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

Special 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


Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory

Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory
Updated 7 sec ago

Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory

Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory
ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it rejects Russia’s annexation of four regions in Ukraine, adding the decision is a “grave violation” of international law.
Turkey, a NATO member, has conducted a diplomatic balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Ankara opposes Western sanctions on Russia and has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbors. It has also criticized Russia’s invasion and sent armed drones to Ukraine.
The Turkish ministry said on Saturday it had not recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, adding that it rejects Russia’s decision to annex the four regions, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
“This decision, which constitutes a grave violation of the established principles of international law, cannot be accepted,” the ministry said.
“We reiterate our support to the resolution of this war, the severity of which keeps growing, based on a just peace that will be reached through negotiations,” it added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the annexation of the regions on Friday, promising Moscow would triumph in its “special military operation” even as he faced a potentially serious new military reversal.
His proclamation came after Russia held what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.
The United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions in response.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said on Friday his country had submitted a fast-track application to join the NATO military alliance and that he would not hold peace talks with Russia while Putin was still president.

UAE provides aid to those affected by floods in Mauritania

UAE provides aid to those affected by floods in Mauritania
Updated 40 min 39 sec ago

UAE provides aid to those affected by floods in Mauritania

UAE provides aid to those affected by floods in Mauritania
  • According to UN OCHA, at least 19 people have died, 38,000 people have been affected

The UAE sent a plane carrying food items on Friday to various cities and villages affected by the torrential rains that recently struck southern and eastern Mauritania, state news agency WAM reported. 

Since late July, heavy rainfall and widespread floods hit several parts of Mauritania. According to UN OCHA, at least 19 people have died, 38,000 people have been affected, and almost 4,000 houses destroyed.

“The provision of these supplies reflects the strong relations between the two countries and underscores the UAE’s humanitarian role in providing relief to those in need and those affected by disasters that threaten food security,” said Hamad Ghanem al-Mehairi, UAE Ambassador to Mauritania. 

The UAE previously sent aid to Mauritania in April 2021, as well as medical aid to support the country's efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.


Iran arrests artist whose viral song became protest anthem

Iran arrests artist whose viral song became protest anthem
Updated 01 October 2022

Iran arrests artist whose viral song became protest anthem

Iran arrests artist whose viral song became protest anthem
  • A few days before his arrest on September 29, Shervin Hajipour posted the moving song on Instagram
  • Iranian authorities have also arrested female artist Donya Rad, Radio Farda reported

DUBAI: Shervin Hajipour, whose viral song became the anthem for anti-government protests in Iran, has been arrested by police with his whereabouts currently unknown.

It was also unclear what were the charges brought against the young singer, news website Radio Farda reported.

A few days before his arrest on September 29, Hajipour posted the moving song on Instagram describing the current situation in the Islamic Republic, which was triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police.

Hajipour’s song had garnered more than 40 million views on Instagram, and has spread on other social media platforms, before it was removed.

The lyrics of Hajipour’s song was woven from tweets posted by Iranians following Amini’s death, many of them blaming the country’s clerical leadership for the current social, economic and political problems.

 

 

“For the shame of having no money,” read one of the tweets in Hajipour’s song.

“For the fear of kissing a lover on the street,” said another tweet.

“For the political prisoners,” another part of the lyrics said.

Iranian authorities have also arrested female artist Donya Rad, Radio Farda reported, after she posted a photo of herself eating out in Tehran without a head scarf and the image going viral on social media.

Rad’s sister claimed Donya was taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.


Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow

Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow
Updated 01 October 2022

Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow

Iran’s leaders ‘in disarray’ as protests grow
  • High-level jockeying for position over who will succeed Khamenei as supreme leader

JEDDAH: Iran’s clerical rulers are in disarray over how to crush mass anti-government protests amid rifts over security tactics and high-level maneuvering over who will succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, analysts say.
Nationwide unrest over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody has coincided with new rumors about the 83-year-old supreme leader’s ailing health, posing a threat to Iran’s religious establishment.
Although in theory, the 86-member Assembly of Experts will choose the next leader, jockeying for influence has already begun, making it difficult for the ruling clerics to unite around a set of security tactics.
“This race has caused disarray inside the leadership. The deepening rift is the last thing we need when the country is in turmoil,” one hard-line official said. “The main issue right now is the Islamic Republic’s survival.”

