraqi militia proxies, their personnel, training, finances and access to weaponry, including explosive-laden drones, and demand total ideological loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Such a brazen attack “does not proceed if Tehran does not want it to,” said Orton. “Again, exactly how this came about — whether it was an order from IRGC Quds Force leader Esmail Qaani or a Qaani non-veto of a militia initiative — we will probably never know.”




Security forces inspect the aftermath of a drone strike on the prime minister's residence. (AFP)

Then there is the question of whether the militias actually intended to assassinate Al-Kadhimi or simply wanted to intimidate him and send a message.

In May 2020, militiamen encircled Al-Kadhimi’s residence in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone in an apparent attempt to apply pressure on him. That was most likely because Al-Kadhimi has consistently sought to strengthen Iraqi state institutions, curtail the power of these militias, and restore genuine Iraqi sovereignty since he assumed office.

Orton, however, has little doubt the attackers were out to kill Al-Kadhimi on Nov. 7. “There has been a lot of analysis suggesting that this was a warning to Al-Kadhimi, rather than an attempt to assassinate him, but this strikes me as too clever by half,” he told Arab News.




If Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi was indeed responsible for the attempt on Al-Kadhimi’s life, it raises the question: Did Iran sanction the attack?

“Al-Kadhimi was injured in the attack and it strains credulity to believe that the IRGC agents who did this had calculated it to injure seven of his bodyguards and wound the prime minister, but kill nobody.”

The timing of the attack was also hardly coincidental. In October, Iraq held parliamentary elections, which had been a core demand of the popular grassroots protest movement that began in October 2019 against rampant corruption, unemployment and Iranian influence.

Several of Tehran’s consulates and missions across the country were torched by Iraq’s young protesters, who have increasingly come to view Iran as a foreign occupying power. Iran-backed militias responded by killing hundreds of demonstrators.

The protest movement nevertheless succeeded in forcing then-prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to step down, clearing the way for new elections. However, the Oct. 10 ballot saw the country’s lowest ever turnout at just 41 percent.




The IRGC and its extraterritorial Quds Force exert tight control over their Iraqi militia proxies. (AFP)

Iran-backed political factions fared poorly. The Fatah Alliance won a paltry 17 seats, a substantial loss compared to the 48 they secured in 2018. Al-Sadr’s alliance, Sayirun, meanwhile, increased its share, taking 73 of the parliament’s 329 seats.

Given the desire of Al-Sadr and his supporters to reduce foreign influence in Iraq, the result came as a blow to Iran’s regional strategy. Insisting that the election had been rigged, militia supporters came out in strength to demand a manual recount.

Qais Al-Khazali, leader of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia, joined the protests against the result the night before the drone attack on the prime minister’s residence, during which he accused Al-Kadhimi of orchestrating the “fraudulent” election results.

“The timing is surely related to the aftermath of the election,” said Orton. “The attacks on people close to Al-Kadhimi, particularly senior officers, a number of whom were murdered, began months ago, when the militias could see Al-Kadhimi forging a coalition against them ahead of the elections.”
 

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Orton believes that Al-Kadhimi will stay the course in his efforts to cement the authority of the Iraqi state. “The prime minister is likely to continue his policy of trying to rein in the militias through legal instruments, whether it’s indictments for attacks on demonstrators or corruption,” he said.

But, as the Nov. 7 attack shows, Al-Kadhimi’s success is not necessarily guaranteed. “If Iran feels seriously threatened in Iraq, it has tools beyond a no-confidence motion in parliament to change the Iraqi prime minister,” Orton said.

Not everyone is convinced that the perpetrators intended to kill Al-Kadhimi, or that the message was intended solely for him.

“Certain Iran-backed militias with connections to both Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq were trying to send Al-Kadhimi a message to back off,” Nicholas Heras, senior analyst and program head for State Resilience and Fragility in the Human Security Unit at the Newlines Institute, told Arab News.

“But they’re also trying to signal more widely, to Al-Sadr, that they can choose violence if they are frozen out of the political spoils in Iraq.”

