Predictable anti-American rhetoric over Jerusalem from Iran’s Shia allies in Iraq

Jerusalem is all too often taken up as a cause by parties who have little or no interest in the plight of Palestine and the Palestinians.
December 10, 2017
Iraqi Shia clerics protest in the southern city of Basra to denounce US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel provoked a new round of mostly predictable anti-American rheto­ric from Iran’s Shia militia allies in Iraq and elsewhere.

The militias could use Trump’s December 6 announcement as a pretext to attack US military personnel in Iraq. They made the US military pay before — during certain phases of the Iraq war — and they may yet do so again.

Even so, some of the anti-Amer­ican rhetoric is just that, a theatri­cal exercise in hyperbole.

Consider some of what was said in the days after Trump’s an­nouncement.

“Trump’s stupid decision… will be the big spark for removing this entity [Israel] from the body of the Islamic nation and a legiti­mate reason to target American forces,” warned Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi, leader of the Iraqi Shia paramilitary group Harakat Hez­bollah al-Nujaba.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shia cleric who heads Iraq’s most powerful socio-political move­ment, called for “an ‘Arab spring’ completely against Israel.” He urged Saudi Arabia to “end war in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain and enter Palestine.”

It has been reported that Sadr demanded closure of the US Embassy in Baghdad, warning that “we can reach Israel through Syria.” It’s worth noting that his organisation’s militia wing, then known as the Jaysh al-Mahdi, engaged in a guerrilla campaign against US troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Iraqi militias supported by Iran are aware of Washington’s desire to dissolve the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, which makes their resistance to the United States a struggle for their own survival.

Kaabi’s warning must be taken at face value but Sadr’s words probably belong to the category of political theatre. Though Jaysh al- Mahdi caused the US forces many losses, Sadr has since manoeu­vred into a position that’s less aligned with Tehran’s viewpoint.

The very fact that he does not make threats against US military personnel and threatens geo­graphically distant Israel instead shows that Sadr has no immediate plans to abandon his independent platform. His remarkable appeal to Saudi Arabia rather than Iran is in line with his July visit to Riyadh.

In the final analysis, of course, the various reactions to Trump’s announcement underline another well-known feature of Middle Eastern politics. Jerusalem is all too often taken up as a cause by parties that have little or no inter­est in the plight of Palestine and the Palestinians.