The Hamas political bureau chief was en route to board a plane for a landmark visit to Iraq when the Palestinian movement launched a surprise attack on Israel earlier this month, Amwaj.media has learned. As news emerged of Hamas fighters storming Israeli communities near Gaza, the visit was abruptly canceled at the last minute, informed senior sources say.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, multiple political and security sources in the region confirmed that everything had been set for Qatar-based Ismail Haniyeh to fly to Baghdad on Oct. 7. In the aftermath of the Palestinian shock offensive, which reportedly left more than 1,400 Israelis dead, it is unclear whether Haniyeh will visit Iraq any time soon. More importantly, If the Hamas political bureau chief was unaware of the blitz carried out by his own movement, it would validate reports that only a small group of presumably Gaza-based individuals were fully briefed on the operation.
The agenda in Iraq
The agenda for Haniyeh’s canceled visit, which would have been his first trip to Iraq at least since assuming his position in 2017, included meetings with high-ranking government officials and other political leaders, senior sources told Amwaj.media.
Haniyeh was due to meet with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, Prime Minister Muhammad Shia’ Al-Sudani, and Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi. In addition, meetings had been scheduled with officials from both Shiite and Sunni political parties. According to one source, there were also plans for a first screening of a documentary on Iraqis and Palestine, with an associated ceremony.
There were two other important elements to Haniyeh’s visit, Amwaj.media has learned. First, the Hamas leader was due to meet with leaders of Iraqi Shiite armed groups. This detail matters because horizontal integration within the Iran-led ‘Axis of Resistance’ has accelerated in recent years. The Axis brings together the Iranian and Syrian governments as well as Iraqi groups, Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Yemen’s Ansarullah movement, better known as the Houthis.
As Israel pummels Gaza, Iraqi, Lebanese, and Yemeni fighters appear to have been mobilized. Multiple attacks on US forces have been reported in Iraq and Syria over the past 48 hours. The escalation comes as the military spokesman of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed armed group, described the US as “primary accomplices in the killing of the people of Gaza and should accordingly face the consequences.” He added, “The resistance in Iraq has in effect entered the battlefield.”
Meanwhile, there are indications that the Houthis may also be getting involved. A US Navy destroyer in the Red Sea on Oct. 19 reportedly shot down drones and missiles launched from Yemen, possibly with Israel as the destination. Addressing reporters, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the USS Carney intercepted land attack cruise missiles and some eight drones.
These actions appear coordinated and designed to pressure Washington to contain the actions of Tel Aviv. Second, informed sources have told Amwaj.media that Haniyeh was scheduled to visit both Sunni and Shiite holy shrines in Baghdad. These include the northern Kadhimiya complex, which draws millions of Shiite pilgrims each year, and the Abu Hanifa Al-Numan mosque across the Tigris River in the Al-Adhamiya district. Additionally, Haniyeh was slated to tour the shrine of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani.
In some aspects, Hamas is an outlier in the ‘Axis of Resistance’ given that it is a Sunni group while other members of the alliance are Alawite, Twelver Shiites, and Zaydi Shiites. Paying a visit to both major Shiite and Sunni religious sites in Baghdad would have underscored that “resistance” ideology trumps sectarian differences, highlighting the post-sectarian momentum in the region. This consideration is important amid the indications that the region may be facing a drawn out conflict that could span multiple countries.
In the immediate aftermath of the Palestinian offensive, the focus was initially turned towards Iran as the ultimate culprit. The Islamic Republic has long supported Hamas with arms, money, and technology, and has also provided political support. Ties between the two sides are strong. For instance, the Hamas political bureau leader traveled to Iran to personally attend the funerals of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and the deputy head of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis. The two men were assassinated in a US drone strike in Iraq in Jan. 2020. However, the Islamic Republic has strongly denied any direct involvement in the surprise attack on Israel, a position which has so far not been disputed by Israel or the US.
Meanwhile, as Haniyeh’s host, Qatar has also come under criticism from some quarters. Yet Doha has strongly distanced itself from any culpability in the bloodshed on Oct. 7. This has not stopped some US-based advocacy groups from lashing out at the American ally, which hosts the largest American military base in the region. For instance, one critic of Qatar has called on the Gulf Arab state to host Palestinian refugees.
Ultimately, looking beyond the debate on culpability, the notion that only a select few had prior knowledge of the Hamas offensive suggests one vital dynamic: the Gaza-based leadership of the Palestinian movement is not only militarily capable, but also exercises autonomy. Where this may leave Haniyeh and the sponsors of Hamas is a key question that has yet to be answered.
Source: Amwaj Media