Al-Sadr has burnished his credentials as an Iraqi nationalist by repeatedly calling for militias in the country to be disarmed and for their weapons to be handed over to state security forces.

“This attack likely occurred with the knowledge of Iran, but Iran likely tried to discourage it, and the attack happened anyway,” Heras said.




Al-Kadhimi has consistently sought to strengthen Iraqi state institutions, curtail the power of these militias

The question now is how Al-Kadhimi ought to respond to the attack. “Al-Kadhimi’s next move is fraught with peril,” said Heras. “He can escalate and take on these militias head-on and risk a civil conflict within the Iraqi Shiite community.

“But if he backs down and does not respond, he creates a bad precedent of tacit acceptance of this behavior that could establish a norm in Iraq for years to come.

“Therefore, Al-Kadhimi is most likely to go the route of police action, with arrests and trials.”

Twitter: @pauliddon


Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
Updated 15 sec ago

Iranian warship capsizes in Bandar Abbas dry dock

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media. (Screenshot)
  • It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels

LONDON: An Iranian warship due to launch next year has capsized before leaving its dry dock at Bandar Abbas port, according to a video and imagery published online at the weekend.

Satellite images appeared to confirm that the naval vessel Talayieh, which was going through the final stages of construction before its launch, was lying on its side and partially flooded. It is not clear how the ship had toppled over.

In the video, people can be seen hanging from the railings and at least one person died in the incident, according to reports on social media.

The Planetscope satellite image, taken on Dec. 4, was tweeted by Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

The photo shows the ship on its side in the same location as where the Talayieh was pictured being built in an image published by Iranian media in August.

Iranian naval officials said the Talayieh would be an “intelligence reconnaissance” vessel specializing in electronic warfare, while also providing assistance to other Iranian ships.  

According to experts, if a ship of the size of the Talayieh lies in the water for an extended period of time, it can lead to a number of issues that would require considerable time and energy to rectify.

It is the latest in a series of accidents involving Iranian naval vessels. In June, the Kharg — one of Iran’s largest naval vessels — caught fire and sunk in the Gulf of Oman.

In May 2020, 19 naval servicemen died and another 15 were injured when an Iranian warship accidentally opened fire on one of its own support vessels during a training exercise in the same body of water.


Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
Updated 43 sec ago

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse

Top Emirati environmentalist urges action over global biodiversity collapse
  • Razan Al-Mubarak wants to ‘debunk myth’ that fighting climate change automatically preserves biodiversity
  • She hopes to see more regional cooperation on protection of indigenous wildlife

LONDON: The managing director of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency on Tuesday urged the international community to take action to prevent global biodiversity loss, which she said often “plays second fiddle” to the issue of climate change in international agreements.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Emirates Society and attended by Arab News, Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak said: “Often we link biodiversity and climate change as one and the same … But what’s important for us to understand and recognize is that addressing the issue of climate change won’t necessarily address the issue of biodiversity loss … because the drivers are different.”

She added that the disconnect between addressing climate change, which is caused largely by excess greenhouse gas emissions, and tackling biodiversity loss, which has an array of localized causes, became abundantly clear during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The economic slowdown, particularly in aviation and transportation, reduced global greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent — the greatest decrease in 100 years. But if you look at what happened in the biodiversity agenda, it actually increased,” said Al-Mubarak.

This was partly because urban-to-rural population flows increased, but global lockdowns also meant that conservation workers were prevented from carrying out their essential duties that preserve biodiverse systems.

The Zoological Society of London’s Director General Dominic Jermey told participants that a key indicator of global biodiversity change that his organization produces, the Living Planet Index, shows that land use for products such as palm oil or cotton is “one of the critical killers of wildlife.”

Al-Mubarak, who was recently appointed as president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said biodiversity, and nature more broadly, are essential to human survival, but the “myth” that addressing climate change will also protect diverse biological systems needs to be “debunked.”

In her home country of the UAE, her work has already proved successful in protecting or rejuvenating ecosystems, while also building relationships with international partners.

One of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency’s crowning successes was the re-introduction of the scimitar-horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild, back into its native Saharan habitat, an initiative carried out jointly with Chadian environmental officials, the ZSL and others.

