Some news from the Muslim Crescent; about which we cannot give a complete overview, but only want to recommend a few outstanding articles. Pakistan is now negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban and is hoping that the Afghan Taliban, which it sponsored, will mediate so that the TTP will give up its fight against the Pakistani government. According to the German newspaper taz, however, this is a very dubious undertaking, since the Pakistani Taliban apparently only want to use the peace negotiations to strengthen their position and then continue the fight on this new basis. In addition, other Pakistani Islamist associations are marching against Islamabad and other cities in order to block the access roads and to demonstrate against the government, which is far too secular for them, and to want to overthrow it in the medium term. Presidential elections shall be held in Libya, and candidates for the Muslim Brotherhood, General Haftar and Ghaddafi’s son Saif al Islam Ghaddafi want to run. It is unclear whether the elections will be held and, if so, whether someone will accept the results or whether there will be a return into armed conflict. The UN representative for Libya, Jan Kubis, has resigned in frustration. Furthermore, a Cicero article about Saudi Arabia’s ruler Mohammed Bin Salman, his Neon / Vision 2030 modernization program and the thesis that Saudi Arabia is facing internal instability because MBS made a mess of the country and its neighboring countries. . In Iraq, on the other hand, pro-Iranian militias tried to murder the prime minister and his supporters by means of a drone attack, which has now led to a polarization between pro-Iranian and non-pro-Iranian Shiites, as well as more and more Iraqis and this time the election winner, the Iraqi nationalist-Islamist Muktata El Sadr are calling for the pro-Iranian militias to be disbanded. After all, the pro-Iranian militia Kataib Hezbollah has announced its dissolution, but there are several other pro-Iranian militias and then Iran itself as well. A ray of hope is the recapture of the Bono province from the Boko Haram by the Nigerian army, especially since the people can now live normally again and celebrate this happily in their traditional folk festivals despite Covid, which were forbidden to them under the Islamists – but not for medical reasons but for religious reasons.
“Negotiations with Islamabad:
Pakistan’s Taliban and Peace Pakistan’s government wants to conclude a peace agreement with the local Taliban. But they are demanding – and failure could make them even stronger.
ISLAMABAD taz | Two police officers dead in a bomb attack in Pakistan’s north-western border area with Afghanistan, six police officers injured on the same day in another attack in south-western Balochistan: in Pakistan, such attacks on the security organs are almost commonplace. But actually it should be different – the attacks fall in a month-long ceasefire parallel to peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban – TTP).
The TTP is blamed for most of the Islamist terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which are estimated to have killed at least 70,000 people in the past two decades. Most of the time, the TTP also boasted about its attacks, but now it was silent. Because TTP spokesman Umar Khurasani has promised compliance with the ceasefire by December 9th. And according to the government, the secret negotiations with the TTP are even nearing completion. Mediated by Siradschuddin Hakkani, head of the Hakkani network and acting interior minister of the Taliban government in Kabul, who is himself on international terror lists. Five people from both sides took part in the three secret rounds of talks that have so far taken place in the Afghan cities of Kabul and Khost. As the taz learned from TTP circles, the Taliban are calling for an amnesty for captured members and for the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan to regain their previous autonomy. They also want Sharia courts to be introduced in the districts of Wasiristan and Makaland and the fortifications to be removed from the border with Afghanistan. The TTP also wants to open an international office in a third country, as the Afghan Taliban did in Qatar.
According to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary, details of the talks cannot be released yet. “Part of a success is the TTP recognizing Pakistan’s constitution. In the tribal areas as well as nationwide, peace can only be achieved through negotiation, ”he said.
