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Middle East Press on Honour Killing, Iraqi Cybercrime and Israelis-Emiratis Connect: New Age Islam's Selection, 4 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

4 December 2020

• Honour Killings Against Women Increase In Southeast Syrian City

By Akhin Ahmed

• Activists Fear Iraqi Cybercrime Law Could Limit Press Freedoms

By Omar Sattar

• Israelis, Emiratis Connect Over Cinema, Concern For Nature

By Rina Bassist

• Australian War Crimes And Racist Fantasies In Afghanistan

By Sahar Ghumkhor

• What Biden Can And Cannot Do For The Kurds

By Yerevan Saeed

• Empower Regular Iraqis To End Their Country’s Forever War

By Michael Pregent


Honour Killings Against Women Increase In Southeast Syrian City

By Akhin Ahmed

Dec 3, 2020

Dozens of civil and rights activists held a sit-in Nov. 19 in front of the Palace of Justice in the city of Suwayda southeast of the Syrian capital, Damascus, in protest against the rise of crimes against women and girls that perpetrators have referred to as "honour killings."

The protesters held banners reading “We will seek justice,” “The killer has no honour,” “Crime and honour do not meet,” “Killing women is not honourable,” “You killed because she was a woman,” “You killed her because you are a criminal,” “We want the rule of law” and “The law is our security and protection.”

According to media sources, the protests came in response to a significant rise of honor killings against women in Suwayda. Most recently on Nov. 7, locals told police about a man and a woman who hid the body of a woman in her 30s in a remote area after the man in question killed her by hitting her in the head with an ax. Police arrested the suspects and an investigation revealed that they were the victim’s uncle and mother.

In response, activists launched on social media an Arabic hashtag that roughly translates into “We will seek justice,” coinciding with the Nov. 19 sit-in.

Lujain Hamzah, a civil activist from Suwayda and one of the organizers of the sit-in, wrote on her Facebook page Nov. 17, “We will seek justice. … There is no honour in killing. We call on you to hold a silent vigil to protest the killing of nine women after the sanctions [against such crimes] was reduced under the pretext of honour. We will demand [justice] for the blood of the victims, especially the one who was killed in the most heinous way with an ax. Together we demand [the implementation] of strict sanctions and the protection of our community from blood and animosity. Honour is supreme, while crime is a form of decadence that cannot be compared to honour. It is the victims’ right for us to demand justice. Meeting on Nov. 19, 2020.”

Lynne Faisal, a women’s rights activist, told Al-Monitor that many women and girls in Suwayda are killed by their own brothers, husbands or other relatives to get their inheritance. The men accuse them of obscene acts to justify their crime as a so-called honor killing, she said.

“In many cases of honour killings, the coroner’s report proves that the female victim was a virgin. It turns out later that the killer killed the woman to get her inheritance,” Faisal said.

Roula Sabry, a pseudonym for a 35-year-old woman who hails from Suwayda and has been living in Germany for 10 years, told Al-Monitor about her sister who was slain five years ago in Suwayda under an honour killing pretext. “When my father passed away five years ago, my brother wanted to get his hands on my and my sister's inheritance. After she moved to live with my brother and refused to give him her part of the inheritance, he killed her under the pretext of honour and fled the country.”

Sabry added, “My sister was a virgin and the coroner said this.”

Lilia Jamil told Al-Monitor about her mother, who was killed by her father 10 years ago because she refused to give him the gold jewellery and money she had. So he killed her, claiming she had a relationship with another man.

“My father would always ask my mother to give him the gold and money that she inherited from her own father. My mom would refuse, especially since my father gambled. One day as I returned from school, my father was threatening to kill my mother if she didn’t give him her gold necklace and money to make up for the losses he incurred during gambling. When she refused, he stabbed her in the stomach and heart and claimed that he killed her under the pretext of honour,” Jamil said.

Roula Kobeiss, a rights activist, told Al-Monitor there has been a significant rise of honour killings across Syria. “Claiming that the crime against a woman was an honour killing is an attempt by the killer and society to prove the legitimacy of said crime and escape punishment.”

