Al-Sadr raises the stakes in struggle for Iraq

Al-Sadr raises the stakes in struggle for Iraq
Iraq has been politically deadlocked since October’s election, in which Moqtada Al-Sadr won 73 of 329 seats and the Iran-backed factions performed poorly. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 14 June 2022

Al-Sadr raises the stakes in struggle for Iraq

Al-Sadr raises the stakes in struggle for Iraq
  • Sadr, who has positioned himself as an opponent of US and Iranian influence, has not detailed his reasons for quitting parliament. In a handwritten note, he described it as “a sacrifice” for the homeland

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr has raised the stakes in the struggle for Iraq with a major political escalation that could lead to conflict with his Iran-backed rivals or force a compromise in their tussle over government.

Frustrated at being unable to form an administration eight months after his party won the biggest share of seats in parliament, the leader steered Iraqi politics into uncharted territory on Sunday when his lawmakers quit.

The step points to a deepening struggle for influence in the Shiite community that has been ascendant since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein two decades ago.

A serious challenge to the post-Saddam order, Sadr’s move has presented his Iran-backed rivals with a major dilemma.

In theory, they could now form an administration of their choosing to replace the outgoing government of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who continues as caretaker.

But in reality, analysts say such a move would likely provoke unrest and even conflict with Sadr’s vast support base, which has previously taken up arms.

For Iran, the latest twist in Iraq’s political crisis is an unwelcome development, underlining intra-Shiite fissures that risk undermining its influence.

Sadr, who has positioned himself as an opponent of US and Iranian influence, has not detailed his reasons for quitting parliament. In a handwritten note, he described it as “a sacrifice” for the homeland.

Sadr’s Iran-backed opponents appear to be moving cautiously, well aware of his capacity to mobilize. They convened a meeting on Monday but announced no new decisions.

“We are caught off guard by Sadr’s surprising decision and we think a bad scenario is waiting for us in case we move ahead and form a government,” Ahmed Kinani, an Iran-aligned Shiite politician, said.

“We must read the recent, crucial development very carefully before deciding the next step, because forming a government without Sadrists will be a huge risk. We don’t want to be ambushed.”

Sadr has not declared his next move. He has a track record of radical action, including fighting US forces, quitting Cabinets, and protesting against governments. Last year, he declared he would boycott the election, before reversing course.

“We are out of the political scene now, and let’s see how a new government will stand without Sadrists,” said a source at his office.

Ihsan Al-Shammari, head of the Iraqi Center for Political Thought, did not expect Sadr’s rivals to form a government alone. “Such a government will be born dead because Sadr followers will not accept to see Moqtada broken and politically isolated by powers supported by Iran,” he said.

Heir to a clerical dynasty, Sadr shot to prominence after the invasion, establishing a force of fiercely loyal fighters that waged war on US forces and later clashed with Iraqi authorities.

He has sought to set himself apart from Iran-backed rivals in recent years, emphasising his Iraqi nationalist credentials.

He has also installed many followers in state positions, whilst tapping public anger at the government’s corruption and failure to provide services despite Iraq’s oil wealth.

Iraq has been politically deadlocked since October’s election, in which Sadr won 73 of 329 seats and the Iran-backed factions — which retain militias — performed poorly.

Alleging vote rigging, Sadr’s opponents have thwarted his efforts to form a new administration with Kurdish and Sunni Arab allies.

Parliament has failed three times to elect a new president — reserved for a Kurd in Iraq’s power-sharing system — because a two-thirds quorum could not be secured.


Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record
Updated 16 sec ago

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record

Senate slams European Parliament decision criticizing Egypt’s human rights record
  • Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on “fragile assumptions and misconceptions”
  • Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek: “Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization”

CAIRO: The Egyptian Senate has branded a European Parliament resolution criticizing Egypt’s progress on improving its human rights record as being based on “fragile assumptions and misconceptions.”

Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek told a House of Representatives plenary session that the decision was unacceptable and went against “international rules and norms.”

The European Parliament resolution highlighted what it described as a lack of improvement in Egypt’s human rights situation including on the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association, and media freedoms.

Calling for a review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of “very limited progress on its human rights record,” the European Parliament also demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of a number of political activists, journalists, lawyers, and social media influencers.”

