28 July 2016
English Arabic

If the next president decides that a relatively peaceful, prosperous and democratic Iraq is important, then there are two critical lessons to be gained from the Obama presidency.

First, even after the defeat of the Islamic State group, peace will be fragile in Iraq. The country will require strong diplomatic and financial support. Therefore, if the next president bows to domestic political pressure and abandons Iraq again, the situation will rapidly deteriorate.

Second, the best efforts of the U.S. government will be useless without a long-term – a decade or more – military commitment. The U.S. military provides rare capabilities that will be necessary both to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State group and to prevent the rise of the next vicious insurgency in this troubled land.

Iraq is currently in eerily similar circumstances to those at the beginning of Obama's first term, seven-and-a-half years ago. An uncomfortable and loosely coordinated alliance of Kurdish Peshmerga, Shia militia, Sunni tribal groups, regular Iraqi military and almost 4,700 American military appear to be winning the war against the Islamic State group in Iraq. This tyrannical "state" of religious fanatics has been recently driven out of Fallujah and the battle to recover Mosul – the last major Iraqi city still controlled by the insurgents – has begun.

Should one be optimistic that Iraq will finally achieve peace? The experiences of 2009-2012 provide some insights into the necessary actions to achieve and preserve peace in this fruitful land that has suffered so much death and destruction over the last 35 years.

In 2009, Iraq experienced a wave of optimism. According to the group Iraqi Body Count, violent civilian deaths that year among Iraq's 31 million population had dropped to about 5,400 – an 82 percent decline from the bloody year of 2006. Such deaths remained low through 2012. Sunni and Shia representatives were working together to pass needed legislation in the Council of Representatives. The Iraqi economy had begun to recover. I remember hearing businessmen in Baghdad complain about the rapid deterioration of roads between Baghdad, Fallujah and Mosul; a deterioration brought about by a sharp increase in trucks carrying goods throughout newly pacified areas. There was still massive corruption, mismanagement and severely inadequate essential services but there seemed to be a belief that these problems could be solved.

 

What went wrong?

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Obama must share the blame for Iraq's return to violent conflict after the relative peace of 2009-2012. Maliki had made unambiguous promises to the Sunnis of Anbar Province that, in return for their support in the fight against al-Qaida, young Sunni men would receive permanent positions in either the Iraqi army or national police. As soon as al-Qaida was defeated, these promises were broken.

In addition, a mixed Sunni-Shia party led by Ayad Allawi won more seats in the national election of 2010 than Maliki's State of Law Party and yet was prevented from forming a government. Instead, Maliki stayed in power. These events combined with the violent suppression of Sunni protests convinced many in the Sunni community that there would be no justice from the Shia-dominated national government.

President Obama further contributed to the deterioration by his abrupt pullout of U.S. forces. A force of 5,000 – 10,000 U.S. or coalition troops would have provided important capabilities that the Iraqi security forces were not able to provide for themselves. These capabilities include being able to integrate intelligence from a variety of sources, secure communications, combined arms coordination, effective training and – most important - acceptance as an honest broker both among Iraqi security forces as well as between the Iraqi military and their civilian leaders in Baghdad.

When President Obama – consistent with his 2008 campaign promises – announced a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Maliki felt that to remain in power he must strengthen his bonds with both the Shia community in Iraq and with Shia Iran. Experienced military commanders who had proved themselves in the battles against al-Qaida were replaced with politicians distinguished only by their loyalty to Maliki. Maliki's corrupt bureaucracy stole much of the oil export revenues while essential services for most of the population failed to improve. The fracturing of relations between Sunni and Shia as well as between Arab and Kurd exposed weaknesses that the Islamic State group successfully exploited. And it has taken much blood and treasure to defeat this state and restore relative peace in Iraq.

The key lessons learned are that Iraq not only needs careful diplomatic and generous financial support but also a long-term military commitment. Such a commitment will be controversial. There will be a strong temptation for the next president to make the same mistake as President Obama and quickly withdraw U.S. forces as soon as there is a pause in the violence. But he or she should realize the painful lesson that President Obama only gradually discovered: without solid U.S. support, the center in Iraq will not hold.

 

Source:US News

By Frank R. Gunter, July 27, 2016, at 4:00 p.m

 


 

Baghdad – The controversial “popular mobilization” militias would soon become a military body that would be equal to Iraq’s official forces in terms of capacity and arming, following the footsteps of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was formed in a similar manner.

An official document signed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi revealed the planned process of converting the militias to a military party equal to counter-terrorism apparatus, including a number of units and fighters subject to direct approval by the prime minister.

The document was leaked by the “popular mobilization” group on Tuesday, in a step that would deepen disputes between the militant group and other Iraqi parties, according to Asharq al-Awsat sources.

The sources added that such militias could be used to execute “sectarian liquidations.”

Last February, Abadi issued a decision to convert the popular mobilization militias into a security apparatus that is supportive to the counter-terrorism apparatus in terms of training capacity, arming, and readiness under the same laws.

The decision stipulated that the new apparatus would have a leader, a deputy-leader and 20 brigades and supportive directorates.

In comments on Tuesday, the “popular mobilization” group’s spokesman, Ahmed Al-Asadi, said that government’s decision ordered that the new parallel force would be directly linked to the general command, in reference to the Iraqi prime minister.

Meanwhile, Iraqi sources close to the matter told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the announcement was aimed at pushing the prime minister, who is also the Armed Forces’ general commander, to implement the new decision as soon as possible.

The Iraqi source noted that many challenges would face this conversion, as the prime minister wants the militias to be equal to counter-terrorism apparatus. Those challenges include the required age group and the educational level of militants, the source added.

Another obstacle lies in the required number of troops. While the counter-terrorism apparatus should not exceed 25,000 members, the “popular mobilization” militias gather more than 170,000 militants. This will be a difficult task to resolve, according to the same source.

Source: Asharq Al - Awsat



BAGHDAD – For nearly a decade, anyone driving through one of Baghdad’s many checkpoints was subjected to a search by a soldier pointing a security wand at their vehicle and watching the device intently to see if its antenna moved. If it pointed at the car, it had supposedly detected a possible bomb.

The wands were completely bogus. It had been proven years ago, even before 2013 when two British men were convicted in separate trials on fraud charges for selling the detectors. The devices, sold under various names for thousands of dollars each, apparently were based on a product that sold for about $20 and claimed to find golf balls.

Yet the Iraqi government continued to use the devices, spending nearly $60 million on them despite warnings by U.S. military commanders and the wands’ proven failure to stop near-daily bombings in Baghdad.

It took a massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people in Baghdad on July 3 – the deadliest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war – for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to finally ban their use.

The reason it took so long is likely the widespread corruption in the government. Iraqis mocked the device from the start, joking that too much aftershave could set off the antenna.

Now there are accusations that plans to start using newly imported explosives-detecting scanners were intentionally held up as part of the political wrangling over which faction – the military or the police – will control security in Baghdad.

Since the wands were banned, soldiers at Baghdad checkpoints largely wave motorists through, occasionally asking for vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses and taking a quick look inside. Plainclothes intelligence agents scrutinize drivers and passengers. Police dogs have been used at some checkpoints, but that has proven to be time-consuming and contributing to traffic congestion.

In some places, the wands are still being used – at some checkpoints in Baghdad and in the southern port city of Basra, Iraq’s third-largest city – nearly two weeks after the Baghdad bombing. They also were used across the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad for at least a week after al-Abadi’s order before they were finally recalled.

“The withdrawal of the device is continuing, but it’s still in use here and there, for now,” Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry’s chief spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said the new vehicles equipped with scanners have been deployed at checkpoints on major roads leading to the capital.

“All this will have a positive impact on Baghdad’s security,” he said.

Officials say the explosives-laden minibus used in the July 3 attack in Baghdad’s central Karradah district started its journey in Diyala province, traveling 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the capital. The vehicle, a type used as communal taxis in Iraq, would have encountered at least half a dozen checkpoints, most of which likely used the wand. Investigators say the vehicle carried a 250-kilogram (550-pound) bomb.

Four days after the Karradah bombing, three suicide bombers struck a Shiite shrine in Balad, north of Baghdad, killing 37 people. A series of small bombings also rocked the capital, killing about two dozen people.

When Iraqi security forces first began using the ADE-651 wands, U.S. and British military commanders in Iraq dismissed the devices as useless and counseled the government to stop using them.

Faced with mounting criticism, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the effectiveness of the devices in 2010. The outcome was inconclusive, and they continued to be used.

The head of the Interior Ministry’s bomb squad department, Jihad al-Jabri, was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to four years in prison for accepting a bribe from the British manufacturers. But the case against him did not address whether the wands were effective. Many Iraqis believe he was a scapegoat to protect more senior Iraqi officials from prosecution.

Politics also may have played a role.

After the July 3 blast, al-Abadi fired the military officer in charge of Baghdad’s security and accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, who was in charge of police.
Visualization by Graphiq

Al-Abadi also ordered an investigation into why nearly 70 vehicles equipped with explosives-detecting scanners that were imported last year were left in Interior Ministry garages and had not been deployed.

Al-Ghabban had been demanding for months that his ministry be given complete control over security in Baghdad. Al-Abadi had resisted, however, keeping the military in charge. Since al-Ghabban is close to one of the most powerful Shiite militias, his opponents feared his demand aimed to give militias control over Baghdad.

Speaking to the AP, the chairman of parliament’s security and defense committee accused al-Ghabban of intentionally failing to deploy the scanner vehicles as a political ploy.

“It’s due to the minister’s demands that security control of Baghdad be given to the ministry,” said Hakim al-Zamli. “If it were given to him, he would use them (the vehicles). If not, he won’t use them.”

Al-Ghabban, in turn, has said he was stymied in attempts to protect Baghdad. After his dismissal, he said al-Abadi repeatedly ignored his proposals for bolstering security. He complained that too many security and intelligence agencies were involved in protecting Baghdad.

“I wanted the entire security file to be left in the hands of the Interior Ministry so it can be fully accountable,” he said. “My job was emptied of genuine tasks, tools and powers, and became ceremonial.”

Qais Adil Faraj, the father of one of the Karradah victims, blames “corruption” and “treason” among the security forces for the bombing. He said he has no faith in the new security measures in the capital.

“More and more bombings will follow the one in Karradah,” he said. “This government will never maintain security nationwide or even just in Baghdad.”