„The TTP will use the time to recruit fighters“
The regional TTP commander Ikramullah Mehsud, who is accused of the attack on ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 but denies his involvement, told the taz: „The government and the TTP are pursuing their own interests with the talks. So we demand the release of 100 captured members. The government partially agreed, but not as part of an agreement, but to build confidence. So far, six former TTP members have been released. ”According to Mehsud, there have already been several agreements between the TTP and the government, but they also failed because of their bilateral character. But now the talks are taking place under the „supervision“ of the Afghan Taliban, which also acts as a guarantor. Whether it comes to an agreement or not, Mehsud believes the TTP will definitely benefit. „If the talks fail, the violence will escalate again and other armed groups that once split off from the TTP will join us again and strengthen the TTP.“ Another TTP commander, who wants to remain anonymous, said: “The TTP is pursuing its own interests in this conversation. We have a brotherly relationship with the Afghan Taliban, which is why we could not refuse their desire for talks. But because of our tough demands, there will either be no agreement at all or it won’t last for long. In any case, the TTP will use the time to recruit and train new fighters. „
Survivors of attack victims protest
„We wish peace and welcome everything that contributes to it,“ says the human rights activist and leader of the secular Pashtun movement PTM, Manzoor Pashteen to the taz. „But if negotiated dishonestly, it only leads to further instability.“ Khan Zeb Burki from South Waziristan is also critical of the talks. He is doing his doctorate on peace and conflict research and criticizes the lack of “participation by civil society and other parties”. „The TTP’s demands are also unrealistic, which could be the main reason for their failure,“ he adds. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the opposition People’s Party (PPP) and son of the murdered Benazir Bhutto, accuses Prime Minister Imran Khan of failing to involve parliament on such an important matter – after all, negotiations with a terrorist group that has been blamed for many attacks . The parents of the victims of a massacre at a military-run school in Peshawar in 2014 also protest against the negotiations. 154 students, teachers and staff died in the attack. The TTP had committed itself to the act. The parents demand: Instead of talking to the TTP, they should be held accountable.
Libya’s presidential election Gaddafi’s son is disqualified – what does that mean for the election?
The Libyan electoral commission wants to exclude Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the former dictator, from the presidential election. But he is not giving up – and the election could deepen the division of the country.
From Monika Bolliger 11/25/2021, 9:53 p.m.
His story had the potential for one of the most spectacular comebacks in Arab politics. But that doesn’t work for the time being: Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the son of the former Libyan dictator, is not allowed to run for the presidential election on December 24th. The reason for this, according to the electoral commission, is an earlier conviction in absentia – because of his role in suppressing the 2011 popular uprising. Gaddafi Junior, who was captured by rebels after his father was overthrown and then disappeared from the scene for years, reported back this summer and in an interview with the New York Times let it be known that he based on his origins feel called to the highest office in the country. Ten days ago he announced his candidacy. Because some Libyans are longing for the dictator’s more stable time after ten years of war, Gaddafi Junior was given certain opportunities. But Libya’s election commission has now refused admission to 25 candidates – a total of 96 men and two women had registered for the election. Gaddafi doesn’t seem to have given up yet: He wants to challenge his disqualification in court. The independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed in the current climate: militias and rival powers are vying for influence. It is therefore difficult to assess whether Gaddafi still has a chance.
It is uncertain whether the election will take place at all Whether the election will actually take place on December 24th and under what conditions is uncertain anyway. For previously unknown candidates who played no role in the old regime will find it difficult to make a name for themselves within 30 days – in a country where militias set the tone and democracy activists are intimidated. The resignation of the UN special envoy for Libya Ján Kubiš is currently causing uncertainty. Why he wants to resign is still unclear. Kubiš at least wants to stay in office until the election is over. However, it is entirely possible that the presidential election will be canceled due to procedural inconsistencies or that it will not be able to take place on time for other reasons. The parliamentary election, which was planned at the same time, has already been postponed for a month due to the rivalries between the political camps in the country.
There are also reasons for the disqualification of other prominent candidates such as the warlord Khalifa Haftar or the interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaibah. Dbaibah should have resigned from his current position to run for the presidency, which he has not yet done. He is supported by Turkey, has ties to rival camps and is therefore to some extent considered a unifying figure. But he is also a former confidante of Gaddafi Senior. Haftar, who controls parts of eastern Libya, has been charged with war crimes – and allegedly he is a US citizen, which would stand in the way of running. He has so far received support from France, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. There are many reasons to be concerned about the legitimacy of the choice. There is a risk that candidates who are not admitted, such as Seif al-Gaddafi, will sabotage the election. If Warlord Haftar does not win the election, it is to be feared that he will not recognize it: he could oppose together with his troops. Should Haftar win, on the other hand, parts of western Libya are likely to refuse to accept his authority.
Saudi Arabia’s uncertain future – Crown Prince on the brink
Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, actually wanted to lead his country into the modern age. But with erratic politics, unsuccessful military operations, arrogance and violence against critics, he gambled away the trust of the population. Does the kingdom threaten to fall apart?
Author: Hilal Khashan is Professor of Political Science at the American University in Beirut and author of Geopolitical Futures.
