Adel Abdel-Mahdi’s resignation as Iraq’s prime minister on Saturday, Nov. 30, confirmed that Iraq’s 22 million Shiites (out of a 39 million population) are being torn apart by a potential internal Shiite war. More than 400 people were killed in three months of protest and 16,000 injured. At least 40 died on Friday, most from gunfire.
The protest against corruption and failure of government sweeping the Shiite south and parts of Baghdad is pitting opponents of Iranian influence against the Shiite militias loyal to Iran which defer to Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. By stepping down, the prime minister responded to the demand of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who condemned the use of force against protesters and called for a new government.
DEBKAfile analyses the root- causes leading up to the current crisis.
- The last Iran-Iraq war was fought 40 years ago when Saddam Hussein led Sunni rule in Iraq and the Shiites were an oppressed minority.
- The current crisis finds Baghdad ruled by Shiite politicians. They command Shiite militias of quarter of a million officers and men, which are more powerful than Iraq’s national army and armed with more advanced weaponry.
- However, the split allegiances of those militias are the cause of the unfolding internecine war, since, through them, Tehran calls the shots for the Baghdad government.
- Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei entrusted Gen. Soleimani with the “Iraq file.” His task is to employ Iraqi militias to forcibly incorporate Iraq in Iran’s Shiite arc of influence, along with Syria and Lebanon. But the Al Qods chief missed a beat by being too focused on his task to notice the increasing restiveness of a population deprived of proper services and jobs under a failing economy and deep corruption. He first responded by transforming the loyal Badr Brigades militia into a political party, the Badr Organization, which took its place in parliament as one of the largest factions.
- Officials of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, meanwhile, instead of developing the war-torn country and its oil-based economy, busied themselves with promoting Iranian influence, while amassing personal wealth and positions of strength for themselves and their personal militias.
- They took no interest in the quiet competition going forward between the Iraqi and Iranian clerical establishments for control of the world’s 150 million Shiite Muslims. The question of which is superior between Qom in Iran and Najaf and Karbala in Iraq has never been resolved. For now, Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali al-Sistani, aged 90 and 45-year old Moqtada Sadr hold the edge over their Iranian colleagues. And it is they who are most adamantly opposed to Iran’s dominant influence in Baghdad and the machinations of its agent Gen. Soleimani. The motives behind this power contest are therefore both national and religious.
- The protest demonstrations started out in October under the slogan of “The Iraqi Intifada of 2019” marking them as an uprising against Iran’s dominant footprint in Baghdad as well as their other grievances.
On Saturday, after burning the Iranian consulate in Najaf, they celebrated the prime minister’s resignation, but went on to demand an end to Iran’s interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.
- The protesters remained defiant amid a bloody crackdown. After the burning of the Najaf consulate, Gen. Soleimani made the huge mistake of ordering Iraqi Shiite militias led by Al Qods officers to suppress the street riots in Najaf and Nasiriya with live ammunition as well tear gas. More than 40 protesters were killed in 24 hours. The Iranian general was reported late on Saturday to be planning to go to the extreme of deploying loyal Iraqi militias to seize control of Najaf in order to silence Ayatollah Sistani.
- The Iraqi protest movement’s battle with armed pro-Iranian gunmen is fast descending into a showdown that will determine not just who rules Baghdad but the fate of Iran’s influence in Iraq,