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber attacked a security check point in northern Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 14 people, Iraqi officials said.

The bomber, who was on foot, detonated his device at one of the busy entrances of the Shiite district of Kadhimiyah, killing at least 10 civilians and four policemen, a police officer said. At least 31 other people were wounded, he added.

Three more civilians were killed and 11 wounded in a bomb explosion in an outdoor market in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, another police officer said.

Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

In an online statement, IS group claimed responsibility for the Kadhimiyah attack, saying it targeted a gathering of security forces and Shiite militia members. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statements, but they were posted on a militant website commonly used by the extremists. Security forces and public areas, mainly in Shiite neighborhoods, are one of the most frequent targets for the Islamic State group, which controls key areas in mainly northern and western Iraq.

Since late last year, the group has suffered a string of territorial losses, most recently last month in Fallujah, where it was driven out by Iraqi forces after occupying the city for more than two years. But the extremists have continued to carry out near-daily bombings in and around Baghdad, as well as complex attacks in other countries.

The Iraqi military will use a medieval tactic to keep control of Fallujah after recapturing it from the Islamic State group last month: It is digging a trench around the city.

The trench will have a single opening for residents to move in and out of the city, which is virtually empty since the offensive that defeated the IS militants, said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, deputy commander of the counterterrorism forces that led the successful campaign.

It will be about 7 miles (11 kilometers) long and "will protect the city's residents, who have lived through many tragedies, as well as security forces deployed there," al-Saadi said in an interview with The Associated Press at his Baghdad headquarters.

Cutting off all roads but one will allow authorities to monitor the movements of residents more closely.Fallujah has been a source of car bombs used against Baghdad, which is 40 miles (65 kilometers) to the east. Restricting traffic will be one way to try to stop any explosives-laden vehicles from leaving the city.

Besides the trench, more modern security measures also will be used.

Personal details of the estimated 85,000 residents who fled during the May-June battle to liberate the city will be stored electronically, and forgery-proof ID cards will be issued, according to Mayor Issa al-Issawi. Cars owned by residents also will be issued display badges containing electronic chips.

The trenches will be about 40 feet (12.5 meters) wide and 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep.

Work has begun on the first leg, running about 4 miles (6 kilometers) on the north and northwest side of the city, al-Issawi told the AP. Digging the second leg, which runs 3 miles (5 kilometers) along the south and southeast, will begin soon, he said.

The western edge of Fallujah abuts the Euphrates River, providing a natural barrier. On the east side is the heavily patrolled main highway to Baghdad, which will be the sole entrance to Fallujah.

The two trenches run through open desert areas used in the past by militants, said Maj. Gen. Saad Harbiyah, in charge of military operations in western Baghdad.

Iraqis have used various earthworks, walls and fortifications ever since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. During the war, Saddam had trenches dug around Baghdad, filled them with oil and set them ablaze, using thick, black smoke to obscure the view for U.S. warplanes.

Since the war, Baghdad has become a city of concrete blast walls, erected to protect buildings but also to control the movement of people. During the 2006-07 sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis, entire neighborhoods were sealed off by blast walls to restrict and monitor access.

In January 2014, Fallujah became the first major Iraqi city to be captured by the Islamic State group. The extremists later swept through much of Anbar province, taking its capital, Ramadi, and much of the north, including Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul.

A U.S.-led coalition and Iranian-backed Shiite militia forces have helped the Iraqi army recapture territory from the Islamic State.

Security problems have plagued Iraq, especially in Fallujah. The city has been a center of Sunni opposition to Shiite-led governments in Baghdad, with Sunnis complaining of discrimination at the hands of the country's majority Shiites.

Fallujah residents have suffered under more than two years of rule by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. That suffering could be exacerbated if the security measures are seen by residents as too heavy-handed.

Security measures like the trench may make little difference in the long run if there is no reconciliation between Sunnis and a government many of them see as oppressive, illegitimate and a tool in the hands of Iraq's giant Shiite neighbor, Iran. Shiite hard-liners, in turn, see Sunnis as sympathetic to militants, many of whom view Shiites as infidels.

The Iraqi government also plans to dig a trench along the border between Anbar province, whereFallujah is located, and neighboring Karbala, home to one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines. Work also has begun on walls and trenches around vulnerable parts of Baghdad's outer areas to guard against car bombs. In both cases, however, work has been slowed by lack of funds and corruption.

Fallujah faces its own internal differences as well. Some factions of its main tribal clans declared allegiance to IS, while others did not, prompting the extremists to kill prominent tribal members and blow up the homes of those who fled.

Iraqi authorities arrested about 21,000 Fallujah residents from among those who fled the city on suspicion of IS membership, according to al-Saadi. Following questioning, all were released except for about 2,000 who face further interrogation and possible prosecution, he added.

Tens of thousands of displaced residents will be allowed to return to Fallujah later this year, al-Saadi said.

"We must turn a new page with Fallujah. There is no other way for reconciliation," said al-Saadi, a veteran of the government's fight against militants in Anbar.

"We must punish those with blood on their hands, but not those who merely joined Daesh," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. "Revenge and mass trials will only breed more hatred and resentment."

Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi echoed al-Saadi's view.

"We cannot judge people by their intentions. Only those who committed crimes will face justice," al-Hadithi told AP. The government intends to rely on the local police force and Sunni tribesmen to maintain security in Fallujah, he said.

But the chairman of Anbar's provincial council, Sabah al-Karhout, complained that "reconciliation efforts" were below what was needed and that much rides on how secure Fallujah residents feel when they return home.

"Marginalization must end so that calls for a federal system to disappear," he said, alluding to a growing sentiment among Iraq's Sunni Arabs for autonomy in their regions.

Published July 24, 2016

The Iraqi government has announced a two-day mandatory official holiday beginning on Wednesday due to a heatwave.

A statement issued by the Iraqi cabinet said temperatures were expected to soar above 50C (122F). It is the first heat advisory issued by the Iraqi government this summer.

The public holiday will apply to all government workers.

High temperatures in summer are common in Iraq, and endemic electricity outages make life harder for Iraqis when temperatures soar. To cope with the heat, Iraqis either stay indoors or swim in rivers. In some public places, showers are set up for those who want to cool down.

It is not uncommon for such public holidays to be declared when heatwaves hit during Iraq’s long, hot summers.

Source: The Guardian

A total of 1.5 million children in Iraq are displaced internally, living in camps like the one shown in this aerial video.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who posted the footage on Tuesday,  say that number equals one in every 10 Iraqi children.

The camp shown in the drone video is home to some of the 8,500 people who have fled fighting in Fallujah.

 

Source: The Telegraph

NAJAF, Iraq — Iraq’s Shiites are witnessing a political-religious rift in their stance toward Iran whose development can be traced back to 2003. While some express complete loyalty to the Shiite political regime in Tehran, others object to its regional policies, including toward Iraq, and distance from it.

In one example, the predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) held a military parade July 1 in Basra. They destroyed US and Israeli flags and burned photos of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. The march sparked criticism and anger among some Shiites, because the United States has friendly relations with Iraq and is supporting its security forces in their war against the Islamic State (IS). Also, given the state competition in the region, hostility toward Saudi Arabia is not in Iraq’s interest.

In a related development, differing attitudes could be detected surrounding the demonstrations on International Quds Day, July 1, essentially reflecting the debate over whether Iraqi Shiites should be affiliated with Iran or pursue interests and priorities different from those of the Tehran government. At Quds Day protests organized by the PMU faction Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Najaf, a religious hub for Shiite clerics, there was no marked presence of clerics. In contrast, in Qom, Najaf’s religious competitor that receives funding from Iran, a remarkable number of clerics attended the annual protest. Jihad al-Asadi, an instructor in the religious seminary at Najaf, told Al-Monitor, “The Najaf seminary does not support any political agenda outside Iraqi national interests.”

On July 2, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban issued an order referring “several officers and policemen from the Basra police to an investigative council and implementation of the sanctions cited in the Penal Code of the Internal Security Forces” for their participation in the Quds Day protests because of its political nature.

Following the July 3 bombing at the Karrada market, in a predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad, that killed more than 300 people, Shiite activists criticized some Shiites for supposedly having more enthusiasm for International Quds Day than concern about the bomb attack, which produced the highest death toll in the country since the Iraqi invasion. Among those holding such a view is Khudeir Fleih al-Zeidi, an Iraqi author and novelist from Nasiriyah, who told Al-Monitor, “Those who celebrated the International Quds Day did not mourn the victims of the attacks. The question is easy: Karrada or Jerusalem?” 

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Naqaa al-Tamimi, a veterinarian who pursued her studies in Iran, said, “Why don’t Iranians show solidarity with our plight like the Karrada attack, knowing that we have the same confession, and we welcome them warmly on several yearly religious occasions?”

On July 4, apparently pro-Iranian Shiite militias, taking advantage of attention being focused on the aftermath of the Karrada attack, shelled Camp Liberty, where members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition movement, are housed. The shells also landed in a nearby, predominantly Sunni refugee camp, perhaps by accident, killing three people and injuring 11 others. A prominent cleric from Najaf told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Some armed Shiite groups are only interested in abiding by Iranian orders. Why would Iraq shell the Liberty Camp and kill innocent Iraqis even if by mistake?”

As can be gleaned from the clerics remarks, the armed Shiite factions are themselves divided on loyalty to Iran. Al-Aalem al-Jadeed newspaper published what appeared to be an official response from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the matter of a letter from the leader of Liwa’ Ansar al-Marja’iya informing Abadi that Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chairman of the PMU, and reportedly Iran’s most powerful military man in Iraq, had stopped distributing government salaries to armed Shiite factions not connected to Iran. Abadi later ordered an investigation into the salary situation.

Most factions without relations to Iran — including Liwa’ Ansar al-Marja’iya, the Abbas Battle Group, Liwa’ Ali al-Akbar, the Imam Ali Troop and the Kadhimin Battle Group — are affiliated with the Shiite authority in Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani or Shiite holy shrines under Sistani’s supervision. Sajad al-Rabihi, a cleric fighting in the ranks of the Abbas Battle Group, confirmed the cutoff of salaries to Al-Monitor. The issue of divided loyalties, between Iran and Sistani followers, among the Shiite PMU militias had been identified earlier by the United States and appears now to have been confirmed by the salary cutoff.