Kobeiss said that “honour killing” is not mentioned in Syrian law, but the latter includes several legal gaps that allow the killer to circumvent the law and commit his crime.

On March 8, on International Women's Day, the Syrian government abolished Article 548 of the Syrian Penal Code, which had allowed mitigating circumstances as an excuse for perpetrators of so-called honour killings.

Kobeiss said, “Traditions and archaic beliefs in our society are the main reasons behind the killing of women in the Syrian community. A new law that would sentence the killers to life in prison must be adopted; only then will women be spared death.”


Activists Fear Iraqi Cybercrime Law Could Limit Press Freedoms

By Omar Sattar

Dec 3, 2020

The proposed cybercrimes bill returns to the fore after the Iraqi parliament completed the first reading of the draft last week. This makes it the fourth attempt in which political parties seek to pass legislation codifying freedom of expression in the country. Similar attempts ended in vain in 2007, 2012, 2018 and 2019.

Media and human rights circles in Iraq believe that the bill — proposed by the committees of security, defense, legal affairs, education, culture, tourism, human rights, services, reconstruction, communications and media — is the harshest of similar laws in the world as it represses freedom of expression and imposes restrictions on social media sites. On Nov. 26, Human Rights Watch described the draft bill as “yet another tool to suppress dissent,” in violation of international law. For its part, the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights described it as an attempt “to intimidate society.” The Observatory said the draft law was written based on a police state approach, similar to the one adopted by the authorities during the October protests and which was intended to suppress voices opposing it. It denounced the cybercrime law as aiming to stifle “freedoms and rights'' guaranteed in the Iraqi Constitution amid widespread objections by civilians and activists.

The draft is legislation governing the crimes of publication on social media and the misuse of computers and electronic devices that cause harm to others or national security. It defines cybercrimes as “a positive or negative criminal activity involving the use of advanced technology directly or indirectly as a means or goal to carry out an intentional criminal act in the information environment.”

However, some of the articles in the draft angered the Iraqi street, media and even political elites — such as the article requiring a prison sentence of seven to 10 years and a fine against anyone using the internet and a computer with the intention of “assaulting principles and religious, family or social values.​​ The draft states that whoever incites, aids, agrees or participates with others to commit a crime stipulated in this law shall be deemed an accomplice to the crime. This is among 21 punitive articles, some of which relate to encroaching on any religious, moral, family, social, or national symbols and values, promoting hate speech and assaulting authorities without clearly defining these concepts. This renders the draft a tool in the hands of the ruling authority to suppress dissent.

Mustafa Naser, an Iraqi journalist and a free speech activist, is the president of the Association for Defending Press Freedom in Iraq. He said that the draft in its current version is different from the versions introduced in previous years, but it is still incomplete and includes a set of punitive articles opposing the Constitution, specifically in Chapter 2 on rights and freedoms.

Naser told Al-Monitor that “the committees that drafted the bill did not even think about drafting articles to combat hate speech and sectarianism, but rather focused on the practices and activities of citizens only. “The hefty sanctions in this draft are mostly related to ambiguous concepts that are not clearly defined and sometimes violated the Iraqi penal code.”

Among the most prominent criticisms leveled at the cybercrime bill is that it punishes whoever incites a crime even when the crime does not actually take place, which opens the way for prosecution for any tweet or opinion that may be interpreted as incitement and not a criticism of the performance of the authorities or an opposing political opinion.

Article 22 provides for a prison sentence and fine for anyone who “creates, administers or helps to create a site on an information network that promotes or incites to immorality and obscenity or any programs, information, photographs or films that violate ethics or public morals.”

Meanwhile, the parliamentary blocs supporting the draft argue that it meets the need to regulate activity on the internet and prevent electronic blackmail. Parliament member and member of the parliamentary Security Committee Badr Al-Ziyadi told Al-Monitor, “Iraq registers hundreds of cases of electronic blackmail every day. Websites and computers are misused, and there must be legislation to regulate this matter and prevent the occurrence of these kinds of crimes that are not covered by existing laws.”

