Al-Maliki audio leaks hold clues to Iraq’s failed process of government formation 

Special Al-Maliki audio leaks hold clues to Iraq’s failed process of government formation 
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Nouri al-Maliki, the secretary-general of Iraq's Islamic Dawa Party, is said to believe in the legitimacy of political violence. (AFP file photo)
Special Al-Maliki audio leaks hold clues to Iraq’s failed process of government formation 
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Iraq power broker Nouri al-Maliki (2nd-L) arrives to attend a political meeting at the presidential palace in Baghdad on February 27, 2019. (AFP file)
Special Al-Maliki audio leaks hold clues to Iraq’s failed process of government formation 
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Nouri al-Maliki, the secretary-general of Iraq's Islamic Dawa Party, is said to believe in the legitimacy of political violence. (AFP file photo)
Special Al-Maliki audio leaks hold clues to Iraq’s failed process of government formation 
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Nouri al-Maliki, the secretary-general of Iraq's Islamic Dawa Party, is said to believe in the legitimacy of political violence. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 27 July 2022

Al-Maliki audio leaks hold clues to Iraq’s failed process of government formation 

Al-Maliki audio leaks hold clues to Iraq’s failed process of government formation 
  • In purported recordings, former PM denounces political rivals, talks about imminent civil war 
  • Iraq held early parliamentary elections in October 2021 but a new government is nowhere in sight

IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: In and of themselves, the audio recordings are scarcely newsworthy. They simply confirm what is a matter of public knowledge in Iraq: That the antipathy between two of the country’s most powerful Shiite power brokers, Nouri Al-Maliki and Muqtada Al-Sadr, is deep, and their relations with other Iraqi politicians complicated.

The real significance of the recordings, according to analysts, lies in their revelation of the deep divisions and enmities that plague Iraqi politics, and are likely to continue hindering the process of government formation in the months to come.

In the recordings, known in Iraq as the “Maliki Wikileaks,” the man who served as prime minister between 2006 and 2014 is heard denouncing his political rivals and talking about an imminent civil war.

“Iraq is on the verge of a devastating war from which no one will emerge unscathed, unless the project of Muqtada Al-Sadr, Masoud Barzani, and Muhammad Al-Halbousi is defeated … and if necessary, I will attack Najaf,” Al-Maliki is heard declaring in one of the many recordings, whose authenticity he disputes.

He even claims the British are behind a conspiracy to place Al-Sadr in charge of Iraqi Shiites and then assassinate him, paving the way for the restoration of Sunni rule over the country




Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr is depicted in a placard during a collective Friday prayer in Sadr City, east of Baghdad, on July 15, 2022. (AFP)

The recordings, released by journalist and activist Ali Fadhel, appear to be at least two months old since they refer to the tripartite Save the Homeland parliamentary coalition — consisting of the Sadrist Movement, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Halbousi’s Progress Party — that competed against the pro-Iran Shiite parties under the umbrella of the Coordination Framework, of which Al-Maliki’s State of Law is a part.

Al-Sadr ordered all 73 of his MPs to resign in mid-June after months of trying to form a majority government without the Framework, which favors another consensus-type government that has been the norm in post-2003 Iraq.




The audio recordings, released by Iraqi journalist and activist Ali Fadhel on Twitter, appear to be at least two months old. (Twitter screenshot)

The mass resignation of the Sadrists brought an end to the Save the Homeland alliance and the prospect of a majority government in Iraq along with it.

The Framework has been negotiating the formation of another government with the remaining parliamentary blocs ever since.

Iraq held early parliamentary elections in October 2021 but still has not been able to form a new government. The country is currently governed by a caretaker government led by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, the incumbent prime minister.

INNUMBERS

39.3 million Population of Iraq.

3.9% GDP growth rate (PPP).

12.8% Unemployment rate.

$708.3 billion GDP size (PPP).

Source: The Heritage Foundation (2021)

On the surface, Iraq appears on the verge of more instability. The Sadrists are out of Parliament and back on the street, where Al-Sadr has repeatedly demonstrated his capability of swiftly mobilizing hundreds of thousands of devoted followers, most of them poor and angry with the political elite.

