How can Iraq’s destructive pro-Iran militias be tamed?

Shiite fighters from the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries drive through a desert area near the village of Al-Boutha Al-Sharqiyah, west of Mosul. (AFP/File Photo)
Shiite fighters from the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries drive through a desert area near the village of Al-Boutha Al-Sharqiyah, west of Mosul. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 17 November 2021

How can Iraq’s destructive pro-Iran militias be tamed?

Shiite fighters from the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries drive through a desert area near the village of Al-Boutha Al-Sharqiyah, west of Mosul. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Nov. 7 drone attack on PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s residence has driven home the threat from armed groups
  • The lawless behavior of the militias has raised the specter of “Lebanonization” of the country

IRBIL, IRAQI KURDISTAN: Iran-backed Iraqi militias have rejected the results of Iraq’s October parliamentary election, in which their political wings performed very poorly, and elements among them may well have been behind the attempt on Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s life earlier this month.

But can anything be done on a practical level about the malignant menace of Iraq’s pro-Iran militias?

For years now, there have been widespread fears that the Iran-backed elements of Hashd Al-Shaabi (or Popular Mobilization Forces) have amassed enough fighters and weaponry to outgun the Iraqi Security Forces and pose a Hezbollah-style threat to the Iraqi government and state.

That could lead to Iraq’s “Lebanonization” — a situation whereby a powerful well-armed Iranian proxy, borrowing from Hezbollah’s playbook, forcibly imposes its will on the country at Tehran’s behest.

How likely is such an outcome in today’s Iraq, where powerful, armed rejectionist elements are challenging the outcome of an election that was monitored by the UN and even praised by the Security Council?

“The militias are a serious threat, but Iraq’s government and security forces are stronger — in contrast with Lebanon and Hezbollah,” David Pollock, Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News.

READ MORE

Why Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah is unlikely to disarm voluntarily. Click here to read.

That said, tackling the militias will prove challenging, even if they are not more militarily powerful than the state. Consequently, Baghdad might need foreign backing. But who could help?

The US has retained a small troop presence in Iraq as part of the multinational coalition it has led against Daesh.

However, under an agreement with the Iraqi government, those troops must only serve as advisers and trainers for Iraqi and Kurdish security forces from the end of this year.

NATO is taking on a more active mission in Iraq, but that will also be a non-combat training mission to help Iraqi forces tackle Daesh and prevent its resurgence.

“The main responsibility lies inside Iraq, not foreign help. But friendly powers do support Iraq, and US forces will maintain that mission, just with a new title, after this year,” Pollock said.

“Arab governments also should contribute more to Iraq’s economy and public life, to balance Iran’s interference via its militias. The trend is actually positive in the past two years, and election results largely reinforce that.”

Al-Kadhimi has made substantial diplomatic efforts to foster closer ties between Iraq and other Arab countries during his short time in office. He has established improved links with Egypt and Jordan, resulting in a state visit to Iraq by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi over the summer, the first such trip by an Egyptian leader to Iraq in 30 years.

The general consensus is that closer economic and political ties with these Arab countries, along with the Arab Gulf countries, could, over time, help reduce Tehran’s heavy-handed influence over Iraqi affairs.

Joel Wing, author of the Musings on Iraq website, says comparisons between Lebanon and Iraq are premature.




A demonstrator lifts a national flag by burning tyres amid clashes between Iraqi anti-government protesters and supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. (AFP/File Photo)

“In Iraq, every group wants to be part of the state so that it can exploit the oil money,” he told Arab News.

To be sure, the Iraqi Shiite militias are not a singular monolith eager to do Iran’s bidding in the country. The influential Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr, for example, has often opposed Iran’s influence in the country and has called for disbanding and disarming of militias outside of state control.

His alliance was victorious in the election and won far more seats in parliament than the Iran-backed political blocs.

Wing pointed out that the Sadrists and the Iran-backed factions had already fought each other in the past.

 

 

“The Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq had a long-running battle for control of southern Iraq during the US occupation,” he said.

“The 2008 Charge of Knights (battle of Basra) operation was Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s attempt to take out his rival Muqtada Al-Sadr. So, you have precedent for Shiite parties fighting each other already.”