Regarding the wide objections to the draft, Ziyadi said, “The Iraqi parliament has responded to criticisms and proposals. The current version of the law differs significantly from the previous drafts. Some objections are raised by those who want to maintain the status quo in order to keep practicing extortion and illegal acts freely and without any accountability. The parliament presidency will host human rights and civil society organizations to discuss the current version of the draft.”

The reading of this bill in Iraq's parliament comes at a time when the issue of freedoms is subject to a wide debate after the campaign of assassinations and kidnappings of many activists, media professionals and protesters since the end of last year to date — especially those who participated in supporting the popular protests that broke out in October 2019 against the ruling parties.

This raised the ire of the media quarters in particular. Moayad al-Lami, head of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, believes that the draft violates the Constitution by repressing freedom of the press in the country, which is "already undermined and under constant pressure."

Lami called for amending the draft in accordance with the provisions on freedoms in the Iraqi Constitution. “The cybercrime law must be a legislation to protect everyone. We will resort to legal means of recourse should the law be passed in its current version, which was rejected by the majority of civil society organizations and various media organizations.”

It is expected that the massive protests and objections to this bill will lead to the postponement of the vote on it or to its amendment at the very least. But if the parliamentary blocs insist on passing it this time, they will be confirming the opinion that this law will help them run the early general elections scheduled for the upcoming summer away from popular criticism and possibly by suppressing dissenting voices by means of the punitive provisions of the law.


Israelis, Emiratis Connect Over Cinema, Concern For Nature

By Rina Bassist

Dec 3, 2020

As Israeli legislators from across the political spectrum sent well wishes to the United Arab Emirates on its 49th National Day yesterday, Israeli artists also congratulated their new Middle East friends. French-Israeli singer Ishtar recorded a special greeting in Arabic. Singer Eyal Golan, actor Sasson Gabai and musician Aviv Geffen sent their greetings in English. "I am so glad we are all part of one family, which is the peace family," said Geffen.

Normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates is being driven first and foremost by common diplomatic, security and economic interests. Every day we hear about new economic joint ventures and delegations of business people visiting each other. Still, ties between the civil societies, universities and non-profit groups are also advancing, arguably even faster than bilateral trade.

The Abu Dhabi Film Commission, the Israel Film Fund and the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film & Television School announced two months ago they had reached an agreement for cooperation in the fields of film and television. A joint statement published less than a week after the Sept. 15 normalization ceremony at the White House read, "Under the new agreement, the film commissions will create an intercultural cooperation, creating content with the goal of promoting tolerance, education and developing a deeper cultural understanding between the Emirati and Israeli people."

The agreement establishes joint film workshops and training initiatives and lays plans for a regional film festival that would alternate between the two countries, showcasing Israeli and Emirati productions and co-productions.

The Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School is considered Israel’s leading institution of its kind, and its graduates man the helm of the booming Israeli film industry. For several years now its Great Master’s visit program has regularly hosted renowned filmmakers and encouraged its students to participate in programs abroad. Still, the school considers the Abu Dhabi agreement a unique opportunity for Israeli film students and is keen on advancing this new partnership.

Sam Spiegel's enthusiasm is certainly shared by its Emirati counterparts. Abu Dhabi Film Commissioner Hans Fraikin said, “This new partnership between the UAE and Israel will be extremely beneficial for our burgeoning Emirati film and television community by allowing our talented content creators to broaden their landscapes and develop skills from diverse expertise.”

Not counting bilateral trade, the world of cinema is not the only domain to benefit from normalization. In another interesting cooperation initiative, an agreement was signed in November between the International Fund for Houbara Conservation in Abu Dhabi and the Israel Nature & Heritage Foundation to collaborate on conservation work in Israel. The Nov. 23 memorandum of understanding outlined cooperation in the next five years on research and field efforts to save the African Houbara bird and other endangered species.

In a communique shared with Al-Monitor, Vilnai said, "Through the agreement, the Israel Nature & Heritage Foundation will benefit from the vast knowledge accumulated by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation about the biology, behaviour and population movements of the Houbara and other species and from the fund’s expertise in conservation and rehabilitation of natural habitats."