Some observers believe the pro-Iran current within the PMU is trying to seize control and expel those not in line with Tehran from the movement. In addition to news of the salary cutoff, Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organization, which is close to Iran, and some other PMU militia leaders met with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on June 27. Amiri praised Maliki, saying, “The decision to form the Popular Mobilization Units was Maliki’s. He has strongly supported them since the beginning.”

Amiri’s statements angered clerics in Najaf, because they contradicted the reality that the militias comprising the PMU began forming after a call by Sistani on June 13, 2014, for Iraqis to take up arms in the wake of IS' capture of Mosul on June 10. Maliki's role consisted of his administration bringing the PMU under some sort of government supervision to coordinate action with the Iraqi national army.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Peace Battalion, one of the largest PMU factions, sarcastically dismissed Amir's statements, saying, “Maliki’s alleged Popular Mobilization Units, if they exist, do not represent me or Iraq,” highlighting the division in the organization.

The Iranian Fars News Agency published a news brief accompanied by an image of Maliki at his house welcoming Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Iranian Quds Force, for iftar on June 29. Several PMU leaders were also invited. On July 3, Sky News Arabia, citing Iraqi sources, reported that Soleimani had allegedly proposed to Abadi that command of the PMU be given to Maliki. There were no corroborating reports of such a proposal having been made.

Ultimately, it seems, the Shiite division in Iraq revolves around how to organize relations with Iran in terms of pursuing Iranian agendas and building relations with Tehran based on mutual interests as well as Iraqi values and interests.

Baghdad-Amid high temperature reaching 47 degrees Celsius, thousands of protestors accompanied by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gathered in Tahrir Square. Sadr did not deliver the speech himself despite his presence among the protestors.

Protestors called on an end to corruption and the unity among Shi’ite and Sunni Iraqis. They chanted “No, no to corruption. No, no to sectarianism. Yes, yes to reform. Yes, yes to Iraq”.

Demands included dismissing all corrupt individuals and submitting them to a fair trial as quick as possible. Sadr called for avoiding political pressures and for working independently.

Activist Mohamed Al-Daradji stated in Cairo that corruption has become unbearable, adding that those who ruled after Saddam Hussein in 2003 have failed. Another participant named Mushtaq Al-Awadi, 54 years old, said that this protest is to demand returning the stolen money to Iraqis, calling to account corrupt officials and terminating sectarianism.

Hakim al-Zamili, an Iraqi politician from the Sadrist Movement, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Friday’s protest led by Sadr is a continuation of previous ones that had the same purposes. Zamili urged the state to fulfill its pledges.

Judge and Former Minster Wael Abdul Latif also told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that reformation was the keyword of Sadr’s speech. “Sadr’s main focus is maintaining peaceful protests and issuing national, unified slogans and most importantly changing elections’ commissariat.”

Source: Asharq Al-Awsat

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for forming a government of competent members in February but was greatly opposed by political parties.

Furthermore, the parliament approved on 26 April dismissing five ministers and appointing five others within a governmental reformation program, suggested by Abadi, but the court later on abolished the resolutions of this session.

Saudi-Iranian Struggle in Iraq Tuesday, 12 July 2016 11:55

What is happening nowadays in Iraq and Syria is due to decades of conflict between two major axes, Iran and the Arab group.

It began with the 1979 Iranian revolution and continued with threats to change regimes of regional countries by force under the title of exporting Islamic revolution, followed by the Iran-Iraq war that lasted eight years.

The war eased for only two years then Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering international intervention that led to the emergence of al-Qaeda and then the ISIS terrorist group.

I believe it is an interconnected disorder that has been ongoing since 1979 until today, and the turmoil will continue as long as regional powers are unable to create a political or military balance via agreements.

We must understand the logic and motives behind Tehran’s desire to maintain the struggle in Iraq, the Gulf, Syria and Palestine.

Iran wants to expand as it sees that on its western borders there are the world’s oil-rich countries such as Iraq and Gulf countries.

It acknowledges the fact that the West will not easily accept to abandon these countries that are important energy sources. This is why Tehran’s regime has attempted to dominate in different ways and has not succeeded much until recently.

ISIS certainly serves Iran, which joined the Western and Russian coalition under the flag of fighting terrorism.

Iraq is the most important country for Iran because it is its western gate, and Iran will only be able to control Iraq by dominating it indirectly.

Iran played different roles to convince the United States that it would be a beneficial partner in Iraq by helping it solidify security. During the administration

of U.S. President George W Bush, it was the only country, maybe except for Jordan, that cooperated with Washington then.

At the same time, Iran used different methods to destabilize Iraq.

Along with its ally, the Syrian regime, Tehran enabled al-Qaeda and armed Iraqi opposition groups to sneak from Syria into Iraq to sabotage the security and political situations and inflict losses in U.S. troops.

When Barack Obama became president, he withdrew all U.S. troops thus leaving Iraq open to Iranian intervention, at the time when armed groups like ISIS reemerged.

Today, Iran’s regime is in Iraq under the pretext of protecting it from ISIS, which is controlling Mosul and a number of Iraqi cities and provinces thus forming a threat.

Is Iran part of the turmoil in Iraq to stay in the country? No doubt it is, as Tehran supports certain Shi’ite groups against others. It is also behind the establishment of the Popular Mobilization Forces militia as a competitor to Iraq’s army to weaken the central government.

I believe that Iran is one of the masterminds behind ISIS, but it is difficult to prove that. Iran is the only party benefitting from ISIS, whose threats gave Iran an excuse to enter Iraq and manage the battles against the terrorist organization, bragging that if the Iranian National Guards did not interfere, Iraq could have been under ISIS’s rule by now.

ISIS is a reflection of al-Qaeda, which emerged during the U.S.-led occupation. Back then, al-Qaeda succeeded in sabotaging the political project, allowing pro-Iran groups to dominate in Baghdad.

Saudi ambassador to Iraq, Thamer al-Sabhan, recently said: “Someone is trying to create a rift in relations between Saudi Arabia and the different components of the Iraqi people.”

He means Iran, and this is the first time an official statement reflects the Saudi-Iranian struggle in Iraq.

Struggle between the two countries happens for different reasons as Tehran wants to dominate Iraq and its resources, but Saudi Arabia wants to protect its borders and halt Iran’s expansion.

The Saudi presence in Iraq was delayed for years because Riyadh rejected participating in the U.S.-led occupation and the establishment of the new Iraqi government.

Tehran, however, cooperated with the Americans, and in exchange it gained influence that resulted in the current status.

Saudi Arabia’s interest matches that of the Iraqi people, which is represented in having a country free from foreign domination and in control of its own water and oil resources.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are rich and do not need to control Iraq. Instead, they want a regime that does not resemble Saddam Hussein’s and is not a puppet for Iran.

Gulf countries are now aware that the spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda in Iraq, Syria and Yemen targets them first, and that countries such as Iran benefit from these extremist groups and use them to weaken the region’s powers, interfere in their affairs, and build international alliances to serve their goals.

 

Source: ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

By:

If the next president decides that a relatively peaceful, prosperous and democratic Iraq is important, then there are two critical lessons to be gained from the Obama presidency.

First, even after the defeat of the Islamic State group, peace will be fragile in Iraq. The country will require strong diplomatic and financial support. Therefore, if the next president bows to domestic political pressure and abandons Iraq again, the situation will rapidly deteriorate.

Second, the best efforts of the U.S. government will be useless without a long-term – a decade or more – military commitment. The U.S. military provides rare capabilities that will be necessary both to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State group and to prevent the rise of the next vicious insurgency in this troubled land.

Iraq is currently in eerily similar circumstances to those at the beginning of Obama's first term, seven-and-a-half years ago. An uncomfortable and loosely coordinated alliance of Kurdish Peshmerga, Shia militia, Sunni tribal groups, regular Iraqi military and almost 4,700 American military appear to be winning the war against the Islamic State group in Iraq. This tyrannical "state" of religious fanatics has been recently driven out of Fallujah and the battle to recover Mosul – the last major Iraqi city still controlled by the insurgents – has begun.

Should one be optimistic that Iraq will finally achieve peace? The experiences of 2009-2012 provide some insights into the necessary actions to achieve and preserve peace in this fruitful land that has suffered so much death and destruction over the last 35 years.

In 2009, Iraq experienced a wave of optimism. According to the group Iraqi Body Count, violent civilian deaths that year among Iraq's 31 million population had dropped to about 5,400 – an 82 percent decline from the bloody year of 2006. Such deaths remained low through 2012. Sunni and Shia representatives were working together to pass needed legislation in the Council of Representatives. The Iraqi economy had begun to recover. I remember hearing businessmen in Baghdad complain about the rapid deterioration of roads between Baghdad, Fallujah and Mosul; a deterioration brought about by a sharp increase in trucks carrying goods throughout newly pacified areas. There was still massive corruption, mismanagement and severely inadequate essential services but there seemed to be a belief that these problems could be solved.

 

What went wrong?

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Obama must share the blame for Iraq's return to violent conflict after the relative peace of 2009-2012. Maliki had made unambiguous promises to the Sunnis of Anbar Province that, in return for their support in the fight against al-Qaida, young Sunni men would receive permanent positions in either the Iraqi army or national police. As soon as al-Qaida was defeated, these promises were broken.

In addition, a mixed Sunni-Shia party led by Ayad Allawi won more seats in the national election of 2010 than Maliki's State of Law Party and yet was prevented from forming a government. Instead, Maliki stayed in power. These events combined with the violent suppression of Sunni protests convinced many in the Sunni community that there would be no justice from the Shia-dominated national government.

President Obama further contributed to the deterioration by his abrupt pullout of U.S. forces. A force of 5,000 – 10,000 U.S. or coalition troops would have provided important capabilities that the Iraqi security forces were not able to provide for themselves. These capabilities include being able to integrate intelligence from a variety of sources, secure communications, combined arms coordination, effective training and – most important - acceptance as an honest broker both among Iraqi security forces as well as between the Iraqi military and their civilian leaders in Baghdad.

When President Obama – consistent with his 2008 campaign promises – announced a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Maliki felt that to remain in power he must strengthen his bonds with both the Shia community in Iraq and with Shia Iran. Experienced military commanders who had proved themselves in the battles against al-Qaida were replaced with politicians distinguished only by their loyalty to Maliki. Maliki's corrupt bureaucracy stole much of the oil export revenues while essential services for most of the population failed to improve. The fracturing of relations between Sunni and Shia as well as between Arab and Kurd exposed weaknesses that the Islamic State group successfully exploited. And it has taken much blood and treasure to defeat this state and restore relative peace in Iraq.

