By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
Al-Da’wa party member Faleh al-Fayyad is the official candidate for the anti-US camp in Iraq. The Iraqi Prime Minister ad interim Haidar Abadi reacted immediately to the news and sacked Fayyad, a follow party senior member who held for many years the position of National Security Advisor and head of the “Popular Mobilisation Forces” (PMU).
Abadi was sitting on top of 42 MPs in his coalition. By removing al-Fayyad, Abadi has lost the support of 17 seats who would have supported his candidacy, but have now chosen to leave Abadi and join al-Fayyad.
The US-Iran arm-wrestling has moved to a new level in Iraq where the US, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates’ favourite candidate al-Abadi is overtly expressing his will to fight for a second term by all possible means. US Presidential envoy Burt McGurk is courting the Sunni and Kurdish groups who have become kingmakers. They hold tens of seats in the parliament, an essential supplement to the largest Shia coalition, whose divisions make it impossible for them to consolidate the 165 seats necessary to form a new government. But above all, the US is trying to hit the opposing camp below the belt: its intelligence services have released the 2007 Qais al-Khazzali interrogation transcripts ensuring that Iranian IRGC General Qassem Soleimani and the Hezbollah envoy to Iraq will find it very difficult to bring all Iraqi Shia groups together in a single coalition. The Shia highest authority the Marjaiya in Najaf looks on in silence, unwilling to intervene.
The US is visibly attempting to support Haidar Abadi by all available means. The US establishment is trying to discredit Qais al-Khazzali, leader of the Asaeb parliamentary grouping, by releasing secret transcripts of his March 2007 interrogation in hopes of creating a wider rift between him and Moqtada al-Sadr. It is no secret that Moqtada al-Sadr and Qais are far from being friends. Moreover, it is known that prisoners of war, under interrogation, can release sensitive information. This was the case with US prisoners in Cambodia, Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon and many other parts of the world. Al-Qaeda commanders when caught by the US and Hezbollah operatives when captured by Israel released what they knew about their groups. Thus, secretive organisations adopt a “need to know” basis, as Qais’s interrogation revealed: “Detainee was unsure of exactly how many individuals he was in total control of, as this was an operational security issue for the groups, and he has no need to know the total figure”.
It is very plausible that the US believes its intervention may help Abadi and stop the formation of a larger Shia coalition including Moqtada and Qais (and al-Ameri) in one group. Otherwise, there is no sense in the timing of the release of Moqtada’s ex-Lieutenant’s interrogation text. Qais was indeed one of several causes of Moqtada’s friction with Iran starting in 2007-2008. The US may not be aware that all Iranian and Hezbollah attempts to unify the Shia coalitions in Iraq have failed to date.
Asaeb Ahl al-Haq was part of Jaish al-Mahdi, under Moqtada al-Sadr’s umbrella. When Asaeb leader Qais was arrested (I was in Iraq at the time in 2007), Moqtada asked Qais’s then second in command in the Asaeb group, the current head of Harakat al-Nujabaa, Sheikh Akram al-Ka’bi, to surrender all the group’s financial and military resources and Moqtada was about to appoint a new commander. Sheikh Akram refused to bow to Moqtada and kept under his command those who wanted to work independently of Moqtada’s leadership. Akram remained faithful to Qais and both left Moqtada permanently when Qais was released in 2010. Qais stayed in command of Asaeb while Akram later became head of a new group, Harakat al-Nujjabaa.
That day in 2007 Moqtada told Akram:” All institutions, wealth, proprieties, offices and warehouses have the name of al-Sadr, that is me”. Akram responded to Moqtada: “You are not the only al-Sadr, we are faithful to your father’s memory and loyal to his path, not to you”. That was the beginning of an animosity between Moqtada and Iran. The young Moqtada (2007) believed Iran was behind the split by which Qais, Akram and others fractured his base of support among followers of his father, which no Iraqi politician had been able to accomplish in the past.
The US seems distressed to see Moqtada and Abadi in one coalition against Hadi al-Ameri, Nouri al-Maliki, Qais al-Khaz’ali and Faleh al-Fayyad. Sources in Iraq say the US envoy is insisting that the Sunni and Kurds support Abadi or face consequences. Abadi is holding on tight to his prime ministership aware that his victory – and that of the al-Ameri coalition – is not guaranteed.
Some key points:
- The Marjaiya in Najaf is taking its distance from Abadi and Ameri. Although the Marjaiya represents the highest Shia authority, and one of its main objectives is to promote unity among Shia and other Muslims, it is uninterested in promoting unity among the five biggest Shia groups. Grand Ayatollah Sistani is convinced no future Prime Minister among the available political party leaders would be capable of offering the services and infrastructure the country needs. However, its neutral stand may help the US candidate rather than the opposite camp.
- Hadi al-Ameri is not sure to date that he will be leading the largest coalition. Thus, he stated that any prime minister who reaches the green zone on top of an American tank will be removed in two months.
Everything is leading to military and political instability and a possible confrontation in Iraq. Shia, Sunni and Kurd differences make peace in Mesopotamia unlikely. There is no religious unity in politics. Moreover, if the US candidate fails to gain power, Iraq will be faced with a serious embargo and internal unrest. If the US candidate succeeds, the anti-US camp will not allow him to rule. Iran’s reaction may be unexpected; since Iraq would serve as Iran’s lungs in the case of a US embargo, its friends in the Middle East might act against US forces and interests if Iraq closes its doors to Tehran’s oil and goods.
Hard days lie ahead and Iraq may be the platform where US forces could be considered hostages, causing a crisis the inexperienced Donald Trump may find difficult to deal with, a crisis that might even contribute to his downfall.
Proofread by: C.B.
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