Tuesday, June 24, 2008
For the past week Iraqi MP's have been discussing what to do with the Mujahadeen-e Khalq Organization. In general the Shia Arab MP's see the MKO as a direct threat to Iraq and want them expelled from Iraqi soil because they believe them to be accomplices in Saddam's crimes when the regime brutally suppressed the 1991 popular revolt. Sunni Arab MP's disagree. They claim there is no substantiated evidence that implicates the MKO in any crime and have challenged the Shia MP's (on more than one occasion) to provide them with such evidence. The Sunni MP's also argue that the MKO is an Iraqi asset that should be used as a bargaining chip with the Iranians, to expel the MKO would be a "loss" for Iraq. The points the Sunni's raised in parliament were more or less the same ones I heard from Jamal Al-Deen two months earlier in Baghdad.
Saleh Al-Mutlaq, head of the National Dialogue bloc, said he would actually support having full ties with Iran if they stopped interfering in Iraqi affairs but that is not an option while Iran continues its barrage on Iraqi villages. He said that if any Shia MP's can provide documents proving the MKO has committed crimes against the Iraqi people he would "not only stop talking to them, but would be against them". He pleaded to the speaker that the MKO can be used to further Iraq's interests and that if they lose them, they will come to regret it.
Dhafir Al-Ani, also a Sunni, urged the Shia MP's to "look at the national interests of Iraq before the national interests of foreign countries...Iraq's interest comes first" in a clear reference to their links with Iran. He also challenged the Shia MP's to bring evidence to the table and prove the accusations leveled at the MKO by the Shia blocs.
Hadi Al-Ameri, the head of Badr, swiftly responded and said "I am not at all surprised that Dhafir Al-Ani is defending the MKO, because this is Ba'ath Party tactics". Shia MP's around him beamed and clapped. Ameri refuted the claim and said that the issue of the MKO has nothing to do with Iran. He said what the MKO have done to Iran and to Iranians has nothing to do with the Iraqi parliament, rather they should be punished for "their role in crimes against the Iraqi people".
During Mutleq's speech, a female MP started to interrupt him. Mutleq asked her to stop interrupting and to let him finish. The female MP was having none of it, she continually interrupted Mutleq and started shouting over his voice. Mashhadani who at this point had simply had enough ordered her to stop speaking. "You had your turn, now let him have his". A voice could be heard saying "but he has no right to..." to which Mashhadani shouted back "Of course he has the right, he has the right to say anything he wants, he is an MP just like you".
The MP's who are not polite enough to keep silent while the other is speaking do actually pause briefly for a gasp of air while the other MP is shouting. The most interesting comment actually came from the speaker himself, Mashhadni. When Hadi Al-Ameri had reached boiling point and accused Al-Ani of something (I think it was being a Ba'athist), Mashhadani did not even wait for Al-Ani to reply, instead he shouted "And he [Al-Ani] can accuse you of being a member of the Iranian intelligence".
Hakim's media channel, Al-Forat has been relentless in its efforts to portray the MKO as a terrorist organization that is a threat to Iraq, for a few days it was playing a short 5 second clip over and over again, before the news, after the news, in between programmes e.t.c. it shows the MKO leader Masoud Rajavi and then cuts to an execution video that shows Iraqi civilians standing blindfolded against a wooden pole with their hands tied behind their backs who are shot one by one by an armed man. Hakim's aides have also organized speeches targeted at tribal sheikhs across southern Iraq where the MKO are condemned as a threat to Iraq and its people.
The Iranian state funded Al-Alam channel had interviews with Abbas Al-Bayati, a Shia Turkmen, and Abdul Hadi Zebari, a Sunni Kurd, who both condemned the MKO and said they should be expelled from Iraqi soil.
The Shia dominated cabinet has banned the MKO and anyone caught dealing with them could be tried under Iraq's new anti-terrorism laws. The next step for the Iraqi government is to take control of all the security checkpoints that are currently manned by US soldiers in Camp Ashraf. The irony is that while the MKO is considered as a terrorist organization on US soil they are offered protection and military escorts in Iraq.
On a bad day the Badr militia will storm their camp and arrest/kill MKO members, or even worse smuggle them out to Iran. On a good day they will be ordered to leave Iraq, most likely to Jordan. Either way the fate of the MKO seems doomed.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Phase two of the Maysan operation is proving to be fruitful. On Saturday security forces discovered a bomb making factory in the 'Hussein' district in central Amara. The factory was being used to make "smart" IED's. The advanced armour piercing explosives, that many US and Iraqi officials have long accused Iran of supplying the Mehdi Army and other criminal gangs in Iraq, were found by the Ministry of Interior's Rapid Intervention Force and local police.