The key lessons learned are that Iraq not only needs careful diplomatic and generous financial support but also a long-term military commitment. Such a commitment will be controversial. There will be a strong temptation for the next president to make the same mistake as President Obama and quickly withdraw U.S. forces as soon as there is a pause in the violence. But he or she should realize the painful lesson that President Obama only gradually discovered: without solid U.S. support, the center in Iraq will not hold.

 

Source:US News

By Frank R. Gunter, July 27, 2016, at 4:00 p.m

 


 

Baghdad – The controversial “popular mobilization” militias would soon become a military body that would be equal to Iraq’s official forces in terms of capacity and arming, following the footsteps of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was formed in a similar manner.

An official document signed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi revealed the planned process of converting the militias to a military party equal to counter-terrorism apparatus, including a number of units and fighters subject to direct approval by the prime minister.

The document was leaked by the “popular mobilization” group on Tuesday, in a step that would deepen disputes between the militant group and other Iraqi parties, according to Asharq al-Awsat sources.

The sources added that such militias could be used to execute “sectarian liquidations.”

Last February, Abadi issued a decision to convert the popular mobilization militias into a security apparatus that is supportive to the counter-terrorism apparatus in terms of training capacity, arming, and readiness under the same laws.

The decision stipulated that the new apparatus would have a leader, a deputy-leader and 20 brigades and supportive directorates.

In comments on Tuesday, the “popular mobilization” group’s spokesman, Ahmed Al-Asadi, said that government’s decision ordered that the new parallel force would be directly linked to the general command, in reference to the Iraqi prime minister.

Meanwhile, Iraqi sources close to the matter told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the announcement was aimed at pushing the prime minister, who is also the Armed Forces’ general commander, to implement the new decision as soon as possible.

The Iraqi source noted that many challenges would face this conversion, as the prime minister wants the militias to be equal to counter-terrorism apparatus. Those challenges include the required age group and the educational level of militants, the source added.

Another obstacle lies in the required number of troops. While the counter-terrorism apparatus should not exceed 25,000 members, the “popular mobilization” militias gather more than 170,000 militants. This will be a difficult task to resolve, according to the same source.

Source: Asharq Al - Awsat



BAGHDAD – For nearly a decade, anyone driving through one of Baghdad’s many checkpoints was subjected to a search by a soldier pointing a security wand at their vehicle and watching the device intently to see if its antenna moved. If it pointed at the car, it had supposedly detected a possible bomb.

The wands were completely bogus. It had been proven years ago, even before 2013 when two British men were convicted in separate trials on fraud charges for selling the detectors. The devices, sold under various names for thousands of dollars each, apparently were based on a product that sold for about $20 and claimed to find golf balls.

Yet the Iraqi government continued to use the devices, spending nearly $60 million on them despite warnings by U.S. military commanders and the wands’ proven failure to stop near-daily bombings in Baghdad.

It took a massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people in Baghdad on July 3 – the deadliest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war – for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to finally ban their use.

The reason it took so long is likely the widespread corruption in the government. Iraqis mocked the device from the start, joking that too much aftershave could set off the antenna.

Now there are accusations that plans to start using newly imported explosives-detecting scanners were intentionally held up as part of the political wrangling over which faction – the military or the police – will control security in Baghdad.

Since the wands were banned, soldiers at Baghdad checkpoints largely wave motorists through, occasionally asking for vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses and taking a quick look inside. Plainclothes intelligence agents scrutinize drivers and passengers. Police dogs have been used at some checkpoints, but that has proven to be time-consuming and contributing to traffic congestion.

In some places, the wands are still being used – at some checkpoints in Baghdad and in the southern port city of Basra, Iraq’s third-largest city – nearly two weeks after the Baghdad bombing. They also were used across the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad for at least a week after al-Abadi’s order before they were finally recalled.

“The withdrawal of the device is continuing, but it’s still in use here and there, for now,” Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry’s chief spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said the new vehicles equipped with scanners have been deployed at checkpoints on major roads leading to the capital.

“All this will have a positive impact on Baghdad’s security,” he said.

Officials say the explosives-laden minibus used in the July 3 attack in Baghdad’s central Karradah district started its journey in Diyala province, traveling 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the capital. The vehicle, a type used as communal taxis in Iraq, would have encountered at least half a dozen checkpoints, most of which likely used the wand. Investigators say the vehicle carried a 250-kilogram (550-pound) bomb.

Four days after the Karradah bombing, three suicide bombers struck a Shiite shrine in Balad, north of Baghdad, killing 37 people. A series of small bombings also rocked the capital, killing about two dozen people.

When Iraqi security forces first began using the ADE-651 wands, U.S. and British military commanders in Iraq dismissed the devices as useless and counseled the government to stop using them.

Faced with mounting criticism, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the effectiveness of the devices in 2010. The outcome was inconclusive, and they continued to be used.

The head of the Interior Ministry’s bomb squad department, Jihad al-Jabri, was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to four years in prison for accepting a bribe from the British manufacturers. But the case against him did not address whether the wands were effective. Many Iraqis believe he was a scapegoat to protect more senior Iraqi officials from prosecution.

Politics also may have played a role.

After the July 3 blast, al-Abadi fired the military officer in charge of Baghdad’s security and accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, who was in charge of police.
Visualization by Graphiq

Al-Abadi also ordered an investigation into why nearly 70 vehicles equipped with explosives-detecting scanners that were imported last year were left in Interior Ministry garages and had not been deployed.

Al-Ghabban had been demanding for months that his ministry be given complete control over security in Baghdad. Al-Abadi had resisted, however, keeping the military in charge. Since al-Ghabban is close to one of the most powerful Shiite militias, his opponents feared his demand aimed to give militias control over Baghdad.

Speaking to the AP, the chairman of parliament’s security and defense committee accused al-Ghabban of intentionally failing to deploy the scanner vehicles as a political ploy.

“It’s due to the minister’s demands that security control of Baghdad be given to the ministry,” said Hakim al-Zamli. “If it were given to him, he would use them (the vehicles). If not, he won’t use them.”

Al-Ghabban, in turn, has said he was stymied in attempts to protect Baghdad. After his dismissal, he said al-Abadi repeatedly ignored his proposals for bolstering security. He complained that too many security and intelligence agencies were involved in protecting Baghdad.

“I wanted the entire security file to be left in the hands of the Interior Ministry so it can be fully accountable,” he said. “My job was emptied of genuine tasks, tools and powers, and became ceremonial.”

Qais Adil Faraj, the father of one of the Karradah victims, blames “corruption” and “treason” among the security forces for the bombing. He said he has no faith in the new security measures in the capital.

“More and more bombings will follow the one in Karradah,” he said. “This government will never maintain security nationwide or even just in Baghdad.”

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber attacked a security check point in northern Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 14 people, Iraqi officials said.

The bomber, who was on foot, detonated his device at one of the busy entrances of the Shiite district of Kadhimiyah, killing at least 10 civilians and four policemen, a police officer said. At least 31 other people were wounded, he added.

Three more civilians were killed and 11 wounded in a bomb explosion in an outdoor market in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, another police officer said.

Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

In an online statement, IS group claimed responsibility for the Kadhimiyah attack, saying it targeted a gathering of security forces and Shiite militia members. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statements, but they were posted on a militant website commonly used by the extremists. Security forces and public areas, mainly in Shiite neighborhoods, are one of the most frequent targets for the Islamic State group, which controls key areas in mainly northern and western Iraq.

Since late last year, the group has suffered a string of territorial losses, most recently last month in Fallujah, where it was driven out by Iraqi forces after occupying the city for more than two years. But the extremists have continued to carry out near-daily bombings in and around Baghdad, as well as complex attacks in other countries.

The Iraqi military will use a medieval tactic to keep control of Fallujah after recapturing it from the Islamic State group last month: It is digging a trench around the city.

The trench will have a single opening for residents to move in and out of the city, which is virtually empty since the offensive that defeated the IS militants, said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, deputy commander of the counterterrorism forces that led the successful campaign.

It will be about 7 miles (11 kilometers) long and "will protect the city's residents, who have lived through many tragedies, as well as security forces deployed there," al-Saadi said in an interview with The Associated Press at his Baghdad headquarters.

Cutting off all roads but one will allow authorities to monitor the movements of residents more closely.Fallujah has been a source of car bombs used against Baghdad, which is 40 miles (65 kilometers) to the east. Restricting traffic will be one way to try to stop any explosives-laden vehicles from leaving the city.

Besides the trench, more modern security measures also will be used.

Personal details of the estimated 85,000 residents who fled during the May-June battle to liberate the city will be stored electronically, and forgery-proof ID cards will be issued, according to Mayor Issa al-Issawi. Cars owned by residents also will be issued display badges containing electronic chips.

The trenches will be about 40 feet (12.5 meters) wide and 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep.

Work has begun on the first leg, running about 4 miles (6 kilometers) on the north and northwest side of the city, al-Issawi told the AP. Digging the second leg, which runs 3 miles (5 kilometers) along the south and southeast, will begin soon, he said.

The western edge of Fallujah abuts the Euphrates River, providing a natural barrier. On the east side is the heavily patrolled main highway to Baghdad, which will be the sole entrance to Fallujah.

The two trenches run through open desert areas used in the past by militants, said Maj. Gen. Saad Harbiyah, in charge of military operations in western Baghdad.

Iraqis have used various earthworks, walls and fortifications ever since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. During the war, Saddam had trenches dug around Baghdad, filled them with oil and set them ablaze, using thick, black smoke to obscure the view for U.S. warplanes.

Since the war, Baghdad has become a city of concrete blast walls, erected to protect buildings but also to control the movement of people. During the 2006-07 sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis, entire neighborhoods were sealed off by blast walls to restrict and monitor access.

In January 2014, Fallujah became the first major Iraqi city to be captured by the Islamic State group. The extremists later swept through much of Anbar province, taking its capital, Ramadi, and much of the north, including Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul.

A U.S.-led coalition and Iranian-backed Shiite militia forces have helped the Iraqi army recapture territory from the Islamic State.

Security problems have plagued Iraq, especially in Fallujah. The city has been a center of Sunni opposition to Shiite-led governments in Baghdad, with Sunnis complaining of discrimination at the hands of the country's majority Shiites.

