After Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai, Iraqi Grand Shia Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani became the second top cleric to call for disbanding Iranian proxies across the Middle East and restoring state sovereignty.
Following his meeting with UN representatives in Iraq, al-Sistani issued a statement in which he offered his view for the country. The aging Shia cleric called on the government to “control border crossings, improve the performance of security forces, restore sovereignty by collecting all unauthorized weapons, and not allow the emergence of districts under the control by armed groups using various excuses to violate laws.”
Al-Sistani’s statement contradicted his earlier fatwa, or edict, in which he supported the formation of militias to fight ISIS under the pretext of “defensive jihad.”
The Iraqi ayatollah added: “The government is required to uncover all those who have carried out criminal acts of killing, wounding, or otherwise against protesters, security forces, or innocent citizens, or who have assaulted public or private property, since the start of the popular movement last year.” He also called for apprehending “those who carried out kidnappings or recent assassinations.” Al-Sistani argued that such measures were required for the holding of early parliamentary elections before June, when the current Parliament’s term expires, in a free and fair setting.
Perhaps because Iran has bought all the corrupt politicians in Lebanon and Iraq, or has made sure that all anti-militia voices – whether politicians, journalists or activists – be muffled through threats or even assassinations, religious clerics, who relatively enjoy more immunity from harm than other dissidents, have become the only voices capable of expressing popular outrage against Iran and its lawless militias. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been the exception, but as the chief of the executive power, his role is to disband the militias, not only demand they be dissolved.
Yet despite al-Rai and al-Sistani’s demands for the disbanding of Iran’s proxies, world powers have yet to capitalize on such calls. In fact, European powers have not only ignored anti-Iran voices in Lebanon and Iraq, but have offered Iran an off ramp, asking Beirut and Baghdad to embark on reforms and work toward good governance, as if such reforms are ever possible in the presence of lawless thugs like Lebanese Hezbollah and its Iraqi counterpart Kata’ib Hezbollah.
The three European powers known as the E3 – Britain, France and Germany – have gone out of their way to oppose America’s unilateral sanctions on Iran and appease the mullahs. The Europeans even defied their NATO ally, America, when Washington tried to extend a UN arms embargo on Iran. But why?
Between the time the nuclear deal entered into effect in January 2016 and America’s reimposition of unilateral sanctions in May 2018, the Europeans found lucrative business in Iran. The Franco-German aircraft giant Airbus, whose engines are made by Britain’s Rolls Royce, won a $25 billion contract with Tehran to sell the Iranians over 100 airplanes in January 2016. French energy company Total also secured a fat contract with the Iranian government in 2017, but the French company pulled out of the contract in 2019 after sanctions were put back in place. At the time, Total invested $5 billion in the South Pars Phase 11 project that was expected to produce 400,000 barrels of oil a day at the world’s largest gas field.
And thus, European capitals have been trying to blunt President Donald Trump’s policy on Iran and wait him out, hoping that if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is elected in November, the nuclear deal will be reinstated and the Iranian market reopened.
In America, Biden published an op-ed on CNN’s website in which he wrote that after rejoining the nuclear deal, “America will also work closely with Israel to ensure it can defend itself against Iran and its proxies.” Biden seems to believe that proxies will continue to be present if he believes that America should help Israel defend itself against them.
Back in Lebnaon, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut in the aftermath of the port explosion and amid the ongoing economic free fall. After urging “fundamental change” during his first visit, Macron walked back his demand and on his second visit called for state reforms that steered clear from aaddressing the issue of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which needs corruption in Lebanon and Iraq to reward loyal oligarchs and finance its illicit networks. As Cabinet formation has stalled in Lebanon, Hezbollah has demanded that a Shia party control the finance ministry.
It is unfortunate that the interests of America’s Democrats and European powers do not align with those of the people of Lebanon, Iraq, Syria or Yemen, whose patriarchs are now calling for an end to the Iran-imposed “resistance state” model in their countries. It is also unfortunate that while patriarchs in Lebanon and Iraq call for disbanding Iranian militias in their countries, Macron and Biden – if he makes it to the White House – will settle for coexisting with, rather than eradicating, Iran’s terrorist proxies. Macron once called on Iran to disband those militias, but seems to have balked when push came shove. Biden never called for an end to proxies. It is unlikely that he will.