MBD fundamentally changed the Saudi system of government introduced by his grandfather decades ago. In its quest to succeed his ailing father, King Salman, „MBS“, as it is commonly known, has erased the Wahhabi clerical establishment’s position as an influential force in Saudi politics and society. He also abolished the system of mutual control of the Saudi kings and expelled them from the Saudi power centers. Through these and other changes, he established a fundamentally different political system that is no different from other Arab absolutist monarchies and radical republics. Modern Saudi Arabia, also known as the “third Saudi state”, was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud, the father of today’s King Salman. Ibn Saud built the kingdom on the basis of a balance between the Saudi kings and the guardians of Wahhabism – an Islamic sect that became dominant in Saudi Arabia. He ensured peace and stability even in remote parts of the country, entrusting his children with various tasks and treating the business world with respect and appreciation. Mutual control system
After his death in 1953, his children worked to maintain the system of government introduced by their late father through the turbulent times of the late 1950s and early 1960s. They maintained a system of checks and balances in which none of the chief princes associated with the king could determine Saudi politics alone. The Saudi kings made sure that the decisions in the cabinet were made consensually in order to preserve the unity of the royal family. However, as Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, MBS has no interest in continuing this tradition. He has proven unwilling to share his power with other Saudi royal families and is not very tolerant of criticism. He gained fame through the imprisonment of intellectuals, activists and human rights defenders. MBS was named Crown Prince in 2017 by his father, who removed MBS cousin Muhammad bin Nayef from office.
In the United States, MBS was seen as a man who would lead his country into the modern age. He met with influential media representatives and US politicians, including President Donald Trump during a visit to the White House in March 2018 that was followed closely by the US media. But his erratic behavior has caused concern in Washington. In 2017, MBS had Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrested while visiting Saudi Arabia. Four months prior to MBS’s trip to Washington, he was pushing aside senior members of the royal family and business elite, extorting billions of dollars from them. A year later, the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who had criticized MBS ‘“ Vision 2030 Project ”and its management style, was brutally murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
MBS knew that prominent members of the Saudi royal family were against his accession to the throne and viewed him as impulsive and insensitive. He did not want to suffer the same fate as his uncle, King Saud, who was dethroned in 1964 by a coalition of high-ranking princes and clergy. MBS built up a personal, extra-legal and extrajudicial security apparatus to hunt down Saudi dissidents abroad. Obsessed with the thought that the Saudi royal family would view him as incapable of governing, he is determined to prevent the emergence of another free prince movement – similar to that founded by Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz in 1958. This movement arose amid a power struggle between King Saud and Crown Prince Faisal and called for Saudi Arabia to be transformed into a constitutional parliamentary monarchy. However, it lost some of its appeal after Faisal became king in 1964 and gained the loyalty of the royal family and the religious establishment.
In order to ensure that his own rule is not called into question in a similar way, MBS, with the assistance of his father, pushed through several important innovations. So he got rid of the three pillars on which the kingdom had been based since 1932: adherence to the Wahhabi doctrine, tribal consensus and the unity of the Saudi kings. MBS broke the backbone of the Wahhabi establishment by taking control of the content of religious sermons and imprisoning clerics. Five months after being named Crown Prince, King Salman appointed MBS head of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Immediately afterwards, he staged blackmail at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, in which he eliminated eleven princes, including the minister of the powerful National Guard, as well as around 400 high-ranking government officials and prominent business people whom he accused of corruption and money laundering. With this move he had two goals: to punish the princes who had voted against his appointment as crown prince and to gain control of a considerable part of the state’s property. The message to the Saudi kings was clear: either they obey the rules or they will be arrested, humiliated and impoverished. MBS admitted it had confiscated $ 107 billion from those detained. It does not matter whether he kept the money for himself or transferred it to the public purse; since the establishment of the kingdom there has never been a distinction between the treasury and the monarch, who could withdraw money from the treasury at will. It is important, however, that other members of the royal family are excluded from access to public property. (Although the Saudi royals do not disclose their finances, MBS is apparently a multi-billionaire. He bought a Leonardo da Vinci painting, the Salvator Mundi, for $ 450 million and a super yacht for $ 550 million.)