The political deadlock in Parliament continues, and the prospect of forming a new government remains distant despite the passage of about 10 months since the last election. Now, Al-Maliki’s incendiary pronouncements have been added to the mix.

Is Iraq at risk of severe conflagration, or even a civil war of some kind, if this state of affairs persists?




Members of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary group escort a funeral procession in Baghdad on Oct. 26, 2019. (AFP)

“Al-Maliki’s comments seem to point towards him believing things would escalate to possible street clashes, which have happened before between Shiite factions,” Joel Wing, author of the “Musings on Iraq” blog, told Arab News.

Wing believes the recordings are authentic, noting that only Al-Maliki and his allies have claimed otherwise.

He pointed out that the Framework has already resorted to political violence since the October election, including bombing the houses and offices of rival political parties. A series of rocket and drone attacks have also been carried out against Iraqi Kurdistan to pressure the KDP.

“The political parties are growing increasingly frustrated over not being able to form a government,” Wing said. “Al-Maliki’s comments just add more fuel to the fire, and his talk of political violence shows what lengths some leaders are willing to go to defeat their opponents.”

Wing does not see any sign that the present political deadlock will end anytime soon, which will only increase tensions and the possibility of armed clashes. Nevertheless, he is doubtful that the current situation will degenerate into an intra-Shiite conflict or civil war in Iraq.




An Iraqi protester lifts a giant flag of of the Hashd al-Shaabi during a rally to mark Al-Quds (Jerusalem) day on Baghdad's Aba Nawas street on April 29, 2022. (Sabah ARAR/ AFP)

“I don’t see a civil war coming, but the Framework and Sadrists have already resorted to violence, which could escalate given the current inability of the political parties to come to any compromises,” he said.

The political deadlock will likely persist given the continued failure of the Framework and Kurdish parties to select the country’s next president and prime minister.

A candidate for the presidency, a largely symbolic role in Iraq reserved for the Kurds, must be nominated before Parliament can elect the next prime minister. However, the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have so far failed to agree on a common candidate.




Members of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary group escort a funeral procession in Baghdad on Oct. 26, 2019. (AFP)

Furthermore, as Wing pointed out, “there are deep divisions within the Framework itself over who should be prime minister.

“That’s the reason why there’s increasing talk about either having new elections or just keeping the present incumbent in office,” he said.

Wing’s opinion that the Al-Maliki recordings are authentic is seconded by Kyle Orton, an independent Middle East analyst. 

“The leaked recordings are indicative that Al-Maliki retains his belief in the legitimacy of political violence, which was the Dawa Party position since it was co-opted by the Iranian Revolution in 1979,” he told Arab News.

“Within Iraq, this is not so unusual a position: Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, many in the political elite have done politics by day and terrorism by night.”




The audio recordings, released by Iraqi journalist and activist Ali Fadhel on Twitter, appear to be at least two months old. (Twitter screenshot)

Orton too doubts the leaks could lead to “anything like a civil war” in the near future. On the contrary, he believes the main thing that “they show is that Iraqi politics is played within limits set by the IRGC (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).

“This is a factional fight between Iranian clients, even if the game is being played a bit rougher than in the past,” he said. “But the IRGC controls the security architecture in Iraq, and its militias have the streets ultimately, so it will not allow a collapse of that kind.”

Summing up the situation, Orton said: “In terms of the outcome, again, the question really leads back to Tehran: Whether the Iranians are affronted by Al-Sadr overstepping the bounds or judge that Al-Maliki is too politically damaged by this to be viable.”

Unlike Wing and Orton, Nicholas Heras, the deputy director of the human security unit at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, believes that an intra-Shiite civil war is a strong possibility.




Members of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary group escort a funeral procession in Baghdad on Oct. 26, 2019. (AFP)

“Al-Sadr knows Al-Maliki hates him, with or without any new recordings,” Heras told Arab News. “Nouri Al-Maliki is the type of Shiite politician that Muqtada Al-Sadr has made a political career out of bashing for being out of touch with the needs of the Iraqi people, especially the Shiites.

“Iraq is on the verge of an intra-Shiite civil war. The situation in Iraq is too far gone, and the most tensions are among the Shiites.”

