Iraq latest from Asharq al-Awsat (via Juan Cole)

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Fri Apr 25 03:34:33 MDT 2003

>From Juan Cole's blolog at:

Friday, April 25, 2003

*Apparently two nights ago there was a major battle in the Mashtal quarter
of New Baghdad between US troops and Arab volunteers who had gone there to
fight them from all over the Arab world. The word is that 3 US soldiers were
killed, but there are no details. - Asharq al-Awsat

*Iran has allowed some 2000 armed men of various factions to infiltrate back
into Iraq, according to Ali Nourizadeh of Asharq al-Awsat. These include
Badr Brigade fighters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq
(SCIRI), as well as some militiamen loyal to the al-Da`wa Party. In
addition, several hundred armed members of the Quds Brigade have been sent
over, as well. These fighters belong to families of Iraqi Shiites of Iranian
heritage, who were expelled to Iran in the tens of thousands by Saddam. Many
of their families had been in Iraq for decades, and some for centuries. Many
of these infiltrators speak Arabic with an Iraqi accent.

He says the fighters were given arms and loaded down with dollars by Iranian
hardliners before they set out. They were instructed to take over 11 major
towns and cities with a largely Shiite population, implementing rule by
"revolutionary committee" (Persian: Komiteh) as happened in Iran after the
Feb. 1979 Khomeini revolution. He says they came in and spread around money
to the Shiite seminary students, getting them on their side. He warns that a
couple of units who came in with deputy SCIRI leader Abd al-`Aziz al-Hakim
had been trained in guerrilla and suicide bombing tactics.

This account strikes me as inaccurate in detail and overly schematic. It may
have been influenced by a similar report of Debka, an unreliable Israeli
site that often puts out disinformation. For instance, in Nasiriya the US
Marines are in control of the city quite firmly. The Al-Da`wa Party appears
to be hugely influential there politically, but there hasn't been effective
al-Da`wa militia activity, and al-Da`wa leaders have fretted that SCIRI and
the Sadr Movement are outflanking them elsewhere because they do have
militias. Likewise, in Amara (pop. 340,000), there appears to have been a
spontaneous local Shiite revolt against the Baath during the last days of
fighting. Last I heard it is in local Shiite hands. A reporter said on April
24 that there were rumors in Amara of Iranian infiltration, but the local
British official said he had seen no sign of it. SCIRI fighters do not
control Najaf or Karbala or Kufa, as Nourizadeh implies. The Sadr Movement
militia seems to dominate Kufa, whereas tribesmen loyal to Grand Ayatollah
Ali Sistani came in to restore order to Najaf. So, I don't doubt Badr
Brigade and Quds Brigade infiltration to some places, but it hasn't resulted
in the takeover of 11 towns and cities. Indeed, the Badr Brigade appears to
have been chased out of Sadr City, the biggest center of Shiite population.

Allowing these forces to cross the border (which cannot in any case be
easily policed, since it is long and cuts through rugged territory) breaks a
gentleman's agreement between Tehran and Washington reached during the past
two or three months. Nourizadeh suggests that SCIRI in particular had been
seeking a way to live peacefully with the "new American neighbor," and its
non-confrontational policy may have been over-ruled by hardliners in Iran. I
personally disagree with this analysis, though. I think SCIRI leader
Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim feels that the US stabbed him in the back when they
decided not to allow the expatriate organizations to come in and form a
provisional government. Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz suddenly
announced that Iraq would be US-ruled for an indefinite period of time. I
think SCIRI infiltration is revenge on al-Hakim's part for what he sees as a
betrayal. He has warned the US several times against wearing out its

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