Significant Nomination in Iraq

Abstract vector color map of Iraq country colored by national flag
Abstract vector color map of Iraq country colored by national flag

On Monday, June 24th the Iraqi Parliament approved the nomination of the following Ministers: General (Res.) Najah Hassan Ali al-Shammari to be Iraq’s Minister of Defense; Yassin Taher Hassan al-Yasiri to be Iraq’s Minister of Interior Affairs; and Farouk al-Shwani to be Iraq’s Minister of Justice.

The Iraqi elections were held in May 2018. Since then – until Monday, those three positions had not been filled.

The reason for the delay was the power struggle within Iraq between Iranian proxies and pro-Iranian factors and those who reject Iranian intervention in Iraq and in Iraqi affairs. (On the Iranian-Iraqi struggle in Iraq, please see some articles I have published on that issue below).

In my analysis, Al- Shammari’s nomination is a political achievement for the Iraqi camp that opposes Iranian intervention in Iraq.

Five facts support that evaluation:

  • On June 18th, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Senior Iraqi political leader and Senior Shi’ite Cleric, head of the paramilitary force Saraya al-Salam (The Peace Companies), the leader of the largest Iraqi political coalition – Saeroun (“Marching On”), and a bitter opponent of Iran’s intervention in Iraq, sent an ultimatum to the Iraqi government: “Fill the positions – or I will order my supporters to go on strike and hold protest demonstrations against the government.’
  • It has been reported that Iraq demanded Iran stop its Iraqi proxies from attacking U.S. military personnel and civilians in Iraq.
  • The nomination takes place few days after a joint announcement of Iraqi President, Barham Salih (who is Kurdish) and Iraqi Prime Minister ‘Adil ‘abdul al-Mahdi (who is Shi’ite) demanding that all weapons should be under state authority only. Though not overtly stated – the announcement refers to the challenge presented by Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias called Al-Hashd al-Sha’abi (the Popular Mobility Units OR PMU). Officially part of the Iraqi security forces, the PMU consist of some 70 Iraqi (mostly Shi’ite) paramilitary militias and numbers between 40,000 and 160,000 militants. Though not all of the militias that comprise the PMU are affiliated with Iran – the leading and most powerful militias are affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG), are tuned to the messages coming out of Teheran, and are meant to implement Iranian policy on the ground.
  • Al- Shammari is Sunni retired General who earned his military education in Iraq, Jordan and the United States. He is affiliated with the Shi’ite Iraqi politician, previous Prime Minister of Iraq, and current Vice President of Iraq, Ayad Allawi – who opposed Iran’s intervention in Iraq and in Iraqi affairs.
  • In his first formal speech as the Minister of Defense, Al- Shammari emphasized the need to “strengthen Iraq’s armed forces, to defend democracy and the Iraqi constitution, and to enhance coordination (using the Arabic term Tansik – but not the term Ta’awoun which means cooperation) with the PMU as well as the Sunni Tribal paramilitary frame.” In analyzing his very carefully made speech, it is my evaluation that his speech indicates his affiliation with the Iraqi camp that opposes Iranian intervention in Iraq and in Iraqi affairs.

The timing of Al- Shammari’s nomination is significant. With the rising tensions in the Gulf, Iran’s proxies in Iraq are a critical tool to carry out Iran’s policy of calculated military provocations. Over the past two months (May and June), the PMU has launched attacks on US military personnel and U.S. civilians (oil industry workers) in Iraq.

For months Iran – via its supporters and proxies in Iraq – vetoed the nomination of an Iraqi Minister of Defense. They demanded the position be filled by a person Iran approves. Al- Shammari’s nomination indicates Iran backed down on that demand.

Will Iran challenge the nomination by ordering its proxies to increase and perhaps escalate their attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq? Or does the Iranian compromise signal that they are interested in calming tensions with the US and that they will stop using their proxies in Iraq to provoke the U.S?

The days ahead will answer that question.

P.S. Since publishing this article there was an attack on the Bahrain Embassy in Iraq that was attributed to Iranian backed Iraqi militias.

Please see my latest articles on the Gulf Crisis

A Dangerous Loop in The Arab (Persian) Gulf  – June 24

Critical Day in the Arab (Persian) Gulf – June 20th, 2019 – June 20

Escalation in the Arab (Persian) Gulf: Observations, Evaluation, Prediction – May 20

Please see some of my articles on the Iranian-Iraqi power struggle within Iraq and Iraq’s struggle to free itself from the Iranian grip:

Post-Election Iraq: A spinning Whirlpool

Will Iran Deepen its Intervention in Iraq?

About the Author
Avi Melamed is a Strategic Intelligence Analyst and an Expert on the Current Affairs in the Arab and Muslim World and their impact on the Middle East. He is the Founder and CEO of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives (ITME), an empowering intelligence analysis praxis transforming students and practitioners into knowledgeable, media literate, critical thinkers. ITME’s goal is to ensure that the next generation of policy influencers will have be equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools to independently and accurately decipher the Middle East and accurately predict the direction of future events. He is a former Israeli Intelligence Official and Senior Official on Arab Affairs. In his public service, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities and communities throughout the region – often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. His newest book, Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous and Complicated Region on Earth, (also available as an audio book) – a GPS to help you navigate the dramatically changing Middle East, offers a unique insight into the Arab world, challenges widely-accepted perceptions, provides a guide to make sense of the events unfolding in the region, and offers an out of the box idea that could lead to a positive breakthrough in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs. An Israeli Jew, fluent in Arabic, English and Hebrew, with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi has his finger on the pulse on the Arab world. He has a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events in the Middle East and their impact on a local and regional level. Through all of his efforts, as an analyst, educator, entrepreneur, and writer, he is a bridge builder, and dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other. @AviMelamed
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