In Europe, too, Al-Mubarak’s team has made inroads to protect endangered species. The UK and the UAE are signatories to the Raptors Memorandum of Understanding, an international agreement that protects the migration routes of birds of prey such as falcons.

And Abu Dhabi is host to the only office dedicated to the administration of the UN’s Bonn Convention on Migratory Species.

Al-Mubarak said: “What spurred the Raptors MoU between the UK and the UAE is the story of falconry. If you trace the story of falconry and falcon conservation in the UAE context … it was this fantastic bird, the fastest animal on the planet, that spurred the imagination of the leadership of institutions in the UAE to protect it.”

This went “beyond borders,” she added, explaining that their work to protect falcons and other migratory birds now extends to cooperation with Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan. 

She said cooperation with the UAE’s neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, could also improve conservation efforts.

Responding to a question by Arab News, she said: “In our region we share species, and we need to be able to share and work on cross-boundary protected areas, which we really haven’t exploited yet. It’s something that we really need to do more of.”

Adding to the point, Jermey said: “Wild animals don’t have passports. It’s news to them that there are borders between countries, and we do need to think in a trans-border, trans-boundary way.”


Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world
Updated 6 min 56 sec ago

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world

Qatar, Turkey discuss plans to connect Afghanistan, Taliban to outside world
  • Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani discussed options for their countries to jointly run Kabul airport
  • Turkish troops have guarded the Afghan capital’s airport for around six years, while Red Crescent groups from Turkey and Qatar have been working to deliver aid to Afghans

ANKARA: The foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar have reviewed plans for the return to normal operations of Kabul’s international airport in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Monday discussed options for their countries to jointly run the airport and ways to deliver further humanitarian aid to the Afghan people under conditions agreeable with the Taliban.

Turkish troops have guarded the Afghan capital’s airport for around six years, Red Crescent groups from Turkey and Qatar have been working to deliver aid to Afghans, and a Turkish overseas education foundation has kept its schools open for girls and boys.

During a joint press conference in Doha, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar and Turkey were ready to control Kabul airport if the Taliban agreed to it.

“Qatar and Turkey are continuously working with the interim government in Afghanistan to reach an agreement to open the airport (so it can function) normally,” he added.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Doha on Monday for two days of talks to rebuild ties.

In November, the US signed an agreement with Qatar to designate the Gulf country as the power to protect American interests in Afghanistan, considering it a trusted mediator. Qatar and Turkey played significant roles in the evacuation process out of Afghanistan after the Taliban swept to power.

Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, told Arab News that Turkey and Qatar could cooperate on calling for limited waivers on US-imposed asset freezes against the Taliban, and leverage their respective bargaining power in Western capitals to achieve that outcome.

He said: “Turkey and Qatar can also coordinate on alleviating Afghanistan’s food security crisis, as Qatar’s experience working with the World Food Program in theaters such as Yemen, could be effective in Afghanistan.”

Ramani noted that Turkey had also been ramping up food aid shipments, such as wheat, to Afghanistan over the past month.

“Neither Turkey nor Qatar is likely to provide the Taliban with recognition as Afghanistan’s legitimate authority, but both will encourage engagement with the new Islamic emirate,” he added.

During Monday’s meeting, Cavusoglu urged the international community to engage in dialogue with the Taliban by “distinguishing” between the political and humanitarian aspects.

Zalmai Nishat, research fellow at the University of Sussex’s Asia Center, said the Taliban wanted Turkey to get involved in the operationalization of Kabul airport alongside Qatar.

He told Arab News: “From a historical perspective, Turkey is seen as the successor of the Ottoman empire and is respected by the people of Afghanistan, with the memories of the Caliphate. Also, Turkey is an ally of the US and the EU being a key country within NATO.”

Nishat pointed out that during peace talks between the former government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, control of Kabul airport had been a critical issue and the parties had looked upon Turkey as an ideal partner.

“Ankara must design a robust policy about Afghanistan, which would enable it to put pressure on the Taliban and their supporters to create a political system where diverse ethnic communities of Afghanistan feel themselves at home and feel included in the political system, with a fair representation,” he added.