Fallujah residents have suffered under more than two years of rule by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. That suffering could be exacerbated if the security measures are seen by residents as too heavy-handed.

Security measures like the trench may make little difference in the long run if there is no reconciliation between Sunnis and a government many of them see as oppressive, illegitimate and a tool in the hands of Iraq's giant Shiite neighbor, Iran. Shiite hard-liners, in turn, see Sunnis as sympathetic to militants, many of whom view Shiites as infidels.

The Iraqi government also plans to dig a trench along the border between Anbar province, whereFallujah is located, and neighboring Karbala, home to one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines. Work also has begun on walls and trenches around vulnerable parts of Baghdad's outer areas to guard against car bombs. In both cases, however, work has been slowed by lack of funds and corruption.

Fallujah faces its own internal differences as well. Some factions of its main tribal clans declared allegiance to IS, while others did not, prompting the extremists to kill prominent tribal members and blow up the homes of those who fled.

Iraqi authorities arrested about 21,000 Fallujah residents from among those who fled the city on suspicion of IS membership, according to al-Saadi. Following questioning, all were released except for about 2,000 who face further interrogation and possible prosecution, he added.

Tens of thousands of displaced residents will be allowed to return to Fallujah later this year, al-Saadi said.

"We must turn a new page with Fallujah. There is no other way for reconciliation," said al-Saadi, a veteran of the government's fight against militants in Anbar.

"We must punish those with blood on their hands, but not those who merely joined Daesh," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. "Revenge and mass trials will only breed more hatred and resentment."

Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi echoed al-Saadi's view.

"We cannot judge people by their intentions. Only those who committed crimes will face justice," al-Hadithi told AP. The government intends to rely on the local police force and Sunni tribesmen to maintain security in Fallujah, he said.

But the chairman of Anbar's provincial council, Sabah al-Karhout, complained that "reconciliation efforts" were below what was needed and that much rides on how secure Fallujah residents feel when they return home.

"Marginalization must end so that calls for a federal system to disappear," he said, alluding to a growing sentiment among Iraq's Sunni Arabs for autonomy in their regions.

Published July 24, 2016

The Iraqi government has announced a two-day mandatory official holiday beginning on Wednesday due to a heatwave.

A statement issued by the Iraqi cabinet said temperatures were expected to soar above 50C (122F). It is the first heat advisory issued by the Iraqi government this summer.

The public holiday will apply to all government workers.

High temperatures in summer are common in Iraq, and endemic electricity outages make life harder for Iraqis when temperatures soar. To cope with the heat, Iraqis either stay indoors or swim in rivers. In some public places, showers are set up for those who want to cool down.

It is not uncommon for such public holidays to be declared when heatwaves hit during Iraq’s long, hot summers.

Source: The Guardian

A total of 1.5 million children in Iraq are displaced internally, living in camps like the one shown in this aerial video.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who posted the footage on Tuesday,  say that number equals one in every 10 Iraqi children.

The camp shown in the drone video is home to some of the 8,500 people who have fled fighting in Fallujah.

 

Source: The Telegraph

NAJAF, Iraq — Iraq’s Shiites are witnessing a political-religious rift in their stance toward Iran whose development can be traced back to 2003. While some express complete loyalty to the Shiite political regime in Tehran, others object to its regional policies, including toward Iraq, and distance from it.

In one example, the predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) held a military parade July 1 in Basra. They destroyed US and Israeli flags and burned photos of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. The march sparked criticism and anger among some Shiites, because the United States has friendly relations with Iraq and is supporting its security forces in their war against the Islamic State (IS). Also, given the state competition in the region, hostility toward Saudi Arabia is not in Iraq’s interest.

In a related development, differing attitudes could be detected surrounding the demonstrations on International Quds Day, July 1, essentially reflecting the debate over whether Iraqi Shiites should be affiliated with Iran or pursue interests and priorities different from those of the Tehran government. At Quds Day protests organized by the PMU faction Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Najaf, a religious hub for Shiite clerics, there was no marked presence of clerics. In contrast, in Qom, Najaf’s religious competitor that receives funding from Iran, a remarkable number of clerics attended the annual protest. Jihad al-Asadi, an instructor in the religious seminary at Najaf, told Al-Monitor, “The Najaf seminary does not support any political agenda outside Iraqi national interests.”

On July 2, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban issued an order referring “several officers and policemen from the Basra police to an investigative council and implementation of the sanctions cited in the Penal Code of the Internal Security Forces” for their participation in the Quds Day protests because of its political nature.

Following the July 3 bombing at the Karrada market, in a predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad, that killed more than 300 people, Shiite activists criticized some Shiites for supposedly having more enthusiasm for International Quds Day than concern about the bomb attack, which produced the highest death toll in the country since the Iraqi invasion. Among those holding such a view is Khudeir Fleih al-Zeidi, an Iraqi author and novelist from Nasiriyah, who told Al-Monitor, “Those who celebrated the International Quds Day did not mourn the victims of the attacks. The question is easy: Karrada or Jerusalem?” 

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Naqaa al-Tamimi, a veterinarian who pursued her studies in Iran, said, “Why don’t Iranians show solidarity with our plight like the Karrada attack, knowing that we have the same confession, and we welcome them warmly on several yearly religious occasions?”

On July 4, apparently pro-Iranian Shiite militias, taking advantage of attention being focused on the aftermath of the Karrada attack, shelled Camp Liberty, where members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition movement, are housed. The shells also landed in a nearby, predominantly Sunni refugee camp, perhaps by accident, killing three people and injuring 11 others. A prominent cleric from Najaf told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Some armed Shiite groups are only interested in abiding by Iranian orders. Why would Iraq shell the Liberty Camp and kill innocent Iraqis even if by mistake?”

As can be gleaned from the clerics remarks, the armed Shiite factions are themselves divided on loyalty to Iran. Al-Aalem al-Jadeed newspaper published what appeared to be an official response from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the matter of a letter from the leader of Liwa’ Ansar al-Marja’iya informing Abadi that Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chairman of the PMU, and reportedly Iran’s most powerful military man in Iraq, had stopped distributing government salaries to armed Shiite factions not connected to Iran. Abadi later ordered an investigation into the salary situation.

Most factions without relations to Iran — including Liwa’ Ansar al-Marja’iya, the Abbas Battle Group, Liwa’ Ali al-Akbar, the Imam Ali Troop and the Kadhimin Battle Group — are affiliated with the Shiite authority in Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani or Shiite holy shrines under Sistani’s supervision. Sajad al-Rabihi, a cleric fighting in the ranks of the Abbas Battle Group, confirmed the cutoff of salaries to Al-Monitor. The issue of divided loyalties, between Iran and Sistani followers, among the Shiite PMU militias had been identified earlier by the United States and appears now to have been confirmed by the salary cutoff.

Some observers believe the pro-Iran current within the PMU is trying to seize control and expel those not in line with Tehran from the movement. In addition to news of the salary cutoff, Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organization, which is close to Iran, and some other PMU militia leaders met with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on June 27. Amiri praised Maliki, saying, “The decision to form the Popular Mobilization Units was Maliki’s. He has strongly supported them since the beginning.”

Amiri’s statements angered clerics in Najaf, because they contradicted the reality that the militias comprising the PMU began forming after a call by Sistani on June 13, 2014, for Iraqis to take up arms in the wake of IS' capture of Mosul on June 10. Maliki's role consisted of his administration bringing the PMU under some sort of government supervision to coordinate action with the Iraqi national army.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Peace Battalion, one of the largest PMU factions, sarcastically dismissed Amir's statements, saying, “Maliki’s alleged Popular Mobilization Units, if they exist, do not represent me or Iraq,” highlighting the division in the organization.

The Iranian Fars News Agency published a news brief accompanied by an image of Maliki at his house welcoming Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Iranian Quds Force, for iftar on June 29. Several PMU leaders were also invited. On July 3, Sky News Arabia, citing Iraqi sources, reported that Soleimani had allegedly proposed to Abadi that command of the PMU be given to Maliki. There were no corroborating reports of such a proposal having been made.

Ultimately, it seems, the Shiite division in Iraq revolves around how to organize relations with Iran in terms of pursuing Iranian agendas and building relations with Tehran based on mutual interests as well as Iraqi values and interests.

Baghdad-Amid high temperature reaching 47 degrees Celsius, thousands of protestors accompanied by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gathered in Tahrir Square. Sadr did not deliver the speech himself despite his presence among the protestors.

Protestors called on an end to corruption and the unity among Shi’ite and Sunni Iraqis. They chanted “No, no to corruption. No, no to sectarianism. Yes, yes to reform. Yes, yes to Iraq”.

Demands included dismissing all corrupt individuals and submitting them to a fair trial as quick as possible. Sadr called for avoiding political pressures and for working independently.

Activist Mohamed Al-Daradji stated in Cairo that corruption has become unbearable, adding that those who ruled after Saddam Hussein in 2003 have failed. Another participant named Mushtaq Al-Awadi, 54 years old, said that this protest is to demand returning the stolen money to Iraqis, calling to account corrupt officials and terminating sectarianism.

Hakim al-Zamili, an Iraqi politician from the Sadrist Movement, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Friday’s protest led by Sadr is a continuation of previous ones that had the same purposes. Zamili urged the state to fulfill its pledges.

Judge and Former Minster Wael Abdul Latif also told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that reformation was the keyword of Sadr’s speech. “Sadr’s main focus is maintaining peaceful protests and issuing national, unified slogans and most importantly changing elections’ commissariat.”

Source: Asharq Al-Awsat

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for forming a government of competent members in February but was greatly opposed by political parties.

Furthermore, the parliament approved on 26 April dismissing five ministers and appointing five others within a governmental reformation program, suggested by Abadi, but the court later on abolished the resolutions of this session.

Saudi-Iranian Struggle in Iraq Tuesday, 12 July 2016 11:55

What is happening nowadays in Iraq and Syria is due to decades of conflict between two major axes, Iran and the Arab group.

It began with the 1979 Iranian revolution and continued with threats to change regimes of regional countries by force under the title of exporting Islamic revolution, followed by the Iran-Iraq war that lasted eight years.

The war eased for only two years then Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering international intervention that led to the emergence of al-Qaeda and then the ISIS terrorist group.