Declaration of war to the clergy
It is understandable that its social policies – including the abolition of the strict Wahhabi code of conduct – have made MBS popular with Saudi youth and women. Their support, however, depends on the success of his economic modernization plans. The problem with economic development is that it inevitably leads to increasing demands for political participation, although MBS will most likely not tolerate such requests. Many also doubt the future of his mega-project „Neom,“ a $ 500 billion plan to transform Saudi Arabia into a modern country. Five years after the announcement of “Vision 2030”, another program aimed at transforming Saudi Arabia into a world-class economic power, revenues outside the oil sector continue to make up only a small part of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product. In addition, he has placed all essential government functions in his hands in order to dominate political, economic, security and military decisions in Saudi Arabia.
MBS promised more social freedoms. He relaxed the dress code for women so that they no longer had to cover their faces and invited foreign bands and singers to perform in Saudi Arabia. He banned the activities of the strictly religious commission for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice. He also established the General Entertainment Authority to demonstrate his willingness to break away from the country’s traditional past. But the sudden change caused a stir. Because MBS undermined the traditional value system of the population without providing them with the means to change their behavior.
Saudi Arabia has lost control of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Arab Emirates are now its main rival in regional politics. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, a loyal US ally, is now influencing Saudi foreign policy. He dragged Riyadh into the war in Yemen and, four years ago, convinced MBS to impose a blockade on Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorism and interfering in regional affairs. The Saudis lifted the siege after Joe Biden won the US presidential race in 2020. However, the embargo did nothing, only strengthened Qatar’s relations with Tehran and caused the country to allow Turkey to build a military base on its territory.
Draconic measures In 2015,
Against the advice of hid Egyptian and Pakistani allies, MBS decided to participate in the war in Yemen. He knew that the Houthi rebels dealt a severe blow to the Saudi army in 2009 when Saudi forces invaded Houthi territory and occupied several villages and mountain peaks in Jizan. Still, MBS went to war with the Houthis in hopes of a quick victory. Almost seven years later, the Saudis are losing the war – and have no plan to withdraw. MBS uses draconian measures to build the fourth Saudi state. But he will likely become his first and last monarch. For lack of money, the government cut its generous welfare system after spoiling the Saudi people for more than half a century. The speed with which the changes have been introduced has shocked many Saudis, and a growing number of citizens are disappointed with the monarch’s often erratic decisions.
Saudi Arabia is a heterogeneous country with many tribes. It includes the Najd region, a Wahhabi stronghold where less than a third of the Saudi population lives, the strongly Shiite eastern province of Hejaz, which is home to the two holiest mosques of Islam, Mecca and Medina. There are also the Asir region south of the Hejaz, Najran and Dschisan near the Yemeni Saada Mountains and the Northern Border Province, which is traditionally connected to southern Iraq and Jordan. Material wealth, political stability and the coercive measures of the central government have kept this diverse population of Saudi Arabia together. But cracks in the system under inconsistent political leadership have the potential to tear them apart.
Assassination Attempt against Prime Minister Al-Khadimi Highlights Intra-Shia Divisions in Iraq
Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 22
By: Rami Jameel
November 19, 2021 03:37 PM Age: 1 week
A loud explosion was heard in the early hours of November 7 in the fortified area in Baghdad known as the “Green Zone.” This was followed by heavy gunfire in the Green Zone, which hosts government offices and U.S. and other Western diplomatic missions. The Iraqi government announced that there was a failed assassination attempt against Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi carried out by a drone at his house. Al-Kadhimi appeared shortly afterward to confirm that he was safe and sound and to call for calm (rudaw.net, November 7).
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, but it occurred amid rising tensions between al-Kadhimi, who is a moderate Shia, and radical Iran-backed Shia militias. The latter did very poorly in the October parliamentary elections and lost most of the seats they had won three years ago. Although al-Kadhimi did not take part in the October elections nor did he openly support any party, the militias accused him and the electoral commission of rigging the elections. The anti-American Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who is a political ally of al-Kadhimi, won the most seats (almasryaalyoum.com, October 12).
The attack also occurred two days after clashes between security forces and Iran-backed Shia militia supporters protesting the election results. Two people were killed and dozens injured in the clashes, and militia leaders considered al-Khadimi responsible (aljazeera.net, November 5). Al-Kadhimi did not accuse any group in the attack against his house, but fingers were pointed toward the militias. The whole escalation indicates the depth of the intra-Shia division and clash of interests in Iraq, especially after the October elections. 
Elections, Power, Money, and Militias
The October early elections were called after a period of instability caused by a wave of street protests in Baghdad and the predominantly Shia southern Iraq in late 2019. One result of the protests was the resignation of al-Khadimi’s predecessor as prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi. The protests were fueled by high unemployment, poor public services, and public anger with endemic corruption in government (arabi21.com, April 12).