Shaul Goldstein is the director of the Nature and Park Authority, under which the Nature & Heritage Foundation operates. He too was thrilled over the agreement signed with the Emirates, inviting these future partners to visit Israel and to consider additional forms of cooperation.

A third non-commercial initiative for cooperating with the Emirates came from the Ministry of Health. On Aug. 24, even before the normalization agreement was official, the Israeli and Emirati health ministers agreed to cooperate. Health Ministry director Hezi Levi visited the Emirates on Aug. 31 to discuss cooperation in battling obesity and fighting the coronavirus pandemic as well as medical training programs and student exchanges. They also discussed cooperation in emergency situations.

On Sept. 10, representatives of the nonprofit Rachashei Lev organization, which supports children with cancer, visited the Gold International Cancer Center in Dubai. An agreement between two will facilitate exchange of both knowledge and volunteers. "We are proud and excited to take part in the historic peace agreement between Israel and the UAE. As part of the first official medical delegation from Israel, we were invited to examine advanced medical technologies and groundbreaking treatments. We are so excited about this new deal, as we know it will serve as a fantastic tool in the development of new and innovative treatments for our heroic children," the group posted on Facebook.

Last but not least comes sports. Israeli athletes have been ostracized in past years by Arab athletes who refused to compete against them and by Arab countries who refused to host them for events. On Oct. 23, the two countries' soccer leagues signed a memorandum of understanding to bolster cooperation. Two days later, the Israeli team Maccabi Haifa announced a cooperation agreement with the Emirates' Al-Ain. The two teams plan to meet soon for a friendly match in Abu Dhabi. Senior officials from the soccer associations of both countries are also in close contact. For them, as well, a friendly game between the two national soccer teams is just a question of time.


Australian War Crimes And Racist Fantasies In Afghanistan

By Sahar Ghumkhor

3 Dec 2020

Last week the distressing details of a four-year inquiry into the Australian Defence Force’s war crimes in Afghanistan were finally released to the public. The country grappled with the scale of the violence: at least 23 deadly incidents; 39 Afghan civilians, including children, killed; at least 25 Australian soldiers of the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) involved.

The report described a savage practice of “blooding”, where young special forces soldiers were instructed by senior commanders to make their “first kill” and a “culture of secrecy”, where witnesses remained silent and murderers covered up their crimes by planting weapons and radios on dead bodies.

While the details of the crimes have been widely reported on, there has been a curious reluctance in Australia to explain the violence and trace its racist origins. The local media coverage of the revelations had a defensive tone.

Military, academic and mental health experts appeared on Australian TV screens to buffer the allegations by speaking of the integrity of the military and concerns over the impact on the image and morale of the defence forces. Australian officials and commentators tried to present the war crimes as an act of a few “bad apples” just as their American counterparts did with the uncovered torture and murder at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Even when the horror of the war crimes was on full display and the sheer scale of the war crimes and depraved practices undeniable, white innocence was still desperately gasping for redemption.

But what struck me the most as an Afghan living in Australia watching this fiasco unravel was how the coverage of the inquiry on Australian TV ended with the promotion of a mental health helpline for members of the military and their families. This, in a year of protests against uniformed men terrorising civilian populations and basking in impunity taking place around the world.

The tone deafness was incredible and the narcissism – diabolical. Absent in the media coverage was any concern for the victims and the feelings of Afghans and Afghan Australians. Many of us carry the scars of war and many were certainly retraumatised by these findings.

Army Chief Angus Campbell did offer an apology to Afghans on the day of the report’s release. But he also curiously repeated the report’s conclusion that these crimes did not occur in the “heat of battle”. That is, we have 39 illegal murders and an untold number of others which must be “legal”, as they occurred in what the Australian army decided was the “heat of battle”.

This is how the spellbinding fog of the so-called “war on terror” transforms civilians into “collateral damage” or suspect terrorists, monsters into heroes, freedom fighters into terrorists and terrorists into Muslims. The racial economy of the “war on terror” has made Black and brown lives cheap, disposable, not worth acknowledging or grieving. More than half a million people have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq in the “heat of battle”, but the gruesome details of their murders will not make it into any report.