I believe it is an interconnected disorder that has been ongoing since 1979 until today, and the turmoil will continue as long as regional powers are unable to create a political or military balance via agreements.

We must understand the logic and motives behind Tehran’s desire to maintain the struggle in Iraq, the Gulf, Syria and Palestine.

Iran wants to expand as it sees that on its western borders there are the world’s oil-rich countries such as Iraq and Gulf countries.

It acknowledges the fact that the West will not easily accept to abandon these countries that are important energy sources. This is why Tehran’s regime has attempted to dominate in different ways and has not succeeded much until recently.

ISIS certainly serves Iran, which joined the Western and Russian coalition under the flag of fighting terrorism.

Iraq is the most important country for Iran because it is its western gate, and Iran will only be able to control Iraq by dominating it indirectly.

Iran played different roles to convince the United States that it would be a beneficial partner in Iraq by helping it solidify security. During the administration

of U.S. President George W Bush, it was the only country, maybe except for Jordan, that cooperated with Washington then.

At the same time, Iran used different methods to destabilize Iraq.

Along with its ally, the Syrian regime, Tehran enabled al-Qaeda and armed Iraqi opposition groups to sneak from Syria into Iraq to sabotage the security and political situations and inflict losses in U.S. troops.

When Barack Obama became president, he withdrew all U.S. troops thus leaving Iraq open to Iranian intervention, at the time when armed groups like ISIS reemerged.

Today, Iran’s regime is in Iraq under the pretext of protecting it from ISIS, which is controlling Mosul and a number of Iraqi cities and provinces thus forming a threat.

Is Iran part of the turmoil in Iraq to stay in the country? No doubt it is, as Tehran supports certain Shi’ite groups against others. It is also behind the establishment of the Popular Mobilization Forces militia as a competitor to Iraq’s army to weaken the central government.

I believe that Iran is one of the masterminds behind ISIS, but it is difficult to prove that. Iran is the only party benefitting from ISIS, whose threats gave Iran an excuse to enter Iraq and manage the battles against the terrorist organization, bragging that if the Iranian National Guards did not interfere, Iraq could have been under ISIS’s rule by now.

ISIS is a reflection of al-Qaeda, which emerged during the U.S.-led occupation. Back then, al-Qaeda succeeded in sabotaging the political project, allowing pro-Iran groups to dominate in Baghdad.

Saudi ambassador to Iraq, Thamer al-Sabhan, recently said: “Someone is trying to create a rift in relations between Saudi Arabia and the different components of the Iraqi people.”

He means Iran, and this is the first time an official statement reflects the Saudi-Iranian struggle in Iraq.

Struggle between the two countries happens for different reasons as Tehran wants to dominate Iraq and its resources, but Saudi Arabia wants to protect its borders and halt Iran’s expansion.

The Saudi presence in Iraq was delayed for years because Riyadh rejected participating in the U.S.-led occupation and the establishment of the new Iraqi government.

Tehran, however, cooperated with the Americans, and in exchange it gained influence that resulted in the current status.

Saudi Arabia’s interest matches that of the Iraqi people, which is represented in having a country free from foreign domination and in control of its own water and oil resources.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are rich and do not need to control Iraq. Instead, they want a regime that does not resemble Saddam Hussein’s and is not a puppet for Iran.

Gulf countries are now aware that the spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda in Iraq, Syria and Yemen targets them first, and that countries such as Iran benefit from these extremist groups and use them to weaken the region’s powers, interfere in their affairs, and build international alliances to serve their goals.

 

Source: ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

By:

If the next president decides that a relatively peaceful, prosperous and democratic Iraq is important, then there are two critical lessons to be gained from the Obama presidency.

First, even after the defeat of the Islamic State group, peace will be fragile in Iraq. The country will require strong diplomatic and financial support. Therefore, if the next president bows to domestic political pressure and abandons Iraq again, the situation will rapidly deteriorate.

Second, the best efforts of the U.S. government will be useless without a long-term – a decade or more – military commitment. The U.S. military provides rare capabilities that will be necessary both to defeat the remnants of the Islamic State group and to prevent the rise of the next vicious insurgency in this troubled land.

Iraq is currently in eerily similar circumstances to those at the beginning of Obama's first term, seven-and-a-half years ago. An uncomfortable and loosely coordinated alliance of Kurdish Peshmerga, Shia militia, Sunni tribal groups, regular Iraqi military and almost 4,700 American military appear to be winning the war against the Islamic State group in Iraq. This tyrannical "state" of religious fanatics has been recently driven out of Fallujah and the battle to recover Mosul – the last major Iraqi city still controlled by the insurgents – has begun.

Should one be optimistic that Iraq will finally achieve peace? The experiences of 2009-2012 provide some insights into the necessary actions to achieve and preserve peace in this fruitful land that has suffered so much death and destruction over the last 35 years.

In 2009, Iraq experienced a wave of optimism. According to the group Iraqi Body Count, violent civilian deaths that year among Iraq's 31 million population had dropped to about 5,400 – an 82 percent decline from the bloody year of 2006. Such deaths remained low through 2012. Sunni and Shia representatives were working together to pass needed legislation in the Council of Representatives. The Iraqi economy had begun to recover. I remember hearing businessmen in Baghdad complain about the rapid deterioration of roads between Baghdad, Fallujah and Mosul; a deterioration brought about by a sharp increase in trucks carrying goods throughout newly pacified areas. There was still massive corruption, mismanagement and severely inadequate essential services but there seemed to be a belief that these problems could be solved.

 

What went wrong?

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Obama must share the blame for Iraq's return to violent conflict after the relative peace of 2009-2012. Maliki had made unambiguous promises to the Sunnis of Anbar Province that, in return for their support in the fight against al-Qaida, young Sunni men would receive permanent positions in either the Iraqi army or national police. As soon as al-Qaida was defeated, these promises were broken.

In addition, a mixed Sunni-Shia party led by Ayad Allawi won more seats in the national election of 2010 than Maliki's State of Law Party and yet was prevented from forming a government. Instead, Maliki stayed in power. These events combined with the violent suppression of Sunni protests convinced many in the Sunni community that there would be no justice from the Shia-dominated national government.

President Obama further contributed to the deterioration by his abrupt pullout of U.S. forces. A force of 5,000 – 10,000 U.S. or coalition troops would have provided important capabilities that the Iraqi security forces were not able to provide for themselves. These capabilities include being able to integrate intelligence from a variety of sources, secure communications, combined arms coordination, effective training and – most important - acceptance as an honest broker both among Iraqi security forces as well as between the Iraqi military and their civilian leaders in Baghdad.

When President Obama – consistent with his 2008 campaign promises – announced a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Maliki felt that to remain in power he must strengthen his bonds with both the Shia community in Iraq and with Shia Iran. Experienced military commanders who had proved themselves in the battles against al-Qaida were replaced with politicians distinguished only by their loyalty to Maliki. Maliki's corrupt bureaucracy stole much of the oil export revenues while essential services for most of the population failed to improve. The fracturing of relations between Sunni and Shia as well as between Arab and Kurd exposed weaknesses that the Islamic State group successfully exploited. And it has taken much blood and treasure to defeat this state and restore relative peace in Iraq.

The key lessons learned are that Iraq not only needs careful diplomatic and generous financial support but also a long-term military commitment. Such a commitment will be controversial. There will be a strong temptation for the next president to make the same mistake as President Obama and quickly withdraw U.S. forces as soon as there is a pause in the violence. But he or she should realize the painful lesson that President Obama only gradually discovered: without solid U.S. support, the center in Iraq will not hold.

 

Source:US News

By Frank R. Gunter, July 27, 2016, at 4:00 p.m

 


 

Baghdad – The controversial “popular mobilization” militias would soon become a military body that would be equal to Iraq’s official forces in terms of capacity and arming, following the footsteps of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was formed in a similar manner.

An official document signed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi revealed the planned process of converting the militias to a military party equal to counter-terrorism apparatus, including a number of units and fighters subject to direct approval by the prime minister.

The document was leaked by the “popular mobilization” group on Tuesday, in a step that would deepen disputes between the militant group and other Iraqi parties, according to Asharq al-Awsat sources.

The sources added that such militias could be used to execute “sectarian liquidations.”

Last February, Abadi issued a decision to convert the popular mobilization militias into a security apparatus that is supportive to the counter-terrorism apparatus in terms of training capacity, arming, and readiness under the same laws.

The decision stipulated that the new apparatus would have a leader, a deputy-leader and 20 brigades and supportive directorates.

In comments on Tuesday, the “popular mobilization” group’s spokesman, Ahmed Al-Asadi, said that government’s decision ordered that the new parallel force would be directly linked to the general command, in reference to the Iraqi prime minister.

Meanwhile, Iraqi sources close to the matter told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the announcement was aimed at pushing the prime minister, who is also the Armed Forces’ general commander, to implement the new decision as soon as possible.

The Iraqi source noted that many challenges would face this conversion, as the prime minister wants the militias to be equal to counter-terrorism apparatus. Those challenges include the required age group and the educational level of militants, the source added.

Another obstacle lies in the required number of troops. While the counter-terrorism apparatus should not exceed 25,000 members, the “popular mobilization” militias gather more than 170,000 militants. This will be a difficult task to resolve, according to the same source.

Source: Asharq Al - Awsat



BAGHDAD – For nearly a decade, anyone driving through one of Baghdad’s many checkpoints was subjected to a search by a soldier pointing a security wand at their vehicle and watching the device intently to see if its antenna moved. If it pointed at the car, it had supposedly detected a possible bomb.

The wands were completely bogus. It had been proven years ago, even before 2013 when two British men were convicted in separate trials on fraud charges for selling the detectors. The devices, sold under various names for thousands of dollars each, apparently were based on a product that sold for about $20 and claimed to find golf balls.

Yet the Iraqi government continued to use the devices, spending nearly $60 million on them despite warnings by U.S. military commanders and the wands’ proven failure to stop near-daily bombings in Baghdad.

It took a massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people in Baghdad on July 3 – the deadliest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war – for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to finally ban their use.

The reason it took so long is likely the widespread corruption in the government. Iraqis mocked the device from the start, joking that too much aftershave could set off the antenna.

Now there are accusations that plans to start using newly imported explosives-detecting scanners were intentionally held up as part of the political wrangling over which faction – the military or the police – will control security in Baghdad.