The protesters, who were mostly Shia, directed their anger against the whole political class and Iran, which they saw as the dominant power of a corrupt system through its influence on all major Shia parties in Iraq. The Iran-backed Shia militias played a major role in suppressing the demonstrations after they labeled the protests as a foreign sponsored conspiracy. Most of those militias had raised their profile since the civil war started in neighboring Syria where they fought, as part of the Iranian war effort, on the side of the government of President Bashar al-Assad (alarabiya.net, June 9, 2014).
The militias’ role became even more prominent in Iraq itself during the war against the Islamic State from 2014 to 2017. In 2016, the Iraqi parliament, with its Shia majority and amid a Sunni boycott, passed legislation that legalized the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMFs) as an official umbrella for the predominantly Shia militias (aljazeera.net, November 26, 2016). A coalition of major Shia militias came second in the 2018 elections, not far behind al-Sadr, who leads a large militia himself. Abdul-Mahdi became the compromise prime minister and both blocs’ representatives received senior positions and maintained access to state budget and resources. (hathalyoum.net, May 14, 2018). For the militias, that meant the beginning of an era where they would be able, like other established parties, to exploit their share in government to build a patronage base and expand their support base within the public. The protests, however, challenged and jeopardized that system.
Al-Kadhimi and the Militias
Al-Kadhimi’s relations with the Iran-backed Shia militias have been tense. He was selected last year as a compromise transitional prime minister to organize early elections. His appointment in this position, moreover, came with the support of all major factions, including the Iran-backed shia militias, to end the political deadlock.
Although al-Khadimi, who is the former head of the intelligence service, came from within the political system and became something of a caretaker prime minister, many in the anti-militia protest movement hoped that he was going to confront the militias and bring to justice those militia members and leaders who had been accused of killing protesters. Al-Kadhimi never went that far in confronting the militias, but he engaged in several significant confrontations with them. The most prominent clashes with the militias occurred in June 2020, when al-Khadimi ordered a raid on a group of militia members who were plotting to launch rocket attacks on Iraqi and U.S. forces and the U.S. embassy (aljazeera.net, June 29, 2020)
In addition, earlier this year, al-Khadimi ordered the arrest of a prominent militia commander, Qassim Musleh, who was believed to be involved in planning attacks on U.S. targets in western Iraq (arabi21.com, May 27; The Jamestown Foundation).
On both occasions of challenging the militias, al-Kadhimi seemed to have eventually backed down in the face of immense reaction from the militias. Aware of his weak position, he even extended an olive branch and sought to emphasize his friendly relations with leaders of the militias. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the militias, al-Khadimi’s moves were clear signals of what he could do if he gained more power.
Al-Kadhimi’s Strong Allies
Al-Kadhimi has enjoyed continuous U.S. support. Interestingly, he has also received unwavering support from Moqtada al-Sadr, who is currently in a critical position in Iraqi politics. Al-Sadr has always been anxious about the empowerment of rival Shia militias, which in many cases, occurred at the expense of al-Sadr’s own militia. Recent analyses have considered al-Sadr’s political and electoral gains as somewhat good news for the U.S., but that is not necessarily true. The U.S. is, in fact, the main ideological enemy of al-Sadr’s movement, which dates back not only to al-Sadr’s militia’s uprisings in 2003 and 2004 against the U.S.-led coalition forces, but further to the founding principles of the Sadrist movement that was established by his late father in the 1990s. 
Al-Sadr is less dependent on Iran compared to other militias, most of which were originally created by Iran itself. Al-Sadr, on the other hand, leads not only a militia but a grassroots movement. However, al-Sadr’s independence does not make him an enemy of Iran. Indeed, he visits Iran frequently and has famously been greeted with honor publicly by Iran’s leaders (alaraby.co.uk, September 11, 2019). Therefore, it is not realistic to believe that al-Sadr would ever side with the U.S. in any effort to attack or even weaken Iran strategically. His dispute with the Iranians is primarily over who should dominate Shia politics in Iraq.
Then, during the elections, he came in first, with more than 70 seats in the 329 seat parliament. Many thought his first choice would be to appoint one of his immediate followers as prime minister. This, however, would be hard to do for al-Sadr given that all the other Shia parties are deeply worried about what this would mean for their own future. Hence, speculation shifted to the idea that al-Sadr would support al-Kadhimi himself for a second, full four-year term in office.