Roughly 20 weapons caches have already been discovered since the operation began on Thursday. General Mohammed Al-Askari (Arabic link) gave details about two of these caches, which were found hidden by the Sadrists in "Majidiya" and "Qadisiya" in central Amara. They included artillery shells, 60mm rockets, mortar rounds, RPG's and binoculars. He also mentioned that 14 of the arrested criminals captured by the security forces were high profile.
When things are going well for the security forces, it naturally means things are not going so well for the Sadrists. Their outrage has been more vocal recently. Amira A'tabi, a female Sadrist has expressed concern that the operation in Amara has nothing to do with security and has turned into a political attack. Poor women, she must be emotionally distraught after hearing that so many of her colleagues are being arrested left, right and center. The Sadrists are pointing their fingers not just at Maliki, but also at Hakim. In his thinly veiled attack on Al-Sharqiya, Aqeel Abdul Hussein accused the security forces of being "infiltrated" by militia who (and I am paraphrasing here) are not loyal to the state of Iraq. He urged Maliki to "cleanse" these militias from the security forces. I hate to admit it, but Aqeel actually made some sense during his rant on the telephone, but for now, and for good reason, I am not going to complain.
Adnan Al-Selawi is also making a lot of noise in Amara about arrests with no valid warrants and because there are reports that members of the security forces are ripping up pictures of Moqtada and his father, and also defacing billboards depicting the ugly cleric. Some Sadrists will have no problem with arresting and executing innocent civilians, but tear up a picture of Moqtada and your going to hell for blasphemy.
Fortunately its not just Amara where the Sadrists are feeling the heat. In Nassiriya twenty-two wanted criminals were arrested. In Kut there was a stand off between the Rapid Intervention Forces and "ٍSayyid Tahseen" the nom de guerre of a senior Sadrist wanted for 45 crimes...kidnapping and murdering civilians are just some of things on his CV. The Iraqi forces were eventually successful in detaining the Sadrist, who was shot in the leg because he resisted arrest. Not to the amazement of anyone, illegal weapons were also found in his house. Note: the Rapid Intervention Force is simply a fancy name for the Badr militia in official MoI uniform.
I don't want to jinx them, but so far its been a walk in the park for the Iraqi troops and a far cry from what they faced in Basra and Sadr City. Things in Amara seem to be normal, shops are open, people out and about, only difference now is the militia who used to control the city are replaced by men in uniform.
Friday, June 20, 2008
In Amara, Iraqi troops have arrested Abdul Jabbar, the deputy governor of Maysan, a Sadrist who is one of around two dozen men on the wanted list that have been detained by the security forces since the start of the operation on Thursday morning. Abdul Jabbar is believed to be the one doing all the donkey work to get weapons sent from Iran into the hands of the Mehdi Army. Baha Al-A'raji's brother Hazem, also a Sadrist, explained that Abdul Jabbar was a good man and was arrested for no reason. According to the head of the National Command Center, five of the wanted men turned themselves in to the security forces, the others who were hunted down did not put up a fight and no one has resisted the Iraqi troops.
The Sadrists who took control of Amara as soon as the British Army withdrew two years ago are finally pushed to the side by the iron first of Maliki. The Iraqi PM may well be winning the battle but for the Sadrists the war has not been lost, the most likely scenario is that they have kept a low profile and will be back in business once the dust settles. The Iraqi troops cannot stay in the airport and football stadium forever and if the militias can hide their weapons effectively they can simply wait them out. Tehran can also reschedule the arrival date for the next batch of weapons or find another route, but as of today, the operation has been a success for Maliki and his security forces.
Attention is being focused on Amara but the Iraqi Army in Sadr City is doing extremely well. On Wednesday, the Iraqi Army proudly showcased the weapons they seized in only the last 30 days. Hundreds of katyusha rockets, mines, IED's, RPG's, hand grenades, mortar rounds, machine guns and enough ammunition to give any army a run for their money. The security forces in Baghdad expect to capture even more weapons from the "outlaws" in Sadr City.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Large scale operations in Maysan haven't even began but the classic game of cat & mouse is already in full swing. Voices of Iraq report that the Sadr head office in Amara, that previously belonged to the Ba'ath Party in Saddam's era, was evacuated and turned over to the local government just hours after Maliki gave a 4 day deadline to the militia in the province and its capital.
The Sadrists claim that they were not "pressured" by the security forces and decided to vacate the building out of their own free will. They claim that because the building belonged to the Ba'ath Party it meant it belonged to the state of Iraq and was vacated on the orders of Moqtada. Instead they have decided to rent a property in the Awasha district in central Amara to use as their office.
