2021 / 10 / 7
By Nemat Sharif
The New York-based Center for Peace Communications (CPC) held a conference attended by more than 300 Iraqi political and popular figures and tribal chiefs at the prestigious Diwan Hotel in Erbil. The conference called for joining the countries of the Abraham Accords for normalization with Israel as a strong state that could contribute to the balance of power between Iran, Turkey and Israel and the countries of the Abrahamic Accords, as well as recognition of the grievances of "pillaging the Jewish possessions know in Iraq as the “Jewish Farhood" when they were deported to Israel a half century ago. These Jews of Iraqi origin may now number more than half a million people in Israel and some want to return to Iraq and others want compensations for their losses in The ‘Farhood’.
After the conference ended, the Iraqi government denounced it as illegal, including the office of the president. The Iraqi parliament approved a law to arrest and confiscate the possessions of a number of participants in the conference, including Wissam al-Hardan, head of the Organization of Sons of Iraq, a Sunni Arab from Anbar province. Most attendees remain in the Kurdistan region for fear of arrest if they to return home. The storm, sparked by the Iraqi government, largely embarrassed the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which issued a statement saying it was not aware of the conference in Erbil, given that democratic traditions do not require-limit-ing the rights of assembly and expression. Whether the KRG was aware of it´-or-not, the embarrassing question here is for the Iraqi government how it did not know and Kurdistan is still part of Iraq. Iraqi intelligence and other agencies are in Erbil. While Iraq claims from time to time that international intelligence, including neighboring countries, are in Kurdistan, is it believable that Iraq itself has no eyes and ears to listen and monitor events in Kurdistan around the clock? If it is true that they did not know, then it is at least an intelligence failure of both governments in Baghdad first and Erbil second.
Why this storm of denunciation is now in particular, as only a few days left for the elections? In the aftermath of popular referendum in Kurdistan in 2017, Iraqi military moved to control Kirkuk and other Kurdish areas outside the KRG control. These areas are still waiting for normalization and census to determine their fate. In addition, military operations in Alton Kopri and Sahela after the Iraq’s control of Kirkuk have proved beyond doubt that the aim was to undermine the current government in Kurdistan. Iraqi former Prime Ministers Haider al-Abadi and Nouri al-Maliki have spoken of Iran s role, particularly General Qasem Soleimani, in the whole process. Relations between the region and Iran are still not back to normal´-or-at least before the referendum in Kurdistan.
The flood of articles and government actions continues with regard to the Normalization Conference, and the repercussions of this conference will continue until and possibly after the elections on October 10, 2021. Against this background, we believe that these elections are crucial especially to some political entities, especially if we take into account the warning of the esteemed Ayatollah Sistani’s Office not to vote for “people involved in corruption´-or-incompetent´-or-parties that do not believe in the principles of the decent Iraqi people´-or-operate outside the framework of the constitution (emphasis added) can take seats in the House of Representatives"(1) and since the status of the Peshmerga is constitutional and part of the Iraqi armed forces, therefore we have only one option left, namely the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which was established by Sistani’s fatwa. We believe he meant PMU’s in this statement. If we take into account that there is a PMU pro-Iranian wing, and ideological differences between Khamanei of Iran and Sistani, the most important of which is the issue of the "Governance of the Jurist/ wilayet al-Fiqih"(2), clearly what is meant is the popular mobilization and the pro-Iranian wing in particular.
Furthermore, the list of Mishaan al-Jubouri, which includes the signatures of 87 opposition leaders, including Nouri al-Maliki, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Akram al-Hakim of the Supreme Council, Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani(3). This was at the opposition conference in London in 2002, and we have not seen any response to it so far, and this event was years before the Abrahamic Accords, we believe that there is no justification for the storm raised by the Iraqi government about the normalization conference. It is Iran who is behind it and not public pressure at all since it did not know to a large extent what happened at the conference in the first place and that the signatures of the opposition representatives at the time are now in power´-or-at least most of them are!
From this point of view, we believe that the upcoming elections, if not decisive for the KRG, it will certainly intensify the conflict with the PMU, especially in areas bordering the Kurdish region. Iran is betting on PMU’s successes in these elections, and if this is achieved it will be crucial for the future of the region because Iran will work to undermine the KRG legally through its influence on PMU representatives in the Iraqi parliament, and has tried, as we have seen earlier, to undermine the KRG militarily but failed. And if can’t, Iran will intensify pressure to an alarming degree of severity, which the Grand Ayatollah pointed out by saying "because of the great risks to the future of the country."(4) Furthermore, yesterday’s statement only confirms Iranian intentions toward KRG “We have taken strategic patience in the face of terrorist groups based in Kurdistan Region, but we have informed our friends in Iraq that this situation cannot continue …and these groups [Kurdish groups of east Kurdistan] have to get out of the Region … must be disarmed …." Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Khatibzadeh said in a press statement today [Monday 4 October 2021.]
As for the PMU leaders, they will face more pressure to confront their opponents in the Iraqi government on the one hand and to keep KR and Kurdish areas to its south. They will be in an unenviable position between the Iranian pressure and Iraqi groups. Iran s economy continues to worsen day by day and its political pressure on Iraq will grow accordingly to cover its economic and political problems at home.
Notes and Sources:
1) September 29, 2021 Statement by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani s office on Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections. https://www.sistani.org/arabic/statement/26536/
2 ) For more on the differences of Shiites and the PMU and their various trends, see Sajjad Taqi Kazem: "Refraining from elections protects Iraqi Shiites from unrest . . . [A]fter the elections, Sotaliraq.com, October 4, 2021. ..
3) Mashaan al-Jubouri "87 Iraqi figures signed on normalization with Israel at the London Conference in 2002, Sotaliraq.com, September 29, 2021.
4) Statement by his Eminence Ayatollah Sistani’s Office on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq on September 29, 2021 https://www.sistani.org/arabic/statement/26536/