Looking to the future of Iraq, Heras said: “It is boiling down to a dispute between Al-Sadr and his allies and an entire range of Shiite politicians and their affiliated militias.

“The Kurds and Sunnis are, for all intents and purposes, bystanders to this looming conflict.”

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Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages
Updated 26 September 2022

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages
  • Tunisia seeks to secure an IMF loan to save public finances from collapse

TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Sunday night in a poor neighborhood in the capital against poverty, high prices and the shortage of some foodstuff, escalating pressure on the government of President Kais Saied, as the country suffers an economic and political crisis.
Tunisia is struggling to revive its public finances as discontent grows over inflation running at nearly 9 percent and a shortage of many food items in stores because the country cannot afford to pay for some imports.
The North African nation is also in the midst of a severe political crisis since Saied seized control of the executive power last year and dissolved parliament in a move his opponents called a coup.
In the poor Douar Hicher district in the capital, some protesters lifted loaves of bread in the air. Other chanted, “Where is Kais Saied?.” Angry youths burned wheels.
Protesters chanted “Jobs, freedom and national dignity,” and “We can’t support crazy price hikes,” “Where is sugar?.”
Food shortages are worsening in Tunisia with empty shelves in supermarkets and bakeries, adding to popular discontent at high prices of many Tunisians who spend hours searching for sugar, milk, butter, cooking oil and rice.
Videos on social media showed on Sunday dozens of customers scrambling to win a kilogram of sugar in market.
Tunisia, which is suffering its worst financial crisis, is seeking to secure an International Monetary Fund loan to save public finances from collapse.
The government raised this month the price of cooking gas cylinders by 14 percent for the first time in 12 years. It also raised fuel prices for the fourth time this year as part of a plan to reduce energy subsidies, a policy change sought by the IMF.


Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent
Updated 26 September 2022

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent
  • At least 41 people have died since protests erupted over the death of the 22-year-old 
  • Amini was arrested by morality police for allegedly violating the regime’s strict dress code 

DUBAI: Protests have spread to almost all of Iran’s 31 provinces and urban cities since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. On Sept. 13, Amini was arrested by a morality police (Gasht-e Ershad) patrol in a Tehran metro station, allegedly for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

She was hospitalized after the arrest, fell into a coma and died three days later. Iranian authorities maintain that she died of a heart attack. Her family says thart she had no pre-existing heart conditions.

Her death has sparked outrage in a country seething with anger over a long list of grievances and a wide range of socio-economic concerns.

Iranian women, fed up with the morality police’s heavy-handed approach, have been posting videos of themselves online cutting locks of their hair in support of Amini. Protesters who have taken to the streets have been chanting “Death to the moral police” and “Women, life, freedom.”

In acts of defiance, female demonstrators can be seen taking off their headscarves, burning them and dancing in the streets. State police have been cracking down on the protesters by attacking them with tear gas while volunteers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been beating them. At least 41 people have died so far.

“The Internet in Tehran has been cut off. I have not been able to reach family members, but every now and then they are able to get a message through,” an Iranian man who fled to the US during the days of the Islamic Revolution, told Arab News.

Mehdi, who did not want to give his full name, added: “We are hopeful that the government will offer concessions this time. It has been the biggest demonstration since the revolution. We take pride in what is happening in Iran.”

Writing in The Washington Post, Karim Sajdadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the protests against the killing of Amin as “led by the nation’s granddaughters against the grandfathers who have ruled their country for over four decades.”

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Sharia laws in the country require women to wear headscarves and loose garb in public. Those who do not abide by the code are fined or jailed.

Iranian authorities’ campaign to make women dress modestly and against the wearing of mandatory clothing “incorrectly” began soon after the revolution, which ended an era of unfettered sartorial freedom for women under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. During the shah’s rule, his wife Farah, who often wore Western clothing, was held up as a model of a modern woman.

The image of protesters destroying portraits of Iranian leaders in the northern city of Sari is just one of many emerging from Iran over the past week in a symbol of anti-regime sentiment. (AFP) 

By 1981, women were not allowed to show their arms in public. In 1983, Iran’s parliament decided that women who did not cover their hair in public could be punished with 74 lashes. In recent times, it added the punishment of up to 60 days in prison.