FASTFACT

Nationwide unrest over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody has coincided with new rumors about the 83-year-old supreme leader’s ailing health.

The two candidates viewed as favorites to replace Khamenei are his son Mojtaba and President Ebrahim Raisi. “Neither of them has popular support,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But what keeps the Islamic Republic in power is not popular support, but repression — and both men are deeply experienced in repression.”
As the protests spread to 80 cities nationwide, Iran’s rulers have accused a coalition of “anarchists, terrorists and foreign foes” of orchestrating the troubles — a narrative few Iranians believe.
Alarmed by the depth of popular outrage, some senior clerics and politicians have appealed for restraint to avoid bloodshed that could galvanize and embolden protesters.
But that has not stopped hard-liners calling for tougher measures, despite the death of at least 75 protesters in the security crackdown. “A part of the establishment fears that this time using more lethal force can push the Islamic Republic to a no return point,” said a senior former Iranian official.

 

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Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite
Updated 30 September 2022

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite
  • Student dropout rate rising with parents unable to pay for basics, UNICEF rep warns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public education system is facing collapse a week before the start of the academic year, with teachers unable to pay for transport, and students dropping out because their parents cannot afford essential school items.

After three years of an economic crisis that shows no sign of ending, schools are also struggling to provide basic needs, such as heating and electricity.

An adviser to Abbas Halabi, the minister of education and higher education in the caretaker government, told Arab News that meetings are being held with donor countries, international organizations, the World Bank and ambassadors in an effort to cover the costs of teachers’ transport to school.

Assistance to help students attend school has not yet been discussed, the official said.

Lebanon’s spiralling economy has forced thousands of parents to transfer their children from private schools and universities to public institutions.

Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF representative in Lebanon, warned of an increase in the number of students dropping out of school.

Estimates suggest that up to 16 percent of Lebanese children and 49 percent of Syrian refugee students have not been enrolled in primary school, despite education ministry efforts to encourage a return to study.

Parents blame the country’s financial woes for the problem, saying they cannot afford their children’s transport fees, books or stationery.

Halabi warned from New York during an education summit held on the sidelines of the UN’s General Assembly 10 days ago that “if Lebanese students do not receive education, no others will.”

He had previously pleaded with donors to “secure aid that will enable the ministry to launch the school year, which seems impossible in light of the educational bodies refusing to show up at public schools and the Lebanese University.” 

Lebanon is seeking aid of around $100 million for pre-university education, $37 million for the Lebanese University and $20 million for vocational education.

In addition to implementing a host of economic and political reforms, the international community has asked Lebanon to integrate Syrian and Lebanese students in morning and afternoon periods in order to reduce expenses.

Private schools and universities demanded payment of tuition fees partly in Lebanese pounds and partly in dollars.

However, the education ministry opposed the move, claiming it breached laws that stipulates the use of Lebanese currency.

Education institutions ignored the objection, claiming the only alternative would be to close, and established a “parents’ contribution fund” separate from the budget.

Parents who were unable to pay the tuition fees were left with the option of transferring their children from private schools or universities to public institutions.

Huda Suleiman, president of the Human and Future Association for children with special needs, said that she will be unable to open the school in Taanayel in the Bekaa Valley this year because the Ministry of Social Affairs, which “provides us aid, did not pay what it owes us.”

A limit on monthly bank withdrawals means she can pay only two teaching salaries.

“We have physical, motor and occupational specialists whose salaries are high, in addition to fuel costs,” she said.

Suleiman said parents were unable to contribute or even drop their children at school, as some traveled long distances.

Transport costs are beyond the salaries of most parents, many of whom are farmers or members of the military and internal security forces, she added.

The education ministry has yet to solve a dispute with education bodies demanding a salary increase and further financial incentives.

According to a study by the Center for Educational Research and Development, the number of students in Lebanon exceeded 1 million two years ago.

They include 334,536 students or 31 percent in public schools, 565,593 students or 52 percent in private schools, and 140,312 students or 13 percent in private free schools.

There are 36,375 students, or more than 3 percent, at UNRWA schools for Palestinian refugees.

Lebanon is home to 40 universities and institutes, and more than 40 percent of tertiary students attend the Lebanese University, a public institution.