Iraq has been slowly descending into a social and political inferno since the US invasion of 2003: Fragmented political system, roaring anti-corruption demonstrations, degraded services and infrastructure, bankrupt treasury, and collapsing health and educational systems. Yet, the more the country plunges into the abyss, the more Iraqi people seem to look to the heavens for a metaphysical miracle or an apocalyptic savior that will redeem his lost sheep.
The rich mythological legacy of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations combined by the esoteric doctrine of the waiting of imam al Mahdi among Twelver Shia lay a fertile ground for eschatological and messianic beliefs and make Iraqis more predisposed to accept irrational doomsday claims. Amid the recent developments, especially the flu pandemic and the regional tensions, Iraqis started to closely monitor apocalyptic signs and clues guided by a mass of astrologers, charlatans, and false prophets. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most influential movements and characters that have been driving this new trend:
The Trumpet of the Armageddon
Maybe the most renowned fortuneteller known outside of Iraq is a former secret services officer based in Lebanon called Abu Ali Shaibani, who has gained fame after accurately prophesizing the liquidation of Solimani and Mohandiss, the explosion of the Beirut harbor, and many more natural and political disasters that hit the region. This herbalist, who runs a very lucrative business alleging to cure cancer and Covid19 among other illnesses, took his claims to a different level when he started stating that he is the Trumpet of the Armageddon and “the man who will call for the savior on the walls of Damascus at the end of times”. He also declared carrying warning messages from an unknown “master” and having met the awaited Mahdi of the Shia in Najaf.
A 1400 Years Old Embryo
Iraqis remember the bizarre events of Muharam 2007 that took place in Zargha on the outskirts of Najaf when iraqi authorities and US coalition forces killed and intercepted hundreds of followers of a sect called Jund Asama “the Soldiers of Heaven” who were congregating in a farm and plotting to assassinate the clergy of the Hawza and seizing control of the holy shrines. Their guru, a certain Diaa Abdu Zahrae Al Garaoui, who gave himself the nickname “the Judge of Heaven”, circulated books and newsletters where he explains being the real Mahdi and that he was conceived from the preserved semen and ovule of Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb and his wife the daughter of the prophet Fatima Zahrae. There are rumors that this sect is active underground and still mobilizing and recruiting new followers using another name.
Amid recent developments, especially Coronavirus and regional tensions, Iraqis closely monitor apocalyptic signs and clues guided by a mass of astrologers, charlatans, and false prophets. Will the long-awaited Mahdi arrive soon enough to save Iraq?
The Vizier of the Mahdi
After the US occupation, andexiled man called Haydar Mshatat came back from Iran with a group of followers and started preaching in the southern city of Amara that he is the Vizier of the Mahdi calling himself Abu Abdillah Al Hussein Al Kahtani to match an important eschatological figure prophesized in the hadiths and said to precede the appearance of the savior. The leader of the group was assassinated in mysterious circumstances on a visit to Baghdad, however, his followers believe that he did not die but was transported to the sky and will reappear soon with the Messiah. His students run a very active channel and newspaper called Al Qaem where they disseminate his teachings.
The Reincarnated Hussein, Son of the Savior
This very outspoken and popular sect has grown to become a religion of its own synchronizing beliefs from Yezidism, Sabaeanism, Shiism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. The movement started when a man from Basra called Ahmed Al Hassan Ghatea declared himself the Yamani, a prophetic character supposed to prepare the ground for the apparition of the Mahdi. He then pushed it further to claim being the son of the imam and the incarnation of Al Hussein Ibn Ali after teaming up with an Egyptian charlatan who calls himself the reincarnated Jesus and Sahib Misr. The group receives suspiciously generous funds from a certain Gulf country where the Yamani has been hiding and has followers around the globe. The sect’s channel Arayat Alsud diffuses some odd beliefs like alien invasion warnings, illuminati conspiracy theories, and that Satan is the real creator of mankind.
The Movement of the Sons of God
This movement, that bears many names like the Sons of God, Sulukiyah, or more recently Al Mawlawiyah, has a growing popularity after the events of 2020 and some of its members were arrested in Dhi Qar governorate. The group is an anticlerical movement that condemns the corruption of the Hawza and says that the Mahdi has appeared and that many of them met and payed allegiance to him. The group operates with a secretive chain of command where each cell leader called Mawlawy rules over a small unit which makes it difficult to dismantle. Local experts link this reformist secret society to a known Iraqi cleric based in London and believe that it has been influenced by the teachings of the late Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr similarly to many other messianic movements since the 90s.
A proliferation of messianic movements has taken over Iraq by storm: prophets appearing en-masse, playing the tunes that capture Iraqis so helpless they are ready to believe anyone and anything
Historically messianism has been an expression of deep social malaise and dissatisfaction with the tyranny of official religious institutions. The Arab region is no stranger to such movements that sometimes reshaped the political and theological realities in the environment where they emerged. To site only a few; there is Al Mahdi ibn Tumart the Almohad Moroccan ruler from the 11th century, Nizar the son of Fatimid Caliph-Imam Al-Muntasir Billah and the occulted imam of Nizari Ismailism and the Assassins, Nubian Sudanese leader Muhammad al Mahdi, and the unfortunate Juhayman al-Otaybi who was killed in Mecca in 1979. Nonetheless, never had the region seen such a high concentration of messianic claims since the apparition of prophet Mohamed or Jesus of Nazareth.
By observing historical trends and without looking at the stars or being a clairvoyant myself, I can confidently say that this unprecedented doomsday fever and proliferation of false prophets might be a sign for great political and religious changes awaiting Iraq.