Restrictions kept evolving, and the extent of enforcement of the female dress code has varied since 1979, depending on which president was in office. The Gasht-e Ershad was formed to enforce dress codes after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultraconservative mayor of Tehran, became president in 2005.

The restrictions were eased a little under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, who was considered a relative moderate. After Rouhani accused the morality police of being aggressive, the head of the force declared in 2017 women violating the modesty code would no longer be arrested.

However, the rule of President Ebrahim Raisi appears to have emboldened the morality police once again. In August, Raisi signed a decree for stricter enforcement of rules that require women to wear hijabs at all times in public.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, Raisi tried to deflect blame for the protests in Iran by pointing to Canada’s treatment of indigenous people and accused the West of applying double standards when it comes to human rights.

When I look at how the women are standing up to the vicious regime that never shied away from genocide, it gives me goosebumps.

Mehdi, who fled to the US during the Islamic Revolution

Raisi’s government, meanwhile, is seeking some form of guarantee whereby the lifting of severe sanctions and resumed business activities by Western firms cannot be disrupted if a future US president rescinds the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian officials also dispute the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency about illicit nuclear material found at three sites and want the IAEA’s investigation to close.

Protests in Iran are not new. In 2009, the Green Movement held protests over election results believed to be fraudulent. In 2019, there were demonstrations over the spike in fuel prices and deteriorating standard of living conditions and basic needs.

This year’s protests are different in that they are feminist in nature. Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran, a human rights NGO, said it is unprecedented for the country to see women taking off their hijabs en masse, burning police cars and tearing down pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the country’s supreme leader).

It is also unprecedented to see men chant “We’ll support our sisters and women, life, liberty.”

“Through social media, mobile apps, blogs and websites, Iranian women are actively participating in public discourse and exercising their civil rights,” Mahmoudi said. “Luckily for the growing women’s rights movements, the patriarchal and misogynistic government has not yet figured out how to completely censor and control the Internet.”

Protests against the death of Mahsa Amini have erupted across Iran, and among the diaspora living around the world. (AFP)

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian political activist who has been living in exile in America since 2009, said that she has been receiving many messages from women in Iran. They have been sharing with her their frustrations, videos of the protests, and their goodbyes to their parents, which they believe might be for the last time.

Saying that she can feel their anger through their messages, Alinejad said the hijab is a way for the government to control women and therefore society, adding that “their hair and their identity have been taken hostage.”

Scores of Iranian male celebrities have also voiced their support of the protests and women. Toomaj Salehi, a dissident rapper who was arrested earlier this year because of his lyrics on regime change and social and political issues, posted a video of himself walking through the streets saying: “My tears don’t dry, it’s blood, it’s anger. The end is near, history repeats itself. Be afraid of us, pull back, know that you are done.”

For its part, the movie industry released a statement on Saturday calling on the military to drop their weapons and “return to the arms of the nation.”

A number of famous actresses have taken off their hijab in support of the movement and the protests. Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, Iran’s culture minister, said that actresses who voiced their support online and removed their hijabs can no longer pursue their careers.

In a tweet on Saturday, Sajdadpour said: “To understand Iran’s protests it’s striking to juxtapose images of the young, modern women killed in Iran over the last week (Mahsa Amini, Ghazale Chelavi, Hanane Kia, Mahsa Mogoi) with the images of the country’s ruling elite, virtually all deeply traditional, geriatric men.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds up a photo of Quds Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. attack, during his remarks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (AFP)

Iranian authorities have shut down mobile Internet connections, disrupting WhatsApp and Instagram services. On Iranian state media, ISNA, Issa Zarepour, minister of communications, justified the act for “national security” and said it was not clear how long the blocks on social media platforms and WhatsApp would continue, as it was being implemented for “security purposes and discussions related to recent events.”

However, Mahsa Alimardani, an academic at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies Iran’s Internet shutdowns and controls, said the authorities are targeting these platforms because they are “lifelines for information and communication that’s keeping the protests alive.”

On Twitter, the hashtag #MahsaAmini in Farsi has exceeded well over 30 million posts.

“Everyone in Iran knows that the authorities will crack down very hard on the protesters and kill them,” Mehdi, the US-based Iranian, told Arab News.