The Potential Anti-PMF Alliance
The Shia militias’ concerns over the election results are not merely about losing senior government posts and the financial implications of that. Rather, their main concern is that a political pact to end their legal mandate and subsequently disband them might be taking shape. In addition to al-Sadr’s big win in the Shia areas, other parties that emerged as clear winners in the Kurdish and Sunni areas are also not on friendly terms with the militias, including the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by the Barzani family, which won most seats in the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq (aawsat.com, November 12).
Although the KDP has historic ties to Iran, it is a strategic ally of Turkey, and not Iran. The KDP leaders have frequently criticized the Shia militias and have given refuge in their areas to anti-militia activists. In the predominantly Sunni areas in western Iraq, the speaker of parliament, Muhammad al-Halboosi, won most seats by defeating the U.S.-sanctioned wealthy businessman, Khamis al-Khanjar, who was a favorite of the militias (independentarabia.com, October 13). 
An alliance of al-Sadr with his grassroots supporters in the Shia areas, the U.S.-backed al-Kadhimi, and the anti-militia Kurdish and Sunni parties would be potentially devastating to the Iran-backed Shia militias. Such an alliance could secure not only a majority in parliament to form the government, but could nullify the PMF’s legal authority and lead to a crackdown on the militias. Such a scenario would be a dramatic development and would put al-Sadr and al-Kadhimi at conflict with Iran itself. However, the clash of interests among the Shia factions has reached a critical point, and al-Sadr does not want his clear electoral victory to be compromised, while the nearly wounded al-Kadhimi after the attack on his house is not expected to give any ground to the militias.
What Does Not Kill Al-Khadimi Makes Him Stronger
The attack on al-Kadhimi’s house occurred as tensions were escalating even further between the militias and the Iraqi Prime Minister. Two days earlier, supporters of the militias, who had been protesting the election results for weeks, tried to invade the Green Zone. The security forces clashed with the protesters, and a number of them were killed and injured. Qais al-Khazali, the leader of one of the most prominent militias, appeared at the scene of the clashes and blamed al-Kadhimi for the killing of the demonstrators and vowed to make him pay the price (ahlualhaq.com, November 5).
However, when al-Kadhimi’s house was attacked, the militia leaders, including al-Khazali, vehemently denied any involvement (alarabiya.net, November 7). Others in the militias went further to quickly nurture a conspiracy theory, accusing an unspecified party of working to destabilize Iraq. That, however, is a reference to Iran’s enemies, such as the U.S., which supposedly is working to escalate the struggle between al-Kadhimi and the militias (annabaa.com, November 9).
Other militia supporters even suggested that the whole story of the drone attack was fabricated by al-Kadhimi himself! Al-Khadimi, according to that claim, tried to evade responsibility for the recent killing of protesters while also boosting his popularity. This is because the attack was considered an attack on Iraqi national sovereignty (arabtimenews.com, November 8).
The Iran-Backed Shia Militias’ Strategic Next Steps
Losing the elections was a major blow to the Shia militias. In dealing with this, they have thus far pursued a three-pronged strategy. First, they politically formed a coalition of almost all other Shia parties, except al-Sadr’s party. Their coalition has been operating under the leadership of al-Sadr’s staunch enemy, former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who came in second in the Shia areas in the elections. The main claim of this political group is to reject the results of the elections and call for a full recount, but at the same time defy al-Sadr’s claim of a majority within the Shia community by forming an even larger bloc with all their parliamentary seats combined (annaharar.com, October 16).
The second part of the militias’ strategy is to threaten to resort to violence. Instead of stating that clearly, however, they use carefully crafted expressions. These include a warning about likely “dire consequences” on the security and stability of Iraq if election results are not changed (alarabiya.net, October 12. )
The third element of the militias’ strategy is to organize public protests and sit-ins. However, unlike the anti-government protests of 2019 or those organized by al-Sadar’s supporters in recent years, the militias’ protests were not large enough to have an impact. There was also criticism that many protesters were in fact members of the militias and on the PMF’s payroll and were merely following orders to pretend to be civilian protesters (annaharar.com, October 25).
Despite all the militias’ efforts, reversing the result of the elections was difficult and another move seemed looming. On November 4, al-Sadr travelled from his base in the Shia holy city of Najaf to Baghdad to meet with the biggest winners in Sunni and Kurdish areas obviously to agree to the terms of forming the new government (alsumaria.tv, November 4). The militias’ protesters, however, escalated the situation and tried to invade the Green Zone and clashed with the security forces, which resulted in al-Sadr having cut his visit short and call for calm (baghdadtoday.com, November 5).
