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Mid East round-up: Chaos in Iraq & Libya, US is still in Syria

Welcome to the first edition of ‘This Week in the Middle East’, a weekly round-up of what happened in the Middle East and North Africa, written by myself, Abubakr al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East Editor. 

Muqtada al-Sadr’s words have power. On Monday, the Iraqi Shia leader announced he was withdrawing from politics. He’s made similar statements in the past, but this time his decision caused chaos in Baghdad, as his supporters stormed government headquarters and confronted rival protesters. A day later, al-Sadr chastised his supporters and gave them an hour to go home – they immediately obeyed.

Calm was restored, but in the 24 hours between those two announcements, at least 30 people were killed. It was the worst violence in Iraq in years, with gunfire and explosions heard throughout the administrative centre of the capital. There was a real fear it could be the start of an intra-Shia civil war.

[READ: What led to the fighting in Baghdad? Here’s a timeline.]
INTERACTIVE_IRAQ_CPI_AUGUST30_2022
(Al Jazeera)

The shooting may have stopped, but the political crisis that brought gunmen back onto the streets of Baghdad hasn’t gone away. The cost of living is skyrocketing. Unemployment remains high. What happens to the Sadrist Movement now – and will their leader flip-flop his way back into politics again? Will parliament finally be able to form a government? Who will solve the economic crises in Iraq? And what role will Iran play?

My colleague Ali Hashem takes a look at the possible outcomes here.

In Libya, bouts of violence that end without resolution have become all too common. The country has two prime ministers, but only one, Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba, controls Tripoli. On Saturday, his rival, Fathi Bashagha, tried to change that, for the second time since May. The shooting between rival militias that followed killed at least 32 people, including a well-known comedian, Mustafa Baraka, who had been filming the fighting in his area for his Instagram account.

By Sunday the fighting was over, with al-Dabaiba, who is recognised by the UN, still in control, and Bashagha, who was appointed by parliament, escaping back to the east. But, just like Iraq, this crisis isn’t over, and as Malik Traina, our correspondent in Tripoli reported many Libyans are still worried the country is “on the verge of a full-scale conflict”.

Reprisal attacks by United States forces and pro-government militias in eastern Syria last week reminded a lot of people of the continued US presence in the country. The Americans say that the militias are backed by Iran – which Tehran denies. Local monitors say that the attacks on August 23, which killed at least four fighters, targeted a camp run by the Iran-backed Fatimiyoun group. Three US soldiers were injured.

Meanwhile in Algeria, President Emmanuel Macron of France said on August 25 that he wanted the two countries to look to the future rather than the “complex, painful common past”. Perhaps understandably, for Algerians, the 132-year French occupation of their country, and the 1.5 million people they say were killed in their war of independence, are quite hard to forget.

It also doesn’t help that Macron refuses to apologise for his country’s actions in Algeria. “Recognition of the violence of colonisation is a highly divisive issue in France, particularly among the supporters of the far right,” Youcef Bouandel, a professor of political sciences at Qatar University, told us last week.

The child who lost three limbs

Rahaf is 11 years old. She lost her arm and both legs in an Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in early August. This is her story:

­‘Denied the right to our home by Israel’

In 1948, the Jerusalem home of Jalal Abukhater’s grandfather was taken from him by Israel. Last year, Jalal finally tracked it down. “Everywhere I looked in the neighbourhood, I saw evidence of our Palestinian existence, and I felt the heartache of our erasure,” he writes in his opinion piece.

It’s not all bad news

Women have finally been allowed to attend a football league match in Iran. The numbers at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to watch Iranian giants Estaghlal weren’t huge, but it’s a start.

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Iranian women fans of Esteghlal football club cheer during a match between Esteghlal and Mes Kerman at the Azadi stadium in the capital Tehran, on August 25, 2022.
Iranian women fans of Esteghlal football club cheer during a match between Esteghlal and Mes Kerman at the Azadi stadium in the capital Tehran, on August 25, 2022. [Hossein Zohrevand/Tasnim News/AFP]

Quote of the Week

“Freedom is more valuable than anything else, dignity above everything. We are a nation that will not be defeated.” – Khalil Awawdeh, Palestinian prisoner held by Israel without charge, who has ended a hunger strike after more than 170 days, and is set to be released in October.

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