This normalisation of violence by the West in certain parts of the world creates spaces where practices like “blooding” – the merciless murder of civilians and detainees as a rite of passage – flourish. It is where the slaughter of defenceless people as a bonding ritual to make white men into warriors is deemed acceptable. It is where white men, drunk on their own saviour fantasy, come to see themselves as all-powerful, as untouchable.

But why “blooding”? There is something primal about the word. It has a dehumanising effect, reducing locals to animals to be sacrificed for a higher purpose – a manifest destiny – in a coming-of-age ritual. “Blooding”, “warrior culture” and “Zulu” – the name some SAS units adopted – are steeped in histories of colonial violence.

Australians should be intimately familiar with these themes. After all, this nation has a prolific history of “blooding” rituals, dispossession and naked violence against native populations.

Today the white men return to the former imperial frontier to pursue boyhood ideals of adventure, discovery and unbridled aggressions. Afghanistan is not a graveyard of empires as the mythology insists, it is where the imperial imagination is set free to act out its darkest fantasies with no legal or moral restraint.

And just like in colonial times, when white men went after trophies, including human ones, today they collect body parts of dead Afghan civilians and their prosthetics to use as drinking vessels.

The desire for possession of body parts, even plastic ones, is a dark pathology, especially when they are snatched from a land covered with landmines and inhabited by so many broken bodies, where prosthetic parts are inaccessible to many. I wonder about the Australians who witnessed the theft of a dead Afghan man’s prosthetic leg or knew where it came from, but nevertheless, relished drinking beer from it.

I think about the mutilated face of Aisha Mohammedzai, the Afghan girl who appeared on the front cover of Time magazine in 2010, who was then flown to the US and offered a plastic nose. Plastic body parts are powerful commodities in Afghanistan: white men can give them as a gift and can take them away as punishment.

Perhaps the even more insidious part of this story is how the white men can kill at will, mutilate corpses, steal body parts and still come away feeling like heroes.

Indeed, despite the reports of war crimes piling up and murder of civilians spiking, the overarching Western narrative of the Afghan war has continued to present Western armies as saviours.

The war in Afghanistan has been considered the “good war”, unlike the invasion of Iraq which some eventually denounced as the “bad war”, the one built on lies. One has to wonder, however, how the anti-war movement came to believe that the same people who lied to us about Iraq somehow had the best of intentions in Afghanistan.

There is nothing that makes Westerners feel more powerful than the official rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan: going to war for the sake of Muslim women, to protect them from Muslim men.

But people forget that the original justification was not the protection of Afghan women. The US and its allies initially declared they were invading as an act of self-defence because Afghanistan was harbouring al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, who was accused of ordering the 9/11 attacks.

But none of the conditions for self-defence were sufficiently met to secure legal approval. There was no ongoing armed threat against the US by the time of the invasion, the Security Council did not meet in time to sanction it, Afghanistan was not an aggressor nation, harbouring bin Laden did not warrant a military intervention and the Taliban was actually open to negotiate.

Once the war began, America and its allies were in murky legal territory and they knew it. The motives for the war quickly shifted from self-defence to defending Afghan women and removing the Taliban. The new paradigm of militant humanitarianism (responsibility to protect) became the cover-up narrative for the illegal origins of the war.

This humanitarian pretence has disarmed Afghans of the right to self-defence and self-determination. The idea of the “good war” has been so tenuously guarded that the plight of Afghan women has become dogma and Afghan political will that does not align with the humanitarian paradigm and its vision for the future of the country has been automatically labelled a threat.

As evidence of horrendous war crimes mounts, Westerners, including Australians, continue to hold on to the racist fantasy that they are fighting a “good war” in Afghanistan, that they have the moral right to demarcate the boundaries of the battleground, that they can decide who is a civilian and who is Taliban.

In “the heart of darkness”, these delineations do not really mean anything, they are mere cloaks for monsters and the nations that birth them. For many Afghans, this is the real revelation of the Australian inquiry.


Sahar Ghumkhor's research explores the intersections of race, gender and psychoanalysis.


