Both the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the October Revolution protests began in October 2019 weakened Iran’s grasp on Iraq. To re-establish its influence over the country, Iran decided to make a deal with the Shi’ite cleric Sayyed Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been an influential figure in the ongoing protests.
The October Revolution is a secular protest against the Iraqi government and foreign interference in the country, therefore many Iran-backed Iraqi militias have been targeted by the protesters. Two of the leading Iran-backed Shi’ite militias are the Popular Mobilization Forces run by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and the League of Righteous (Asaib Ahl al- Haq) led by Qaia al-Khizali. To end the anti-government protests and to preserve Shi’ite power, Iran sponsored an agreement among al-Sadr and pro-Iran militia leaders.
According to Reuters, Iraqi officials and militias promised al-Sadr a spiritual leadership role among the Shi’ite paramilitary groups and significant power over the cabinet line-up proposed by the designated Prime Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi. In return, al-Sadr would redirect the protests toward the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
An anonymous source said to Reuters that Iran did not oppose to al-Sadr demand to choose the next government and even have the power to block Iran-backed parties’ choices. This demonstrates how much Iran needed al-Sadr’s alliance to preserve the Shi’ite government in Iraq. Following the agreement al-Sadr called the protesters to abandon their anti-government narrative and asked his followers from his militia Peace Companies (previously known as Mahdi Army), who joined and protected protesters from other militias and security forces, to leave the protest camps.
As a result, other militias took advantage of the withdrawal and attacked the demonstrators, in some instances al-Sadr’s followers were among the attackers. While Kurdish and Sunni politicians were concerned with the amount of political power given to al-Sadr, protesters were feeling betrayed. Mahdi Abdul Zahra, a protester, said: “They stole our revolution, the militias, and the Peace Brigades.” And another protester, a tribal leader, Sheikh Shiyaa al-Bahadli to show their disapproval of al-Sadr’s decisions, said: “We reject Sadr’s initial call to withdraw from protests and were angry with him.”
It is apparent that protesters are disappointed by al-Sadr’s decision to become allies with Iran and go against everything they have been protesting against on the streets. Since 2003, according to Salon news, almost 2.4 million Iraqi lost their lives and millions were displaced. Iraqi people suffered from the Iraq War that lasted for 8 years and from the emergence of ISIS in the region.
Wars and terror in the region prevented Iraq to establish a government representing the people. Now, Iraqis through the October Revolution trying to change their country’s fate and start building a stable government and economy without interference from foreign countries.
They are also against the monopolization of the country’s resources. And now that a leader that many of the protesters believed in, decided to make an agreement with Iran and stopped protecting them from hostile militias, they feel betrayed. Al-Sadr could have handled the situation better by adding terms that could have satisfied desires of demonstrators to the agreement. There could have been a ‘win some, lose some’ situation but unfortunately, that does not seem like the case.
Today in the Middle East we see that many conflicts are among Shi’ite’s and Sunnis, and to secure its influence in the region Iran is looking for another ally, other than Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iraq is the perfect candidate since almost 69% of its population are Shi’ite, according to CIA. For their political interests, Iranian and Iraqi politicians are willingly disregarding the desires of the population just like the U.S. did over the decades.
The population is tired of foreign involvement in their country and unhappy with their current government’s corrupted system that is divided among sects and ethnicities. The Iraqi government is dominated by Iran-backed parties and militias. In October 2019, young Iraqi people, mostly Shi’ite’s, started to protest their government, Iran, and the U.S. Since the beginning of the protest, according to Amnesty International over 600 protesters were killed. Al-Sadr was skeptical about the protests but as it spread over the country, he decided to join as a protector of the demonstrators.
He has been active in politics ever since 2003 when he became the leader of the militia that fought against the U.S. after the invasion. Later during the sectarian civil war, between 20014 and 2008, his militia Mahdi Army, became famous for its violence against Sunni communities in Iraq.
Al-Sadr had ties to Iran but has never been a royal ally. His previous ties allowed such agreement to be made, as a result, according to NPR, he announced that the protests have taken the wrong path therefor he was withdrawing his support from the October Revolution. After his announcement, he sent in enforcers who were called “blue hats” to search the tents and kick protesters out of their headquarters.
The protests are still going on regardless of all the obstacles they face. Iran’s plan to end the protests through their agreement with Al-Sadr has failed. Hopefully, instead of adopting more violent ways to end the conflict, the Iraqi government will listen to its people’s desire to have a secular country with a well-functioning democracy and a stable economy. Iran should have tried to win over the Shi’ite people by respecting their desire to have no foreign involvement in their country rather than agreeing with politicians and militia leaders.
Source » theowp