What 24 hours of chaos in Iraq reveals about who controls the country

Muqtada al-Sadr, a fiery cleric who sees Iran and the United States as his adversaries, retired from politics on Monday out of frustration with his adversaries’ maneuvers against him. The move prompted his supporters to rampage through the streets and storm the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government buildings and diplomatic missions.
“Basically, he gave his supporters free 24 hours to do whatever they please,” said Sajjad Jiyad, an associate at the Century Foundation in New York.Eleni Giokos from old CNN on Tuesday. After at least 21 people were killed and 250 wounded, Al-Sadr urged his followers to retreat.

“This sends a signal to his rivals that he is a key player in the country,” Jiyad said. “Besides, he has the potential to use violence, just like any other side.”

Here’s what you need to know about the chaos in Iraq:

Who is Muqtada Al Sadr?

Al-Sadr, 48, is a cleric from a well-known Shia family who has the support of millions of people across the country.

His father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was an important Shiite figure who openly opposed Saddam Hussein and his ruling Ba’ath Party. He was killed in 1999 in an operation believed to be the work of Saddam’s forces or those loyal to him. The younger al-Sadr subsequently inherited his father’s popularity.

Al-Sadr’s ability to reinvent his role in Iraqi politics and tap into a powerful vein of Shiite protest has helped him survive and outmaneuver many rivals over the past two decades. His latest move solidifies his position as one of the most powerful figures in Iraq.

How are his relations with foreign powers?

Al-Sadr is best known in the US for his role in leading the Mahdi Army, which he formed in 2003 during the US invasion of Iraq to fight US-led coalition forces.

He fled to Iran during the American occupation of Iraq and returned to his country in 2011. Since then, he has become one of the most vocal critics of Tehran’s influence in Iraq and has sought to counter it. Now he’s posing as an Iraqi nationalist.

The cleric has good relations with Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which view Iran as a threat to regional security.

“The United States and the Gulf states indirectly supported al-Sadr because of his anti-Iran stance, ignoring his historically strong ties to Iran and Iran’s ability to influence him,” said Marcin Alshamari, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School in the Middle East. Initiative.

What triggered Monday’s events?

In the October 2021 parliamentary elections, the Iranian-backed Shia blocs lost ground to the Sadrists. Despite his victory, al-Sadr was unable to form a government due to opposition from Iranian-backed rivals.
So, in June, he pulled his bloc out of parliament in protest. Iranian-backed blocs subsequently attempted to form a government without its support in July, prompting the Sadrists to hold protests in front of parliament.

However, al-Sadr’s announcement on Monday of his permanent retirement from politics came after the Iranian-based spiritual leader of his movement, Grand Ayatollah Kadhim Al-Khaeri, said he would step down as a Shiite religious authority and called on his followers to swear religious allegiance. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In addition to being the leader of Iran, Khamenei is also a Shia religious authority with followers outside of it.

Al-Sadr said he did not believe al-Khaeri resigned of his own accord, suggesting that Iran forced him to do so to weaken him.

The resignation was “an unprecedented step for the ayatollah,” Alshamari said. “[Al-Haeri] also criticized Sadr for the instability in Iraq… [his] the statement was released under pressure from Iran.”

What’s next?

Al-Sadr’s departure from politics, if sincere, could lead to the fact that the remaining Shiites, many of whom are supported by Iran, will dominate the country’s politics.

“Public Opinion in Iraq sharply anti-Iranian this means that any future elections – if they are free and fair and with a decent turnout – could lead to the emergence of new political parties representing the Iraqi street,” Alshamari said.

Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Tuesday that while ending the violence is critical to ending the bloodshed, that does not mean the political crisis is over. He suggested holding early elections as a way out of the impasse.

Jiyad said there was little hope for change. “If early elections have a negative effect, [the ruling elite] postpone these elections and keep the situation as it is,” he said. “It is about who is willing to give in or compromise – neither side is willing to do that.

While politicians argue, Iraq’s more pressing problems, such as power outages, remain unresolved, Jiyad said. “They misunderstand people’s patience with submission,” he said. “I think eventually protests will break out.”

Digest

Saudi woman sentenced to 45 years for tweets, rights group says

A Saudi court has sentenced Noura bint Saeed al-Qahtani to 45 years in prison for posting on social media critical of the country’s rulers, Reuters reported, citing human rights group DAWN. The move comes just weeks after another Saudi Arabian woman, Salma al-Shehab, was sentenced to 34 years for posting “false and tendentious rumors on Twitter.”

  • Background: Al-Qahtani was sentenced after the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court found her guilty of “using the Internet to break [country’s] social fabric” and “disturbance of the peace using social media” under the anti-terrorism law and the cybercrime law, according to a court document obtained by Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). The Saudi government press office did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
  • Why is it important: Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized anti-terrorism and cybercrime laws for allowing the government to repress citizens. According to DAWN, both laws are vague in order to give the Saudi authorities maximum discretion and little to no liability for abuse of power. “In both the al-Shebaab and al-Qahtani cases, the Saudi authorities have used abusive laws to prosecute and punish Saudi citizens for criticizing the government on Twitter,” said Abdullah al-Aoud, director of research for the Gulf region. at DAWN.

US Navy thwarts Iranian attempt to hijack US drone in Persian Gulf

The US Navy prevented an Iranian ship from hijacking a US naval drone in the Persian Gulf on Monday night local time, in what a senior US commander called a “blatant” and “unfounded” incident. Iran’s Nour News, affiliated with the Supreme National Security Council, reported: “These types of vessels … can be a source of unpredictable maritime accidents due to the possibility of interrupting navigational communications.”

  • Background: As US forces in the region crossed international waters on Monday, they saw an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Iranian Navy support ship towing a US-owned maritime drone, also known as the Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface ship, the US Navy Central Command said. After the Iranians hooked up a line to the drone, US forces contacted the Iranians directly to say they wanted the drone back. When the US responded with a ship and helicopter, the Iranian ship disconnected the towline from the drone and left the area four hours later.
  • Why is it important: The incident came at a critical juncture in relations between Iran and the US. Negotiations to restart the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are at a sensitive juncture, and US officials have expressed some optimism about the latest effort. However, they stressed that differences remain between the two sides.

Iran says it’s seeking stronger guarantees in nuclear deal

Iran needs stronger guarantees from Washington to restart the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign minister said Wednesday in Moscow, adding that the UN nuclear watchdog should drop “politically motivated investigations” into Tehran’s nuclear work, Reuters reported.

  • Background: After 16 months of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on August 8 that the EU has put forward a final proposal to break the deadlock to revive the agreement. This was Hossein Amir-Abdollahyan’s third trip to Moscow as Minister of Foreign Affairs. The semi-official news agency Fars reported that the main topic of the visit would be Ukraine crisis.
  • Why is it important: Amir-Abdollahian’s comment comes as Iran considers Washington’s response to a final text drafted by the European Union that aims to break the deadlock in efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear pact.

What’s in trend

Saudi Arabia: #Orphans_of_Khamis_Mushait

Footage of uniformed and plainclothes men brutally detaining and beating women at a supposed shelter has gone viral in Saudi Arabia.

The hashtag #Orphans_of_Khamis_Mushait was the top trending Twitter trend in the kingdom on Wednesday, surpassing another hashtag celebrating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 37th birthday. Men can be seen shackling one woman’s legs together as she struggles to break free. CNN has not confirmed the authenticity of the video.

The government of the southern region of Asir, where the city of Khamis Mushayt is located, issued a statement saying a committee would be formed to investigate the matter “due to the videos and photos circulating on social media showing the incident” at the social service. house in Khamis Mushait.

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