On the following day after the attack on al-Kadhimi, General Esmael Qaani, commander of al-Quds Force in the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-QF), also arrived in Baghdad. He met with al-Kadhimi to condemn the attack and claimed that it was not done with Iranian approval (alarab.co.uk, November 8). Iran’s National Security Advisor, Ali Shamakhani, had meanwhile suggested that the attack was somehow linked to Western think tanks (arabicrt.com, November 7).
Since 2003, Shia factions with strong ties to Iran managed with the help of extensive Iranian mediation to agree to forming and dominating governments that included positions for the Kurds and Sunnis. The current intra-Shia struggle has proven to be at its most crucial point in years. Iran’s task is harder than ever to find a political deal that ensures its strategic interests and those of its Iraqi allies. Iran must convince the militias that they should accept losing without resorting to violence in return for a solid commitment from al-Sadr and the next prime minister that the government will not crush the militias.
Iraqi Shia militias and Iran, meanwhile, accuse the U.S. of pursuing a strategy that allegedly aims to incite a conflict in Iraq. The U.S. in fact is facing challenging questions about who and what to support in Iraq. In addition to the challenge of Iran and its allies, the threat of IS and Sunni jihadists has not completely disappeared. The outcome of the ongoing intra-Shia struggle in Iraq, therefore, will play a decisive role in shaping the future of the regional conflict in Iraq and the wider Middle East.
 In general Iraqi voters vote along sectarian lines. The Shia constituency is the largest in Iraq. More than half of the members of parliament represent Shia majority areas in central and southern Iraq. The other two sizable constituencies are the Kurds, who are concentrated in the north, and the Sunnis, who are concentrated in the west of the country.
 Moqtada al-Sadr’s father, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, founded his movement on the foundation of opposing the U.S. He famously introduced the chant “No, no to America. No, no to Israel” and led his followers in chanting during religious gatherings and ceremonies. He was assassinated, likely by Saddam Hussein’s government, in February 1999.
 Khamis al-Khanjar is Sunni, but he was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for corruption alongside Shia militia leaders in 2019.
Kataib Hezbollah dissolves militia following Sadr’s call
RBIL, Kurdistan Region – The hardline pro-Iran militia Kataib Hezbollah announced on Friday the dissolution of one of its armed groups, following a call from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for militias to disband and leave all weapons in control of the state.
Abu Ali al-Askari, a senior Kataib Hezbollah official, said on Telegram that “in response to what was published by one of the friendly parties regarding the initiative to disband its military forces,” his militia group has decided to dissolve its Saraya al-Difa al-Shaabi (Popular Defense Brigades), ordering it to “stop all its activities and close its headquarters.”
When the Islamic State group (ISIS) seized controlled swathes of Syrian and Iraqi land in 2014, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for Iraqis to take up arms and defend the country. This paved the way for the formation militia groups under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi). The PMF has since been absorbed into the Iraqi security forces, but many of the militias operate outside of the control of the state and some are backed by Iran.
Sadr, whose movement won the most seats in last month’s parliamentary election and is set to lead the next government, on Thursday called on the militias to disband if they want to join his cabinet. Political parties affiliated with the pro-Iran militias did poorly in the election and their supporters have rejected the results and staged protests. Askari responded to Sadr saying that Kataib Hezbollah would give up their weapons only after Sadr’s armed group, Saraya al-Salam, and the Kurdish Peshmerga did so.
On Friday, Sadr announced he was shutting down one of his brigades. “As a goodwill gesture from me, I announce the dissolution of the al-Yum al-Wuud [the Promised Day] Brigade, and the closure of their headquarters,” he tweeted. He said the group had previously handed over its weapons and that anyone in the brigade who still has a weapon must turn it in within 48 hours.
“I hope this step will be the beginning of the dissolution of armed groups as well as the handover of their weapons and closure of their bases,” he said.
Askari said that the members of the disbanded Popular Defense Brigades will be embedded within the PMF and maintain their entitlements. He also said he hoped that Sadr would transfer control of his three brigades over to the PMF and “make understandings with the leaders of the Peshmerga to complete its dissolution and be embedded into the Iraqi security forces.”
The Peshmerga have not immediately commented on Askari’s statement.