In a speech, Abdel Razek said: “We all received with displeasure the decision issued by the European Parliament on Nov. 24 regarding the human rights situation in Egypt.”

He accused the European Parliament of continually adopting positions and policies based on, “fragile assumptions and misconceptions and an attempt to claim that it has the authority to evaluate and hold others accountable outside the borders of its members, in violation of international rules and norms.

“Unfortunately, these policies are outdated, reminiscent of a European colonial legacy, and reveal nothing but a hidden desire to spread the culture of a particular civilization. These are issues that no free country, particularly Egypt, will accept,” he added.

In a statement on Friday, the Egyptian Parliament said the resolution, “shows again that the European Parliament insists on adopting an arrogant approach toward Egypt, giving itself the right to use a host of sheer lies to deliver a judgement regarding some recent developments inside Egypt.”

Abdel Razek noted that Egypt had sought to strengthen efforts to improve the lives of its citizens.

He highlighted the Decent Life Initiative as one of the country’s most important projects bringing together the public and private sectors, and civil society, to help boost living standards for Egypt’s neediest groups.

He added that Egypt had launched a national dialogue to identify issues of concern to citizens and had also reactivated the Presidential Pardon Committee which had previously worked to grant amnesty to convicts and reintegrate them into society.

In addition, millions of refugees and asylum seekers had been welcomed to Egypt, Abdel Razek said, adding that efforts to promote and preserve all human rights within the framework of a national vision were ongoing.


Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
Updated 37 min 55 sec ago

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
  • 709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country
  • prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had also been released on bail

TEHRAN: Iran has released more than 700 prisoners after the national team’s World Cup football victory over Wales, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Monday.
It announced that “709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country” following the 2-0 victory on Friday.
Among those are “some arrested during the recent events,” Mizan Online said, making indirect reference to demonstrations which have shaken Iran for more than two months.
It gave no further detail.
The ongoing protests were triggered by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest by morality police for an alleged breach of Iran’s strict dress rules for women.
Other Iranian media separately reported that prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had been released on bail after her arrest for having supported the protests.
Two of the most prominent figures detained over the demonstrations — former international footballer Voria Ghafouri and dissident Hossein Ronaghi — were also let out on bail, reports said.
State news agency IRNA reported on Monday that former state television host Mahmoud Shahriari, 63, had been released after two months in prison for “encouraging riots.”
Iran on Friday scored twice deep into stoppage time to stun Wales and breathe new life into its World Cup campaign ahead of a politically charged showdown Tuesday against the United States.
Iran lost its first World Cup match to England, 6-2.
Iran’s judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk last week said around 14,000 people have been arrested.

Related


Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”

Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”
Updated 28 November 2022

Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”

Turkiye, Egypt to re-appoint ambassadors “in coming months”

ANKARA: Turkiye and Egypt may restore full diplomatic ties and re-appoint ambassadors mutually “in coming months,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday.
Ankara and Cairo may re-start diplomatic consultations led by deputy foreign ministers as part of a normalization process “soon,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.
After years of tension, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shook hands with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Qatar this month in what was described by the Egyptian presidency as a new start in bilateral relations.


Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
Updated 28 November 2022

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials

Turkish forces nearly ready for a Syria ground operation – officials
  • Eescalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia

ONCUPINAR, Turkiye: Turkiye’s army needs just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria and such a decision may come at a cabinet meeting on Monday, Turkish officials said, as Turkish forces bombarded a Kurdish militia across the border.
Howitzers fired daily from Turkiye have struck Kurdish YPG targets for a week, while warplanes have carried out airstrikes.
The escalation comes after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul two weeks ago that Ankara blamed on the YPG militia. The YPG has denied involvement in the bombing and has responded at times to the cross-border attacks with mortar shelling.
“The Turkish Armed Forces needs just a few days to become almost fully ready,” one senior official said, adding that Turkiye-allied Syrian rebel fighters were ready for such an operation just a few days after the Nov. 13 Istanbul bomb.
“It won’t take long for the operation to begin,” he said. “It depends only on the president giving the word.”
Turkiye has previously launched military incursions in Syria against the YPG, regarding it as a wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkiye, the United States and European Union designate a terrorist group.
The PKK has also denied carrying out the Istanbul attack, in which six people were killed on a busy pedestrian avenue.
President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkiye would launch a land operation when convenient to secure its southern border. He will chair a cabinet meeting at 3:30 p.m. (1230 GMT).
“All the preparations are complete. It’s now a political decision,” another Turkish official told Reuters, also requesting anonymity ahead of the meeting.
Erdogan said back in May that Turkiye would soon launch a military operation against the YPG in Syria, but such an operation did not materialize at that time.
The first Turkish official said a ground operation, targeting the areas of Manbij, Kobani and Tel Rifat, was inevitable to link up the areas brought under the control of Turkiye and its Syrian allies with incursions since 2016.
Ankara had been in contact with Moscow and Washington about its military activities, the person added.
The United States has told NATO member Turkiye it has serious concerns that an escalation would affect the goal of fighting Daesh militants in Syria.
Russia asked Turkiye to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive. It has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s 11-year war, while Ankara has backed rebels fighting to topple him.
On Monday, the defense ministry said Turkiye’s army had “neutralized” 14 YPG militants preparing to carry out attacks in Syrian areas under Turkiye’s control. It typically uses the term to describe casualties.
The defense ministry said on Saturday three Turkish soldiers had been killed in northern Iraq, where the military has been conducting an operation against the PKK since April.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, having traveled to the Iraqi border area, was quoted as telling military commanders on Sunday that Turkiye will “complete the tasks” of the mission.


Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime
Updated 28 November 2022

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime

Iranian artists call for global boycott of arts organizations tied to Tehran regime
  • 6,000 creatives sign statement urging support for art students persecuted for protests
  • Signatories slam ‘increasingly brutal, violent and deadly state crackdown’

LONDON: A group of Iranian creatives has issued a statement to the international community asking it to stop working with cultural groups and institutions with links to the regime in Tehran.

The statement — signed by over 6,000 artists, academics, writers and film directors, based in Iran and abroad — was issued following the mass arrest and incarceration of students across the country for their roles in anti-regime protests following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September at the hands of the morality police.

The statement calls for the international community to “boycott governmental institutions of the Islamic state of Iran and their covert affiliates, and prevent them from having any presence in international arenas of arts, culture and education” over the regime’s “increasingly brutal, violent and deadly state crackdown” that has left at least 300 people dead and around 14,000 in detention.

One of the signatories, London-based curator Vali Mahlouji has also called for direct action by protesters against arts organizations that receive money from Iran.

Mahlouji told The Guardian: “We know that some private Iranian galleries are connected to the money systems of the Iranian state, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Council. They need to be boycotted.”

Since the beginning of the protests, art has been used by demonstrators to signal anger at the regime, including red dye being poured into fountains and red nooses hung from trees.

“This is a society saying: We are terrorized,” Mahlouji said. “There is a big performative response: People tying themselves up; red ink being poured on pictures of the founder of the Islamic Republic; red paint being thrown at buildings; even urinating outside art galleries which have kept themselves open when artists demanded that they close down.”

Canada-based artist Jinoos Taghizadeh told The Guardian that some art galleries “have been the money-laundering arm of the government” and have “tried to depoliticize (Iranian) artists.”

She added that art students in Iran who defy the regime “were constantly threatened by the police and university security,” but “have been very brave and creative despite all the repressions, arrests, kidnappings,” and that “the performance of their music and protest songs and their publication on social media both encouraged the protesters and brought the voice of protest to other cities and outside Iran.”

Art has also been used as a form of protest against the regime overseas: In October, a group called the Anonymous Artist Collective for Iran set up a display of 12 red banners with images of Amini and the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

In London’s Piccadilly Circus, exiled Iranian artist Shirin Neshat displayed a digital protest piece of the same slogan, also showing it at Pendry West Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Neshat said: “We are not just a bunch of oppressed artists trying to get the Western culture to feel sorry for us. We’re teaching them that it is time to wake up and understand that culture plays a big part in the political fabric of our world.

“We see these young people who are completely fearless facing tyranny. You really question your own state of mind as an Iranian who has never been able to live without fear for so many years. It’s extremely hopeful to have these young people who are saying no more fear.”