Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat – Leader of the Sadrist movement in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr, has called on the Iraqi “resistance” to respond to the temporary closure of Baghdad airspace to civilian air traffic on Tuesday by US forces. This comes within the framework of the Sadrist trend taking a harder line against Nuri al-Maliki’s government and the US military presence in Iraq, which is scheduled to come to an end at the end of the year. In a statement released last week, al-Sadr urged his supporters to demonstrate “in millions” against the Nuri al-Maliki government, claiming it has not done enough to improve Iraq’s public services. In the same statement, al-Sadr said “we remind the government about the fate of the Arab leaders who were swooped down on by their own people and toppled in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.”
As for the controversy surrounding the closure of Baghdad’s airspace on Tuesday, this was reportedly in response to US forces in Iraqi receiving a “credible” threat, with Baghdad’s airspace being temporarily “restricted” on Tuesday morning for approximately one hour. US military spokeswoman Major Angela Funaro told Agence-France Presse [AFP] that “we learned that there was a credible indirect fire threat earlier today [Tuesday], which resulted in an elevation in security level and additional security measures enacted, but the airport was not shut down.”
An Iraqi military source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that “the region where the Baghdad International Airport is located is one area that many armed groups and organizations – including the terrorist Al Qaeda organization – viewed as a base for the resistance [to launch their attacks from] in recent years.”
The well-informed military source added that “the call [by al-Sadr] to unleash the resistance may grant a number of these armed groups and organizations – who have placed our forces and our airspace in danger and who have also suffered at the hands of our armed forces – the pretext to begin operations targeting [Iraqi] citizens and institutions.” He stressed that this would affect air traffic to Baghdad International Airport, whose air service status is only today returning to normal. In 2011, Austrian Airlines resumed a direct Vienna – Baghdad service after a hiatus of 21 years, whilst EgyptAir also resumed flights connecting Cairo International Airport to Baghdad International Airport.
The Iraqi military source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “in general, and regardless of any calls from any party, the [Iraqi] armed forces and police forces have protected the security of the homeland and its citizens and have contributed, over the past years, to stabilizing the security of all dangerous areas [of Iraq], including the [Baghdad] airport and its surrounding area.”
As for the continuation of operations targeting Baghdad International Airport, the Green Zone, and other areas of Baghdad with rocket-fire – which indicates that more than one party is responsible for these attacks – the Iraqi military source told Asharq Al-Awsat that “our intelligence apparatus and operational command has a complete analysis of the areas being targeted and where the rockets are being launched from and we have arrested many members of these illegal [armed] groups that claim to be carrying out resistance operations against the Americans but which in the end only either endangers the lives of Iraqi citizens or grants the US forces the pretext to remain in Iraq.”
The Iraqi military source added that “our armed forces are capable of dealing with all outlaws, and we believe that arms should only be possessed by the state, and therefore everybody who is carrying arms outside of this context is breaking the law, regardless of their reasons for doing so.”
In a statement published by the Sadrist movement, Moqtada al-Sadr described the closure of Baghdad airspace as being a “violation” and an “abuse” and called on the Iraqi “resistance” to “respond.” Al-Sadr’s statement went on to say “the occupier [the US] is the one that is in control and will remain in control so long as they remain crouching on our hold land, and this reflects the weakness and vulnerability of the [Iraqi] government. They [the government] should be with the [Iraqi] people, so that the people are with them.”
Since April, the Sadrist movement– which has 41 members in parliament – has begun to take a stronger line against the Americans and indeed against the Nuri al-Maliki government – which the Sadrist movement helped secure power – with al-Sadr recently threatening to lift the “freeze” on Mahdi army operations.
Moqtada al-Sadr has issued increasingly strong addresses and messages in recent weeks calling for American forces to leave the country. On 6 August, al-Sadr warned that a post-2011 US presence “should be resisted through military means” whilst in a later address he stressed that “the Iraqi people will stand by the Iraqi resistance until it brings down the last US occupation’s flag from Iraq’s land.”