Since the wands were banned, soldiers at Baghdad checkpoints largely wave motorists through, occasionally asking for vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses and taking a quick look inside. Plainclothes intelligence agents scrutinize drivers and passengers. Police dogs have been used at some checkpoints, but that has proven to be time-consuming and contributing to traffic congestion.

In some places, the wands are still being used – at some checkpoints in Baghdad and in the southern port city of Basra, Iraq’s third-largest city – nearly two weeks after the Baghdad bombing. They also were used across the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad for at least a week after al-Abadi’s order before they were finally recalled.

“The withdrawal of the device is continuing, but it’s still in use here and there, for now,” Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry’s chief spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said the new vehicles equipped with scanners have been deployed at checkpoints on major roads leading to the capital.

“All this will have a positive impact on Baghdad’s security,” he said.

Officials say the explosives-laden minibus used in the July 3 attack in Baghdad’s central Karradah district started its journey in Diyala province, traveling 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the capital. The vehicle, a type used as communal taxis in Iraq, would have encountered at least half a dozen checkpoints, most of which likely used the wand. Investigators say the vehicle carried a 250-kilogram (550-pound) bomb.

Four days after the Karradah bombing, three suicide bombers struck a Shiite shrine in Balad, north of Baghdad, killing 37 people. A series of small bombings also rocked the capital, killing about two dozen people.

When Iraqi security forces first began using the ADE-651 wands, U.S. and British military commanders in Iraq dismissed the devices as useless and counseled the government to stop using them.

Faced with mounting criticism, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the effectiveness of the devices in 2010. The outcome was inconclusive, and they continued to be used.

The head of the Interior Ministry’s bomb squad department, Jihad al-Jabri, was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to four years in prison for accepting a bribe from the British manufacturers. But the case against him did not address whether the wands were effective. Many Iraqis believe he was a scapegoat to protect more senior Iraqi officials from prosecution.

Politics also may have played a role.

After the July 3 blast, al-Abadi fired the military officer in charge of Baghdad’s security and accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, who was in charge of police.
Visualization by Graphiq

Al-Abadi also ordered an investigation into why nearly 70 vehicles equipped with explosives-detecting scanners that were imported last year were left in Interior Ministry garages and had not been deployed.

Al-Ghabban had been demanding for months that his ministry be given complete control over security in Baghdad. Al-Abadi had resisted, however, keeping the military in charge. Since al-Ghabban is close to one of the most powerful Shiite militias, his opponents feared his demand aimed to give militias control over Baghdad.

Speaking to the AP, the chairman of parliament’s security and defense committee accused al-Ghabban of intentionally failing to deploy the scanner vehicles as a political ploy.

“It’s due to the minister’s demands that security control of Baghdad be given to the ministry,” said Hakim al-Zamli. “If it were given to him, he would use them (the vehicles). If not, he won’t use them.”

Al-Ghabban, in turn, has said he was stymied in attempts to protect Baghdad. After his dismissal, he said al-Abadi repeatedly ignored his proposals for bolstering security. He complained that too many security and intelligence agencies were involved in protecting Baghdad.

“I wanted the entire security file to be left in the hands of the Interior Ministry so it can be fully accountable,” he said. “My job was emptied of genuine tasks, tools and powers, and became ceremonial.”

Qais Adil Faraj, the father of one of the Karradah victims, blames “corruption” and “treason” among the security forces for the bombing. He said he has no faith in the new security measures in the capital.

“More and more bombings will follow the one in Karradah,” he said. “This government will never maintain security nationwide or even just in Baghdad.”

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber attacked a security check point in northern Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 14 people, Iraqi officials said.

The bomber, who was on foot, detonated his device at one of the busy entrances of the Shiite district of Kadhimiyah, killing at least 10 civilians and four policemen, a police officer said. At least 31 other people were wounded, he added.

Three more civilians were killed and 11 wounded in a bomb explosion in an outdoor market in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, another police officer said.

Two medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

In an online statement, IS group claimed responsibility for the Kadhimiyah attack, saying it targeted a gathering of security forces and Shiite militia members. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statements, but they were posted on a militant website commonly used by the extremists. Security forces and public areas, mainly in Shiite neighborhoods, are one of the most frequent targets for the Islamic State group, which controls key areas in mainly northern and western Iraq.

Since late last year, the group has suffered a string of territorial losses, most recently last month in Fallujah, where it was driven out by Iraqi forces after occupying the city for more than two years. But the extremists have continued to carry out near-daily bombings in and around Baghdad, as well as complex attacks in other countries.

The Iraqi military will use a medieval tactic to keep control of Fallujah after recapturing it from the Islamic State group last month: It is digging a trench around the city.

The trench will have a single opening for residents to move in and out of the city, which is virtually empty since the offensive that defeated the IS militants, said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, deputy commander of the counterterrorism forces that led the successful campaign.

It will be about 7 miles (11 kilometers) long and "will protect the city's residents, who have lived through many tragedies, as well as security forces deployed there," al-Saadi said in an interview with The Associated Press at his Baghdad headquarters.

Cutting off all roads but one will allow authorities to monitor the movements of residents more closely.Fallujah has been a source of car bombs used against Baghdad, which is 40 miles (65 kilometers) to the east. Restricting traffic will be one way to try to stop any explosives-laden vehicles from leaving the city.

Besides the trench, more modern security measures also will be used.

Personal details of the estimated 85,000 residents who fled during the May-June battle to liberate the city will be stored electronically, and forgery-proof ID cards will be issued, according to Mayor Issa al-Issawi. Cars owned by residents also will be issued display badges containing electronic chips.

The trenches will be about 40 feet (12.5 meters) wide and 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep.

Work has begun on the first leg, running about 4 miles (6 kilometers) on the north and northwest side of the city, al-Issawi told the AP. Digging the second leg, which runs 3 miles (5 kilometers) along the south and southeast, will begin soon, he said.

The western edge of Fallujah abuts the Euphrates River, providing a natural barrier. On the east side is the heavily patrolled main highway to Baghdad, which will be the sole entrance to Fallujah.

The two trenches run through open desert areas used in the past by militants, said Maj. Gen. Saad Harbiyah, in charge of military operations in western Baghdad.

Iraqis have used various earthworks, walls and fortifications ever since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. During the war, Saddam had trenches dug around Baghdad, filled them with oil and set them ablaze, using thick, black smoke to obscure the view for U.S. warplanes.

Since the war, Baghdad has become a city of concrete blast walls, erected to protect buildings but also to control the movement of people. During the 2006-07 sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis, entire neighborhoods were sealed off by blast walls to restrict and monitor access.

In January 2014, Fallujah became the first major Iraqi city to be captured by the Islamic State group. The extremists later swept through much of Anbar province, taking its capital, Ramadi, and much of the north, including Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul.

A U.S.-led coalition and Iranian-backed Shiite militia forces have helped the Iraqi army recapture territory from the Islamic State.

Security problems have plagued Iraq, especially in Fallujah. The city has been a center of Sunni opposition to Shiite-led governments in Baghdad, with Sunnis complaining of discrimination at the hands of the country's majority Shiites.

Fallujah residents have suffered under more than two years of rule by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. That suffering could be exacerbated if the security measures are seen by residents as too heavy-handed.

Security measures like the trench may make little difference in the long run if there is no reconciliation between Sunnis and a government many of them see as oppressive, illegitimate and a tool in the hands of Iraq's giant Shiite neighbor, Iran. Shiite hard-liners, in turn, see Sunnis as sympathetic to militants, many of whom view Shiites as infidels.

The Iraqi government also plans to dig a trench along the border between Anbar province, whereFallujah is located, and neighboring Karbala, home to one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines. Work also has begun on walls and trenches around vulnerable parts of Baghdad's outer areas to guard against car bombs. In both cases, however, work has been slowed by lack of funds and corruption.

Fallujah faces its own internal differences as well. Some factions of its main tribal clans declared allegiance to IS, while others did not, prompting the extremists to kill prominent tribal members and blow up the homes of those who fled.

Iraqi authorities arrested about 21,000 Fallujah residents from among those who fled the city on suspicion of IS membership, according to al-Saadi. Following questioning, all were released except for about 2,000 who face further interrogation and possible prosecution, he added.

Tens of thousands of displaced residents will be allowed to return to Fallujah later this year, al-Saadi said.

"We must turn a new page with Fallujah. There is no other way for reconciliation," said al-Saadi, a veteran of the government's fight against militants in Anbar.

"We must punish those with blood on their hands, but not those who merely joined Daesh," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. "Revenge and mass trials will only breed more hatred and resentment."

Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi echoed al-Saadi's view.

"We cannot judge people by their intentions. Only those who committed crimes will face justice," al-Hadithi told AP. The government intends to rely on the local police force and Sunni tribesmen to maintain security in Fallujah, he said.

But the chairman of Anbar's provincial council, Sabah al-Karhout, complained that "reconciliation efforts" were below what was needed and that much rides on how secure Fallujah residents feel when they return home.

"Marginalization must end so that calls for a federal system to disappear," he said, alluding to a growing sentiment among Iraq's Sunni Arabs for autonomy in their regions.

Published July 24, 2016

The Iraqi government has announced a two-day mandatory official holiday beginning on Wednesday due to a heatwave.

A statement issued by the Iraqi cabinet said temperatures were expected to soar above 50C (122F). It is the first heat advisory issued by the Iraqi government this summer.

The public holiday will apply to all government workers.

High temperatures in summer are common in Iraq, and endemic electricity outages make life harder for Iraqis when temperatures soar. To cope with the heat, Iraqis either stay indoors or swim in rivers. In some public places, showers are set up for those who want to cool down.

It is not uncommon for such public holidays to be declared when heatwaves hit during Iraq’s long, hot summers.

Source: The Guardian

A total of 1.5 million children in Iraq are displaced internally, living in camps like the one shown in this aerial video.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who posted the footage on Tuesday,  say that number equals one in every 10 Iraqi children.

The camp shown in the drone video is home to some of the 8,500 people who have fled fighting in Fallujah.

 

Source: The Telegraph

NAJAF, Iraq — Iraq’s Shiites are witnessing a political-religious rift in their stance toward Iran whose development can be traced back to 2003. While some express complete loyalty to the Shiite political regime in Tehran, others object to its regional policies, including toward Iraq, and distance from it.

