Moqtada al-Sadr addresses his supporters at the grand mosque of Kufa on September 21, 2018. (AFP)

By Track Persia

October 27, 2020

As the Iraqi protesters are marking the first anniversary across the middle and south of Iraq these days, the Shiite Islamist elites which have been ruling the country after the US-led invasion and topple of Saddam’s regime in 2003 are plotting to finish the popular protests. The Shi’ite Islamists and their allies in Iran have reinforced their campaign against the protesters targeting them in different ways including kidnapping, torturing and even physical elimination. Iran’s militia proxies in Iraq have been accused of killing about 700 Iraqi protesters and wounded 25 thousands more, the fate of many of the kidnapped  is  still unknown

Realising that it has failed to finish the uprising using these conventional proxies, the Iranian leaders have sought to use different proxies that have ostensibly anti-Iran stands such as the Sadrists and their militias Saraiyya al-Salam which are led by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The firebrand cleric presents himself as nationalist branding himself as “The leader of Resistance”. The Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhmi has recently endorsed this title for al-Sadr.

The regime in Iran seems to have become more concerned about the growing momentum of October protests in Iraq that prompted Sadr and his rival former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the staunch ally of Tehran, to issue warnings about what they described an intra-Shi’ite war in an attempt to deter the protesters from continuing taking to the street to protests. Ironically Maliki, whose name has been linked to the serious corruption and sectarian repression, led an armed campaign he called “The Charge of the Knights” against the then al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in Basra in 2008, due to the power-sharing dispute.

Moqtada al-Sadr has recently increased his hostile campaign against the protesters calling them “Ba’athists” and “agents of foreign embassies”. He has called upon Iraqi tribes to “discipline” them. This behaviour from Sadr has infuriated some tribal leaders such as the leader of Abudah tribe Hussein al-Khayoun in the southern city of Nasiriyah. In a response to Sadr’s request, al-Khayoun said: “We stood with our youth from the first days and we endured all accusations and assassination attempts. Our main concern is to preserve lives and peace at the same time. Nasiriyah is a symbol of the youth revolution along with Basra, Karbala and Baghdad.”

However, the Iraqi protesters who are mostly youngsters seem to be adamant to continue taking to the street to expose Iran-backed corrupt Islamist parties that have been working hard to criminalise them.

Iraqis were protesting over a decade and summer protests became a regular feature of the protests in the south of Iraq because of the unbearable heat waves that trigger public grievances given the sharp lack of electricity especially if that coincided with water shortages, in addition to unemployment and government corruption. The new wave of protests that erupted on 1 October 2019, however, is different from the previous ones because the protesters are calling for changing the entire political system that is based on sectarian quotas that resulted in the post-invasion crippled political process controlled by thoroughly corrupt political elites which have been pocketing form public money to get richer, while ordinary Iraqis struggle to find jobs to raise their families.

The anger of these young protesters was reflected in the burning down offices of the parties and militias linked to Tehran across southern Iraq over a few months. Among the factions which got their fair share of public anger are Da’wa Party led by Maliki, Badr organisation led by Hadi al-Amiri, Kata’ib Hezbollah and  Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq led by Qais al-Khaza’ili. This hostile sentiment among the protesters against Tehran and its allies in Iraq stems from the fact that the Iraqi factions are seen as being responsible for Iraq’s failure and Iran is supporting these factions to stay in power despite their failure because they serve its interests and agendas.

Last month, while marking the Shiite Arba’een ceremony in Karbala, when carrying pictures of colleagues killed by security forces and Iran-backed militiamen last year protests and ere chanting slogans such as “Death to Iran and America”, the protesters were beaten by pro-Iran security forces and guards of the Shiite holy shrine in Karbala.  Activists reported to international press agencies that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) took part in the attack against the protesters, while Iran loyalists carried pictures of the  Qassem Soleimani, the head of Quds Force which is the external wing of IRGC, along with  Abu Mahdi al-Muhadis, who was one of most dangerous Iran’s man in Iraq. Both men were killed by a US airstrike on 3 January. The protesters appealed to the senior Iranian-born Shiite cleric in Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani who to stop the attackers and being targetted but their calls fell on deaf ears.

The Iranian regime supports the Shiite regime in Iraq for its own interests, and, not in the interests of the Iraqi Shia.  It has used Shiite proxies to warn of intra-Shia conflict in Iraq is to deter any possible regime change because it is aware that this will negatively impact its interests in Iraq and its influence even across the region. For example, Tehran’s support for Christian Armenia against Azerbaijan in the war currently taking place in the Nagorno Karabakh reveals that the theocratic regime does not back the Shia, who make up 85 percent of the population of Azerbaijan.

The only possible intra-Shia war, however, can take place between the majority Shiite protesters who represent the oppressed Iraqis, and between the ruling Shiite elites with their armed militias supported by Tehran.

One of Tehran’s attempts to finish the protests in Iraq is infiltrating the ranks of young protesters by its proxies by attacking security forces to create violent confrontations between them, and this in their views will finish the more than year-old protests in the country. The announcement which has been recently issued by several Iran-backed Shiite militias about a temporary stop of targeting US personnel and US interests in Iraq was meant by these militias to focus their efforts on finishing the popular protests.

The possible intra-Shiite confrontations, that can likely occur between the young protesters and their supporters from Shiite tribes on one hand, and Tehran and its proxies in Iraq on the other hand, will not only expose the real enemies of Iraqis but also will strengthen the protests and speed up the implementation of their demands.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.