“It’s almost target practice for them. When I look at how the women there are standing up to the ruthless and vicious regime that never shied away from genocide to maintain their power, it gives me goose bumps. It takes a certain courage to do what they are doing.”

Looking forward to the future with hope, he said: “The flame has been ignited and we are not the kind of people who back out.”

 


Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle
Updated 25 September 2022

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

Freed Moroccan POW speaks of Ukraine struggle

CASABLANCA: A Moroccan prisoner of war released as part of an exchange between Moscow and Kyiv said he wanted to draw attention to the “struggle” of Ukraine as he returned home Saturday.

“I’m happy to come home after going through very difficult times,” said Brahim Saadoun, 21, an aeronautical engineering student who had been based in Ukraine since 2019.

“I want to draw attention to the difficult situation in Ukraine and the struggle of its people in this painful time,” he said at his family home, in a working-class district of Casablanca.

Saadoun was freed on Wednesday, one of 10 foreign prisoners of war — including five British and two American citizens — transferred to Saudi Arabia as part of the exchange between Moscow and Kyiv.

Smiling and appearing in good health alongside his mother, Saadoun thanked Saudi Arabia, the Turkish government and the Moroccan people “who stood in solidarity with us.”

His father, Taher Saadoun, said he had “an indescribable feeling of joy,” and also praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the release.

Brahim “has suffered from the imprisonment but he will recover and get back to his studies,” he said.

Brahim Saadoun was sentenced to death alongside two British men by the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic in early June.

After his trial, the Moroccan government said that Saadoun had been “captured while wearing the uniform of the military of the state of Ukraine, as a member of a Ukrainian naval unit.”

It said he had been “imprisoned by an entity that is recognized by neither the United Nations nor Morocco.”

Rabat has adopted a position of neutrality in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Morocco is keen not to alienate Moscow, a UN Security Council member, on the issue of the disputed status of Western Sahara, a vast stretch of mineral-rich desert which Rabat considers part of its own territory.


Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’
Updated 25 September 2022

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’
  • A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday that Iran’s crackdown on protests is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable,” as Tehran vowed no leniency against the unrest gripping the country.
A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
At least 41 people have died, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll, although human rights groups say the real figure is higher.
In a statement on behalf of the EU, Borrell said: “For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
Moves “to severely restrict Internet access by the relevant Iranian authorities and to block instant messaging platforms is a further cause for concern, as it blatantly violates freedom of expression,” he added.
Amini was arrested on September 13, accused of having breached rules that mandate tightly fitted hijab head coverings as well as ripped jeans and brightly colored clothes.
Iran’s judiciary chief on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency.”


Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce

Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce
Updated 25 September 2022

Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce

Quad condemns Houthi military reinforcement, attacks that threaten to derail Yemen truce
  • The Quad countries called on the Houthis to open the main roads around Taiz
  • Reaffirmed support for Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, stressed importance of cohesion in the council

LONDON: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, and the US have condemned the Houthis’ large scale military reinforcement and all attacks that threaten to derail the truce in Yemen.

The countries, known as the Quad, recently met to discuss the situation in Yemen and also condemned recent Houthi attacks on Taiz and a Houthi military parade that was put on in Hodeidah at the beginning of this month which violated the Hodeidah Agreement.

The Quad welcomed the tangible benefits of the truce in Yemen for the country’s people since it began on April. 2 and the continued implementation of agreed confidence building measures by its government.

The countries welcomed the flow of fuel into Hodeidah Port despite a Houthi order that delayed the established process for clearing ships, and the resumption of flights in and out of Sanaa airport.

They called for the implementation of outstanding measures including the opening by the Houthis of the main roads around Taiz and an agreement on a joint mechanism for the payment of civil servant salaries.

The Quad said it fully supports the efforts of UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg to extend and expand the truce which is due for renewal on Oct. 2, and that all terms of the truce must be fully implemented.

The governments of the four countries also agreed that a permanent ceasefire and a durable political settlement must be the ultimate objectives of the Yemeni political process, under UN auspices, and that such a settlement must be based on the agreed references and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

They reaffirmed their support to Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, stressed the importance of cohesion in the council, and welcomed the council’s commitment to improving basic services and economic stability in the war-torn country.