What Biden Can And Cannot Do For The Kurds

By Yerevan Saeed

3 Dec 2020

Many Kurds across the Middle East welcomed Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the recent elections in the United States. The former vice president is known to be sympathetic to the Kurdish cause and his presidency is expected to bring some relief from the harmful policies Trump pursued.

Some even hope that the Biden administration may oversee the fulfilment of the Kurdish dream for an independent state. After all, it was Biden who in May 2015 told Masoud Barzani, then president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI): “We will see an independent Kurdistan in our lifetime”. But are such hopes realistic?

There is little question that Biden has been a staunch supporter of the Kurds for nearly three decades. In 1991, he denounced former President George H W Bush for allowing Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein to recapture the liberated Kurdish areas in northern Iraq. In 2002, he addressed the KRI’s parliament, reassuring members that “mountains are not your only friends”.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Biden advocated for a federal model in which Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia regions are established to help alleviate the sectarian tensions driving the civil war. This move was welcomed by the Kurds, who saw it as a guarantee of their autonomy.

Biden also harshly criticised the Trump administration’s policies on the Kurds. In 2019, Trump gave the green light to Turkey to attack Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria, for which Biden called him “the most reckless and incompetent commander in chief we’ve ever had”.

But the president-elect is also a realist, and when he takes office on January 20, 2021, he will pursue the best interests of his country. His willingness to support the Kurds will be limited by the broader US agenda in the Middle East that he will set.

He had a similar approach as vice president tasked with dealing with Iraq and Syria under the two administrations of President Barack Obama. During that time, Biden repeatedly tried to leverage his personal relationships with Kurdish leaders to advance the US interests and in fact, in some cases he prevented Kurds from strengthening their strategic position vis-à-vis Baghdad.

While supporting Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, Biden pressured Erbil to come to terms with Baghdad. He personally asked Barzani to delay the vote on the KRI constitution because it had included the disputed province of Kirkuk as an integral part of the Kurdish region. This would have sparked an ethnic conflict in Iraq between Kurds and Arabs and undermined US interests in Iraq.

In 2010, Biden, along with Obama, personally asked Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to give up his position as president of Iraq in favour of Ayad Allawi, the head of the Iraqiya coalition, which had won the elections earlier that year. This move would have meant giving up a post allocated to the Kurds, which would have greatly diminished Kurdish power in Baghdad. Talabani rebuffed the request and stayed in his post.

Biden also supported Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose decision to cut Erbil’s budget in 2014 and purge Kurds from the Iraqi Army caused a lot of resentment in the KRI.

So while Biden has expressed much support for the Kurds in rhetoric, in practice, his record is mixed at best. As a person who deeply believes in human rights and freedom, he may want the Kurds to have an independent state, but he also understands the consequences this may have in one of the most challenging geopolitical regions of the world.

In 2007, he warned Kurdish leaders against pursuing independence by saying: “You will be eaten alive by the Turks and the Iranians, they will attack you, there will be an all-out war” and emphasising that the US would not be able to protect them.

Yet interestingly, senior Kurdish officials told me during my recent trip to the KRI that Biden’s assertion in May 2015 about “an independent Kurdistan” and ambiguous remarks Obama made regarding the Kurds’ national aspiration were viewed as a departure from Washington’s long-held policy of a united Iraq. They also noted that this set in motion the Kurdish bid for independence, which culminated in the 2017 referendum.

“We thought that that was a green light to go ahead because they did not tell us, ‘don’t do it,’” said one official. Another journalist with close ties to Barzani, echoed this sentiment, adding, “We understand clear messages and statements and the United States did not give us that.”

Therefore, it is important for the next US administration to clearly articulate its policy towards the Kurds in order to avoid potential misunderstandings that could have real-life implications for the stability of the region.

The Kurds, for their part, should manage their expectations about what Biden can do for them. Instead of waiting on the US to provide support or solve their disputes, they should focus on what they can do for themselves: strengthening Kurdish institutions, upholding the rule of law, tempering down internal political tensions, and embracing freedom of speech and democracy.