In one example, the predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) held a military parade July 1 in Basra. They destroyed US and Israeli flags and burned photos of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. The march sparked criticism and anger among some Shiites, because the United States has friendly relations with Iraq and is supporting its security forces in their war against the Islamic State (IS). Also, given the state competition in the region, hostility toward Saudi Arabia is not in Iraq’s interest.

In a related development, differing attitudes could be detected surrounding the demonstrations on International Quds Day, July 1, essentially reflecting the debate over whether Iraqi Shiites should be affiliated with Iran or pursue interests and priorities different from those of the Tehran government. At Quds Day protests organized by the PMU faction Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Najaf, a religious hub for Shiite clerics, there was no marked presence of clerics. In contrast, in Qom, Najaf’s religious competitor that receives funding from Iran, a remarkable number of clerics attended the annual protest. Jihad al-Asadi, an instructor in the religious seminary at Najaf, told Al-Monitor, “The Najaf seminary does not support any political agenda outside Iraqi national interests.”

On July 2, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban issued an order referring “several officers and policemen from the Basra police to an investigative council and implementation of the sanctions cited in the Penal Code of the Internal Security Forces” for their participation in the Quds Day protests because of its political nature.

Following the July 3 bombing at the Karrada market, in a predominantly Shiite area of Baghdad, that killed more than 300 people, Shiite activists criticized some Shiites for supposedly having more enthusiasm for International Quds Day than concern about the bomb attack, which produced the highest death toll in the country since the Iraqi invasion. Among those holding such a view is Khudeir Fleih al-Zeidi, an Iraqi author and novelist from Nasiriyah, who told Al-Monitor, “Those who celebrated the International Quds Day did not mourn the victims of the attacks. The question is easy: Karrada or Jerusalem?” 

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Naqaa al-Tamimi, a veterinarian who pursued her studies in Iran, said, “Why don’t Iranians show solidarity with our plight like the Karrada attack, knowing that we have the same confession, and we welcome them warmly on several yearly religious occasions?”

On July 4, apparently pro-Iranian Shiite militias, taking advantage of attention being focused on the aftermath of the Karrada attack, shelled Camp Liberty, where members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition movement, are housed. The shells also landed in a nearby, predominantly Sunni refugee camp, perhaps by accident, killing three people and injuring 11 others. A prominent cleric from Najaf told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Some armed Shiite groups are only interested in abiding by Iranian orders. Why would Iraq shell the Liberty Camp and kill innocent Iraqis even if by mistake?”

As can be gleaned from the clerics remarks, the armed Shiite factions are themselves divided on loyalty to Iran. Al-Aalem al-Jadeed newspaper published what appeared to be an official response from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the matter of a letter from the leader of Liwa’ Ansar al-Marja’iya informing Abadi that Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chairman of the PMU, and reportedly Iran’s most powerful military man in Iraq, had stopped distributing government salaries to armed Shiite factions not connected to Iran. Abadi later ordered an investigation into the salary situation.

Most factions without relations to Iran — including Liwa’ Ansar al-Marja’iya, the Abbas Battle Group, Liwa’ Ali al-Akbar, the Imam Ali Troop and the Kadhimin Battle Group — are affiliated with the Shiite authority in Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani or Shiite holy shrines under Sistani’s supervision. Sajad al-Rabihi, a cleric fighting in the ranks of the Abbas Battle Group, confirmed the cutoff of salaries to Al-Monitor. The issue of divided loyalties, between Iran and Sistani followers, among the Shiite PMU militias had been identified earlier by the United States and appears now to have been confirmed by the salary cutoff.

Some observers believe the pro-Iran current within the PMU is trying to seize control and expel those not in line with Tehran from the movement. In addition to news of the salary cutoff, Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organization, which is close to Iran, and some other PMU militia leaders met with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on June 27. Amiri praised Maliki, saying, “The decision to form the Popular Mobilization Units was Maliki’s. He has strongly supported them since the beginning.”

Amiri’s statements angered clerics in Najaf, because they contradicted the reality that the militias comprising the PMU began forming after a call by Sistani on June 13, 2014, for Iraqis to take up arms in the wake of IS' capture of Mosul on June 10. Maliki's role consisted of his administration bringing the PMU under some sort of government supervision to coordinate action with the Iraqi national army.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Peace Battalion, one of the largest PMU factions, sarcastically dismissed Amir's statements, saying, “Maliki’s alleged Popular Mobilization Units, if they exist, do not represent me or Iraq,” highlighting the division in the organization.

The Iranian Fars News Agency published a news brief accompanied by an image of Maliki at his house welcoming Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Iranian Quds Force, for iftar on June 29. Several PMU leaders were also invited. On July 3, Sky News Arabia, citing Iraqi sources, reported that Soleimani had allegedly proposed to Abadi that command of the PMU be given to Maliki. There were no corroborating reports of such a proposal having been made.

Ultimately, it seems, the Shiite division in Iraq revolves around how to organize relations with Iran in terms of pursuing Iranian agendas and building relations with Tehran based on mutual interests as well as Iraqi values and interests.

Baghdad-Amid high temperature reaching 47 degrees Celsius, thousands of protestors accompanied by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gathered in Tahrir Square. Sadr did not deliver the speech himself despite his presence among the protestors.

Protestors called on an end to corruption and the unity among Shi’ite and Sunni Iraqis. They chanted “No, no to corruption. No, no to sectarianism. Yes, yes to reform. Yes, yes to Iraq”.

Demands included dismissing all corrupt individuals and submitting them to a fair trial as quick as possible. Sadr called for avoiding political pressures and for working independently.

Activist Mohamed Al-Daradji stated in Cairo that corruption has become unbearable, adding that those who ruled after Saddam Hussein in 2003 have failed. Another participant named Mushtaq Al-Awadi, 54 years old, said that this protest is to demand returning the stolen money to Iraqis, calling to account corrupt officials and terminating sectarianism.

Hakim al-Zamili, an Iraqi politician from the Sadrist Movement, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Friday’s protest led by Sadr is a continuation of previous ones that had the same purposes. Zamili urged the state to fulfill its pledges.

Judge and Former Minster Wael Abdul Latif also told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that reformation was the keyword of Sadr’s speech. “Sadr’s main focus is maintaining peaceful protests and issuing national, unified slogans and most importantly changing elections’ commissariat.”

Source: Asharq Al-Awsat

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for forming a government of competent members in February but was greatly opposed by political parties.

Furthermore, the parliament approved on 26 April dismissing five ministers and appointing five others within a governmental reformation program, suggested by Abadi, but the court later on abolished the resolutions of this session.

Saudi-Iranian Struggle in Iraq Tuesday, 12 July 2016 11:55

What is happening nowadays in Iraq and Syria is due to decades of conflict between two major axes, Iran and the Arab group.

It began with the 1979 Iranian revolution and continued with threats to change regimes of regional countries by force under the title of exporting Islamic revolution, followed by the Iran-Iraq war that lasted eight years.

The war eased for only two years then Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering international intervention that led to the emergence of al-Qaeda and then the ISIS terrorist group.

I believe it is an interconnected disorder that has been ongoing since 1979 until today, and the turmoil will continue as long as regional powers are unable to create a political or military balance via agreements.

We must understand the logic and motives behind Tehran’s desire to maintain the struggle in Iraq, the Gulf, Syria and Palestine.

Iran wants to expand as it sees that on its western borders there are the world’s oil-rich countries such as Iraq and Gulf countries.

It acknowledges the fact that the West will not easily accept to abandon these countries that are important energy sources. This is why Tehran’s regime has attempted to dominate in different ways and has not succeeded much until recently.

ISIS certainly serves Iran, which joined the Western and Russian coalition under the flag of fighting terrorism.

Iraq is the most important country for Iran because it is its western gate, and Iran will only be able to control Iraq by dominating it indirectly.

Iran played different roles to convince the United States that it would be a beneficial partner in Iraq by helping it solidify security. During the administration

of U.S. President George W Bush, it was the only country, maybe except for Jordan, that cooperated with Washington then.

At the same time, Iran used different methods to destabilize Iraq.

Along with its ally, the Syrian regime, Tehran enabled al-Qaeda and armed Iraqi opposition groups to sneak from Syria into Iraq to sabotage the security and political situations and inflict losses in U.S. troops.

When Barack Obama became president, he withdrew all U.S. troops thus leaving Iraq open to Iranian intervention, at the time when armed groups like ISIS reemerged.

Today, Iran’s regime is in Iraq under the pretext of protecting it from ISIS, which is controlling Mosul and a number of Iraqi cities and provinces thus forming a threat.

Is Iran part of the turmoil in Iraq to stay in the country? No doubt it is, as Tehran supports certain Shi’ite groups against others. It is also behind the establishment of the Popular Mobilization Forces militia as a competitor to Iraq’s army to weaken the central government.

I believe that Iran is one of the masterminds behind ISIS, but it is difficult to prove that. Iran is the only party benefitting from ISIS, whose threats gave Iran an excuse to enter Iraq and manage the battles against the terrorist organization, bragging that if the Iranian National Guards did not interfere, Iraq could have been under ISIS’s rule by now.

ISIS is a reflection of al-Qaeda, which emerged during the U.S.-led occupation. Back then, al-Qaeda succeeded in sabotaging the political project, allowing pro-Iran groups to dominate in Baghdad.

Saudi ambassador to Iraq, Thamer al-Sabhan, recently said: “Someone is trying to create a rift in relations between Saudi Arabia and the different components of the Iraqi people.”

He means Iran, and this is the first time an official statement reflects the Saudi-Iranian struggle in Iraq.

Struggle between the two countries happens for different reasons as Tehran wants to dominate Iraq and its resources, but Saudi Arabia wants to protect its borders and halt Iran’s expansion.

The Saudi presence in Iraq was delayed for years because Riyadh rejected participating in the U.S.-led occupation and the establishment of the new Iraqi government.

Tehran, however, cooperated with the Americans, and in exchange it gained influence that resulted in the current status.

Saudi Arabia’s interest matches that of the Iraqi people, which is represented in having a country free from foreign domination and in control of its own water and oil resources.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are rich and do not need to control Iraq. Instead, they want a regime that does not resemble Saddam Hussein’s and is not a puppet for Iran.

Gulf countries are now aware that the spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda in Iraq, Syria and Yemen targets them first, and that countries such as Iran benefit from these extremist groups and use them to weaken the region’s powers, interfere in their affairs, and build international alliances to serve their goals.

 

Source: ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

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