Turkey, allegedly having established intelligence contacts with some Taliban-linked militia in the country, also has strong historical and ethnic ties in Afghanistan, with its non-combat troops on the ground in the past as a member of the NATO alliance.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, told Arab News that the Taliban needed legitimacy at this stage by establishing themselves as credible actors through the channels of Qatar and Turkey and in doing so help connect the group with the rest of the world.

He said: “Turkey is still looking to position itself as a connection between the Taliban and the outside world. Qatar comes first, with closer ties with the Taliban historically and politically. Turkey would come after Qatar in this political play, but the two countries can play a critical role in maintaining the security of flights in the short term.”

In the medium term, Cagaptay added, Turkey had significant soft power on the ground in Afghanistan that had been developed since the beginning of the early years of the Turkish republic, and it could be used to reach out to Afghan society through its local ties.


Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza
Updated 28 min 15 sec ago

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza

Israel announces completion of security barrier around Gaza
  • The 65-kilometer barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors and a network of underground sensors to detect tunnels
  • Israel has fought four wars with Hamas since the organization seized power in Gaza nearly 15 years ago, most recently in May

JERUSALEM: Israel on Tuesday announced the completion of an enhanced security barrier around the Gaza Strip.

The 65-kilometer (40-mile) barrier includes radar systems, maritime sensors and a network of underground sensors to detect tunnels.

Existing fencing was replaced with a 6-meter (6.5-yard) high “smart fence” with sensors and cameras.

Israel has fought four wars with Hamas since the organization seized power in Gaza nearly 15 years ago, most recently in May.

During a 2014 war, Palestinian fighters tunneled into Israel and clashed with Israeli troops.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the completion of the barrier after more than three years of construction, saying it places an “iron wall” between Hamas and the residents of southern Israel.

During May’s fighting, Hamas used a sophisticated tunnel system within Gaza but did not infiltrate fighters into Israel. The group fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel in 11 days, with large volleys that occasionally overwhelmed Israel’s sophisticated missile defenses.

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes during the conflict and brought down several multistory buildings. The war killed over 250 people in Gaza, including at least 129 civilians, according to the UN, while 13 people died on the Israeli side.

Since Hamas seized power, Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza that has severely restricted travel for the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents and strangled the economy.

Israel says the closures are needed to prevent Hamas from expanding its military capabilities, while the Palestinians and rights groups view it as a form of collective punishment.

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas organized violent mass protests along the frontier in order to pressure Israel to ease the blockade. More than 200 Palestinians were killed and thousands were wounded. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Rights groups recently accused Israel of failing to hold its forces accountable for the deaths and serious injuries.

Israel says its forces prevented the mass infiltration of Hamas operatives. It says allegations of wrongdoing were fully investigated and soldiers were held to account.


Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM

Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM
Updated 07 December 2021

Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM

Egypt will strive to help Africa recover from COVID-19: FM
  • Egypt has started locally producing China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in preparation for exporting surpluses to African countries
  • FM Shoukry handed a letter to Senegalese President Macky Sall from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties

CAIRO: Egypt will spare no effort to help African states recover from the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at the seventh session of the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa.

Egypt has started locally producing China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in preparation for exporting surpluses to African countries.

Shoukry said the pandemic has impeded efforts to achieve peace and stability on the continent, and has exacerbated humanitarian crises.

It has become impossible to deal with the pandemic solely as a global health crisis, as it has affected all aspects of life, he added. 

Shoukry highlighted issues that Africa should prioritize, including developing a common vision to address shortcomings in the continent’s medical infrastructure, such as dependence on foreign medicines and vaccines.

He also noted the importance of addressing the root causes of terrorism and armed conflicts in Africa by rebuilding societies that have suffered from the scourge of war and conflict.

He praised the selection of Senegal for the African Union presidency from February 2022, and expressed Cairo’s readiness to provide all forms of support to the country in light of Egypt’s experience as president of the bloc in 2019.

Shoukry handed a letter to Senegalese President Macky Sall from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties, as well as issues of common concern.