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Inside Iraq’s Political Crisis

An ominous escalation has catapulted the country even deeper into turmoil.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr cheer.
Supporters of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr cheer.
Supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr cheer after entering Iraq’s parliament in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone on July 30. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following Iraq’s escalating political crisis, Ukraine’s counteroffensive, and the latest developments in Brazil’s presidential race.

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What’s Behind Iraq’s Escalating Political Crisis

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following Iraq’s escalating political crisis, Ukraine’s counteroffensive, and the latest developments in Brazil’s presidential race.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


What’s Behind Iraq’s Escalating Political Crisis

Deadly clashes flared in Iraq on Monday after hundreds of people stormed its government palace, an ominous turn of events that has plunged the country even deeper into political turmoil.

The protesters, fiercely loyal supporters of the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, had been enraged by his pledge to leave Iraqi politics—although he has made similar vows before and failed to follow through on them. Some experts say Sadr’s announcement was a dangerous, desperate ploy to maintain his power and galvanize his base.

“[Sadr] doesn’t have any leverage right now, so what he is doing is appealing to the emotions of his followers who are the closest you can get to a personal cult,” said Abbas Kadhim, director of the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative

“He is telling his followers that, ‘Okay, I was defeated, but its up to you to turn me into a victorious player by doing whatever it takes. Or you could say, we give up. We lost,’” Kadhim added. “These people are willing to do anything.”

At the heart of the crisis is a political deadlock that has paralyzed Iraq’s governmental processes and deepened internal rifts since the country’s October 2021 elections, all under the specter of Iranian influence. Although Sadr was the elections’ biggest victor, he was unable to negotiate a new government after excluding rival Shiite leaders. That pitched Iraq into uncertainty and left it in the hands of a caretaker government that can’t approve budgets or legislation.

As Iraq remained locked in a stalemate in June, Sadr ordered the resignations of the 73 members of parliament loyal to him. It did not go as he may have intended: They were swiftly replaced, effectively eliminating his parliamentary sway for the first time in nearly two decades.

“Sadr anticipated that his rivals … would repair this situation by going to him, begging him to change his mind and bring his MPs back,” Kadhim said. “But they did not. They called his bluff and went ahead and used the law to replace Sadr’s MPs with their own.”

Since July, hundreds of Sadr’s supporters have been camped out inside the parliament building to disrupt rivals’ political efforts. But Monday’s clashes—which killed at least 15 people, injured over 100 people, and pushed the military to impose a nationwide curfew—suggest a worrying new turn in the crisis.

Sadr’s ultimate goal is “to stir the nation and hijack popular sentiment to become the most powerful man in Iraq,” as analyst Shayan Talabany argued in Foreign Policy this month.

That suggests that the country’s crisis could worsen before it shows any signs of reprieve. “Sadr’s willingness to worsen Iraq’s political turmoil, delay Iraq’s government formation, and escalate protests further—threatening an all-out war with rival Shiite groups—should surely serve as a warning that he is capable of catapulting the country into something even worse,” Talabany wrote.


What We’re Following Today

Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Ukraine mounted a counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied territory on Monday, just days after the United States pledged a $3 billion military aid package to support its war efforts.

A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency is also set to touch down in the country this week to inspect the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as the war stokes fears of a potential nuclear accident.

Brazil’s presidential race. As Brazil’s presidential elections loom, the two front-runners—President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who currently holds the lead in polling—traded barbs in a heated television debate. While Bolsonaro accused his predecessor of corruption, Lula blamed the incumbent for ruining the country.

“The country I left is a country that people miss. Its the country of employment, where people had the right to live with dignity, with their heads held high,” Lula said. “This is the country that the current president is destroying.”


Keep an Eye On 

Yemen’s siege. Fifteen human rights organizations have called on Yemen’s Houthi rebels to stop their yearslong blockade of Taizz, Yemen. Main roads into the city have been blocked since 2015, aid groups said, a closure that has had profound humanitarian implications.

“Opening the main roads would help immensely to alleviate the suffering of a population that has been in near-total isolation for seven years,” said Michael Page of Human Rights Watch, one of the signatories of the statement.

China’s new charges. More than two months after a group of men brutally assaulted four women at a restaurant in Tangshan, China, authorities are charging 28 people and investigating 15 officials for corruption in relation to the incident. As a result of the June attack, two of the women were hospitalized for more than 11 days.


Monday’s Most Read

• “International Relations Theory Suggests Great-Power War Is Comingby Matthew Kroenig 

• “You Have No Idea How Bad Europe’s Energy Crisis Isby Christina Lu

• “Where Does the Ukraine War Go From Here?by Jack Detsch


Odds and Ends 

Two Air France pilots were suspended after brawling in the cockpit after takeoff, airline officials said, while emphasizing that their mid-air dispute did not impact the flights safety. One member of the cabin crew reportedly had to accompany the pilots in the cockpit for the remainder of the flight. It’s unclear what caused their fight, which took place on the Paris-Geneva route in June.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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