Although I applaud Sadr's decision to return things that don't belong to him I have trouble believing that it was a coincidence that he flicked through his 16th century text-books and realised occupying property was unlawful just hours after Maliki gave the Mehdi Army an ultimatum.
Sadr's studies in Iran must really be paying off because after 5 years of occupying state property and fighting the state army he has realised that according to Islamic law, its just not right. I hope his teachers go through the basics of Islam with him before they move on to more complicated Islamic jurisprudence. If he can fully grasp the "Thou shall not kill" and "Thou shall not steal" concepts I think he will come back to a better Iraq as a better man.
Yesterday the Sadrists warned that they would not resist the Iraqi Army in Amara unless the security forces started arresting its supporters without valid warrants so today as a response Maliki has ordered the security forces not to arrest members of the Sadr Movement and their supporters randomly.
The Iranians will be extremely anxious for the next few days as it could be make or break for them in terms of their long-term strategic alliance with various groups of criminals operating in Iraq. Iran could be dealt a heavy blow if the Iraqi's are successful in restoring peace and security to Maysan.
If the Iraqi's complete their mission here with no support from the US forces it will give the Maliki government extra confidence and he will earn even more respect as the tough no-nonsense non-sectarian Prime Minister who took on the thugs of Iraq from the Sunni North to the Shia South.
Monday, June 16, 2008
The Iraqi Army has massed outside the city of Amara waiting for the Mehdi Army's 4 day dead-line to end. If they do not surrender their weapons, which they wont, the Iraqi Army will go in and 'cleanse' the city. Of course we are getting the usual robotic we-are not-targeting-a-specific-militia cliché from officials but everyone including the Sadrists know exactly why the army is at their doorsteps in Amara and what they intend to do.
In March it was Basra, in April it was Sadr City, and now its Amara. This will be the third major offensive in three months by a Shia dominated government on a Shia militia and in an ironic sense this recent Shia vs Shia war is actually good news for Iraq because it means the central governments priority is security and it will not hesitate to unleash its military force against fellow Shia's. It also means the Sunnis cannot play the sectarian card anymore when Maliki orders the army into a predominately Sunni city, for example Mousil, to combat insurgents there.
Maliki would not be Prime Minister today if the Sadrists hadn't thrown their weight behind the challenger to Hakim's choice Abdul Mehdi and I can understand if the Sadrists feel betrayed because now they are being hunted by the people they helped put in power. I'm sure they will be discussing where it all went wrong for them for at least the next decade.
I would like to give the government a heads up and ask them to form a delegation now, before the fighting starts, and fly them to Tehran to negotiate the peace when the Sadrists start begging for them. It will save time and lives. If Qassem Sulaimani will be kind enough to welcome this delegation he has my eternal gratitude.
Friday, June 13, 2008
This will be a body blow to the Bush Administration who had hoped the deal would be signed next month. Sheikh Humam Hamoody, a senior MP from the SIIC bloc, made clear a few days ago that the Iraqi government will not be pressured to sign the deal early and that there will be "no time limit" for them, other MP's voiced anger over the deal and of course Sistani said he would reject any deal that would infringe Iraq's sovereignty. But now, according to journalists in Amman, Maliki has rejected the deal just days after he met the Iranian leaders. The key word again is 'sovereignty':
"We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept,"
This couldn't have come at a better time for the Iranians. The Iraqi delegation was sent to Iran to address certain issues, most important of which was security, and Iraqi politicians have lately been more and more vocal on Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. After successfully managing to sweet-talk the Iraqi's in Tehran, they have now turned attention to the SOFA. The first word of every conversation with every official must have been "America". It makes you wonder if Iraq is really the issue anymore.
Iran 1-0 USA
Monday, June 09, 2008
I cant help pointing out he looked too 'Iranian' on his last visit. Frankly, an Iraqi Prime Minister shouldn't have to adapt his dress code to suit individual preferences of conservative Iranian officials. Yes okay, I know its only a god damn tie but if its not worth making a fuss over it why the need to take it off in the first place? What's next? You have to take off your shoes in case you might offend His Royal Majesty?
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari must have seen this one coming. He has been officially disowned by the party he once led. Ja'fari has been a one man show for a long time and last week he announced, in a press conference in Baghdad, his new group; the "National Reform Movement". He fell out with Maliki over alleged arguments about the leadership of the party and after holding on to the prime ministerial seat for dear life he reluctantly made way and went into some sort of occultation in his fairy tale world but could be seen hopping from one province to another in southern Iraq occasionally holding conferences and speeches the subject of which revolve around how great he really is.