Progress on all of these issues will be welcomed by the new administration, which at the very least will provide some level of foreign policy predictability and stability – a much-needed change after four years of Trump’s erratic leadership and reckless decision-making.


Yerevan Saeed is a Research Associate at Middle East Research Institute. He is a PhD candidate at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), George Mason. He previously served as White House Correspondent for Kurdish Rudaw TV, and has worked for news agencies including the New York Times, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the BBC and the Guardian as a journalist and translator.


Empower Regular Iraqis To End Their Country’s Forever War

By Michael Pregent

December 03, 2020

This has been a terrible year for Iraq. Well, 2020 started out great with the killing of Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 2, but it went downhill from there. I will revisit the anniversary of the Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis strike a bit later, as we get closer to its one-year anniversary — and so will the Iraqi militias.

Iraq’s 2021 depends on the actions taken by the Trump administration over the next seven weeks and those taken after inauguration day on Jan. 20.

President Donald Trump’s Iraq and Iran team would be wise to sanction the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Basij, and the Quds Force in its entirety for human rights abuses, and do the same with Iraqi militia leaders, political parties, and militias tied to Iran. Sanctions for documented human rights violations and abuses would be lasting and would stay in place regardless of who is in office in 2021. Lifting sanctions on individuals and entities tied to human rights abuses would be impossible for the Biden administration to justify to the American people, especially to moderate Democrats.

Moderate Democrats will have more power in Congress, even though they lost seats due to the radical positions taken by members like Rep. Ilhan Omar. These moderate Democrats still see Iran as an oppressive terrorist state and want it held accountable.

Let us look at the 2021 Iraqis do not want. It is a year where a Biden administration — one that has advertised a pro-Iran policy — would accelerate the end of what is left of Iraq’s sovereignty. It would clear the way for the Quds Force and its proxies to have four more years to further solidify their control of Iraq, destabilize the Levant, and threaten US allies in the region.

All we have to do is look at what Soleimani did with the last two years of the Obama administration and the initial two years of the Trump administration, when Brett McGurk and Jim Mattis ignored the Quds Force commander’s growing influence in Iraq and Syria and urged Trump to do the same.

Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor, has ordered subordinated Iraqi militias not to provoke the US while Trump is in office and await Tehran’s favored candidate — as assessed by the US intelligence community — Joe Biden. Tehran favored Biden, while the Iranian people wanted Trump. And Baghdad took Tehran’s position despite the majority of Iraqis favoring Trump. In both cases, the people under oppressive rule wanted Trump, while their oppressors hoped for Biden.

The Iran-aligned Iraqi militias have been ordered not to attack the US Embassy or US mission in Iraq until after Biden’s inauguration. It will be hard for them not to attack on Jan. 2, the one-year anniversary of the strike on designated terrorists Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Al-Muhandis, but the US will be ready to respond under Trump.

While Ghaani’s militias are taking a tactical pause, they are still killing Iraqis and the international community should take action, along with the US, to designate and sanction these criminals.

The Nasiriyah killings of last week — by militias loyal to Tehran — should not go unpunished by Iraqis. They are the very people waiting to be empowered by the US to make the chant of “Iraq Hurra! Iran Barra!” (Iran out, Iraq is free) a reality.

It is time to empower the Sunni-Shiite organic anti-Iran resistance in Iraq through a turn away from Baghdad and an engagement with those Iraqis who are willing to forgive the US and allow it to correct its mistakes. There are Iraqi leaders inside and outside of Iraq encouraging a new US approach. These Iraqis are pro-US, anti-Iran, and are even willing to make peace with Israel over time.

It is time to end this forever war by granting victory to those who are willing to die for an Iraq that is free from Iran’s malign influence.

How do we achieve victory? Give Iraqis victory.

Listen to Iraqis over Iraq’s ruling class. Listen to the Iraqis that are willing to die for their rights and freedom from Iran. Listen to the Iraqis that taught us to defeat Al-Qaeda. Listen to the Iraqis that told us not to use Iran’s militias against Daesh. Listen to the Iraqis that tell us how to end this forever war. Listen to the Iraqi people instead of those in power and those Americans who benefit from forever wars.


Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.



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