Wing also noted that the militias had been running amok in Iraq for almost 20 years. “Militias have had the power to largely do as they please since 2003. That’s because they were part of, and supported by, the government. That doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon,” he told Arab News.




Iraqi Shiite members of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq group (The League of the Righteous) units gather in the southern city of Basra. (AFP/File Photo)

Nevertheless, Wing believes that foreign support of the Baghdad government and security forces remains important for the future of Iraq.

“The role the West can play is to continue to support the Iraqi government and security forces,” he said.

“This is not a perfect formula because there are all kinds of problems with both, but to step back would give the pro-Iran forces even more sway in the country.”

Emily Hawthorne, Stratfor’s senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at RANE, told Arab News that there appears to be no sign that Iraq’s militias are “setting aside their aggressive tactics despite pressure from the government.”

“But continued violence will mean they have to tolerate broader, popular backlash against their actions, negatively impacting their electoral popularity,” she said.

PRO-IRAN GROUPS IN IRAQ

Paramilitary:

* Hashd Al-Shaabi

* Asaib Ahl Al-Haq

* Kataib Hezbollah

* Kataib Sayyid Al-Shuhada

Political:

* Fatah (Conquest) Alliance

* Al-Sadiqoun

Similar to Wing and Pollock, Hawthorne doubts that Iraq is on the verge of becoming another Lebanon.

“Both the Lebanese and Iraqi governments struggle to exert full control over state authority,” she said.

“But a big difference between Iraq and Lebanon is the Iraqi federal armed forces are more cohesive, well-armed, and well-trained compared with the array of non-state militias operating in the country. Whereas in Lebanon, Hezbollah is heavily armed and could challenge Lebanese federal forces if it chose.” 

Hawthorne does not rule out the possibility of an intra-Shiite civil war in Iraq, but says it is “still more likely to play out in the political realm than in terms of a violent conflict in the streets.”

She believes that while Iraq will have to take the lead in any initiative to combat the militias, foreign assistance is still a very important factor.

“It is true that Baghdad will mostly be on its own in its struggle with the Iran-backed militias for control,” Hawthorne told Arab News.

“But the international support that the Iraqi government has, and which the militias lack, does help Baghdad maintain the financial and military aid that will help the federal government maintain the upper hand.” 


Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA

Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA
Updated 02 December 2021

Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA

Japan’s foreign minister urges Iran to cooperate with IAEA

TOKYO: Japan’s Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa on Thursday urged Iran to make serious efforts towards the immediate return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and to cooperate fully and immediately with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a telephone conversation with Dr. Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Foreign Minister of Iran, Minister Hayashi also expressed his intention to cooperate with Minister Amir Abdollahian “to further strengthen and expand the historically friendly relationship between Japan and Iran in a wide range of fields.”

In response, Minister Amir Abdollahian expressed Iran’s intention to further deepen the long-established relationship between Japan and Iran, according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo.

The ministers exchanged candid views on the JCPOA in light of the talks among relevant parties that are taking place in Vienna.

In the talks, Minister Amir Abdollahian explained Iran’s stance on the nuclear issue, and both sides agreed to continue close communication on this matter.

Both ministers exchanged views on regional issues including the situation in Afghanistan, and confirmed that Japan and Iran will continue to cooperate towards the realization of peace and stability in Afghanistan, Japan’s foreign ministry said.

This story originally appeared on Arab News Japan


Iran gives European nuclear deal parties drafts on sanctions removal, nuclear issues

Iran gives European nuclear deal parties drafts on sanctions removal, nuclear issues
Updated 02 December 2021

Iran gives European nuclear deal parties drafts on sanctions removal, nuclear issues

Iran gives European nuclear deal parties drafts on sanctions removal, nuclear issues
  • A European diplomat confirmed draft documents had been handed over
VIENNA: Iran has provided European powers involved in its 2015 nuclear deal two drafts on sanctions removal and nuclear commitments, Iranian state media reported on Thursday.
“Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri, announced at the Vienna talks that ...Iran has delivered its proposed text on two issues of lifting oppressive sanctions and nuclear issues,” the official IRNA news agency reported. It did not give further details.
A European diplomat confirmed draft documents had been handed over.

Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions

Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions
Updated 02 December 2021

Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions

Israeli PM slammed for family trip amid travel restrictions
  • Israelis are still allowed to fly to other countries and must quarantine when they return
  • Bennett was attacked by political rivals and everyday Israelis itching to return to normalcy

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett came under fire Thursday after his wife and children flew abroad just days after the Israeli leader urged citizens to avoid international travel because of the new coronavirus variant.
Gilat Bennett and her children took off Wednesday on a personal visit, triggering a storm of criticism against the prime minister for not following his own guidelines.
Their trip comes after Israel tightened travel restrictions in light of the omicron variant. Israel closed its border to foreign visitors and barred travel to much of Africa but Israelis are still allowed to fly to other countries and must quarantine when they return.
The episode drew comparisons to incidents at the beginning of the pandemic, when former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spent the Passover holiday with members of their family who lived outside their residence, even as they urged Israelis to celebrate away from their relatives. That sparked an outcry and raised questions about the public’s trust in leaders at a time of a major crisis.
Bennett was attacked by political rivals and everyday Israelis itching to return to normalcy.
“It’s a testament to his behavior, to his responsibility to the public, to the lack of personal example. He thinks he can do what he wants,” opposition lawmaker Israel Katz told Israeli Army Radio.
Israelis took to social media to berate the prime minister on his social media pages, questioning his leadership.
“Send regards to the family abroad while we are all languishing here with the restrictions,” a user named Anna Gechtman wrote.
In a Facebook post Wednesday answering questions about the new variant, Bennett was asked about his family’s trip and said they were not violating the new travel rules. He said they were expected to fly to a country that subsequently was banned to travel for Israelis and then changed their destination. He also said more had been revealed about where the virus has spread since his decision to limit travel.
“I understand the criticism,” Bennett wrote. “Everyone is leaving while following the restrictions and will of course quarantine as is required.”
Bennett on Friday announced the tightened measures in a press conference on Friday. He counselled Israelis not to bother booking holidays because he expected more countries to be added to the no-travel list.
“If you ask me, I don’t recommend flying abroad right now with such a level of uncertainty,” he said.


Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada
Updated 02 December 2021

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada

Arab coalition carries out air strikes on military targets in Sanaa, Saada
  • Operation in Sanaa targeted one of the main stores of weapons and other supplies
  • The coalition also destroyed workshops that store ballistic missiles and drones in Saada

DUBAI: The Arab coalition on Thursday carried out air strikes on military targets in Yemen’s Sanaa and Saada, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
It further called on civilians not to approach the targeted sites.
The coalition said the operation in Sanaa targeted one of the main stores of weapons and other supplies. “In east of Sanaa, we destroyed two sites under construction as warehouses for military use,” it said.
The coalition also destroyed workshops that store ballistic missiles and drones in Saada.
Earlier on Wednesday, the coalition said they intercepted and destroyed a drone over Amran province after it was launched from Sanaa International Airport.
The Iran-backed Houthis have repeatedly target Saudi Arabia with explosive-rigged drones, mostly without causing much damage because of the Kingdom’s air defenses.
The coalition has carried out multiple sorties against targets in Sanaa, particularly hitting the airport after surveillance pictures and videos showed it has been converted into a military base for experts of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah.


Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation

Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation
Updated 02 December 2021

Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation

Unvaccinated expats in Jordan face strict measures, including deportation
  • Foreign workers are allowed to receive the vaccine for free

DUBAI: Foreign workers who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 15 face strict measures from the government, including deportation.

“The decision aims to protect public health, noting that prompting foreign workers to get vaccinated protects them against future infections and disease transmission,” a report from state news agency Petra said, quoting a statement from Jordan’s interior ministry.

Foreign workers are allowed to receive the vaccine for free, without the need to present their residency or work permits.

A total 4,142,489 individuals have received their first COVID-19 jab, while 3,754,055 are now fully vaccinated, a health ministry briefer noted.

Health officials on Wednesday reported 5,047 new coronavirus infections, putting Jordan’s caseload to 958,990, with 56,991 active cases currently receiving treatment.

Jordanian authorities earlier declared that the country had entered a third wave of the coronavirus ‘with the increase in the number of delta variant infections and hospital admission rates.’ The second wave occurred during the first quarter of this year.

Authorities have banned travelers South Africa and six other African countries from entering the, with the emergence of the omicron COVID-19 strain from these nations. It was first detected in South Africa.