He has come back with a bang though and his new movement plans to end sectarianism and fight the militias, which is either a paradox or funny joke depending on how you want to look at it. Ja'fari has been the most outspoken supporter of Moqtada Al-Sadr in the past few years and released many of his lieutenants from jail wanted for murder and has even saved his office in Najaf from being bulldozed because of plans to extend the shrine. Even after Najaf residents stormed and burnt the office down Ja'fari stuck with his prime ministerial decree to keep in tact the office, while everything else around it was bulldozed the office was sealed off by a fence and renovated to look like a museum.
What pushed Ja'fari to set up this new party? Well according to him its "wanting to work in order to serve Iraq". The Islamic Da'wa Party have simply had enough of him. On Tuesday they reacted by issuing a press release explaining their concern. They are "sorry" to hear about his new move and it has "ended his connection with the Islamic Da'wa Party". While they "respect his choice" they believe Iraq needs groups to come together and unite to help the Iraqi people rather than split up.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
SIIC, as a party have tried to distance themselves from Iran since their arrival to Iraq, bearing in mind who they are its not an easy task. The minute Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim set foot on Iraqi soil he ordered every Iranian with him to turn back and go home. I met the SCIRI leader in Iran in 2002 (tagged along with my father who was worried about his militia). My father raised the issue of weapons and advised him against taking them into Iraq, not least because the Americans would see an armed force coming from Iran as a threat. Fortunately, Mohammed Baqir assured my father no one would be taking their weapons to Iraq, unfortunately, there was an abundance of weapons already in Iraq and the Badr militia simply rearmed there but the point being Al-Hakim realised he could survive without the Iranians. A lot of questions were raised after his death about how someone could have come that close to his car with explosives. A few years later his younger brother dropped the "Revolution in Iraq" and added "Iraqi" to their name, a move that couldn't have gone down too well in Iran, which is ruled with an iron fist by revolutionary fanatics. What I was referring to in the previous post was the 'official' line ("positive") SIIC take on Iran and not what they say in private.
Giving details of precise Iranian involvement is difficult not only because they do it secretly but because there are so many elements within the Islamic Republic that all take different lines. It is no secret that the Foreign Ministry is at war with the Intelligence Ministry. I was in Iran just recently (March) with a friend and I took him to the Foreign Ministry to sort the details of his visa, a senior officer took one look at his Iraqi passport and realised the residence visa had been issued by the intelligence and had a fit on the spot. He was literally fuming, claimed my friend really had nothing to do in Iran and that he would write a letter forcing him to leave Iran within seven days. Of course it is normal for Iraqis and Afghans to receive that sort of derogatory treatment in Iran but this official did not conceal his anger at the people who issued the visa either.
As for the Sadr Movement, I am sure there are many Iraqi patriots in the group but their leader who is living in Iran and their armed militia are very much influenced by the Iranians. Looking at the Basra incident only recently, Qassem Al-Suleimani seems to be the one who has the power to start and stop a war in Iraq. An Iraqi delegation needs to be sent to Iran to set the terms for peace, now that is a scary thought in itself. Mohsin Al-Hakim went on the record about Iranian involvement in that case. Even though the Iranian intelligence has undoubtedly infiltrated SIIC since its birth they cannot have the same effect on them today as they can with the Sadr Movement and Moqtada. As for the common interest, Moqtada is close to the Iranian establishment not because of his love for Iran, on the contrary his followers did not get along with anyone with Iranian links, including my grandfather, Sistani and even the Hakim's but because he benefits. This is all about interest. Stating the obvious obviously.
The Sadr Movement has long been portrayed as an Islamic movement with a dose of Iraqi nationalism and because of that I am sure there are many Sadrists upset at the level of Iranian involvement in their party but I would imagine, like SIIC officials, they cannot go public.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Not so long ago, the Iraqi government sent a delegation from the UIA list to discuss
I can just imagine Al-Hakim with all his senior aides sitting around him discussing how to address questions on Iran, the officials are obsessed with this word: "eejabi" (positive). Every time a SIIC official is asked about Iran the answer is "eejabi" (ryhmes with hijabi). If any journalist asks a SIIC official anything and Iran is mentioned (it could even be something as random as the weather or world cup) it sparks a spontaneous reaction, an electric signal is sent to the brain via the ear and within 0.0001 seconds another signal is sent to the mouth and the word "eejabi" is uttered. You couldn't do it even if you tried.
Realising what a complete waste of time sending the delegation to
Fighting on a different front, the Iraqi government has promised to protect Iraq's sovereignty over the debate on the Status of Forces Agreement. Ali Al-Dabbagh has said "There is great emphasis by the Iraqi government on fully preserving the sovereignty of Iraq in its lands, skies, waters and its internal and external relations,". Personally, I am torn between two sides of the argument. My mind tells me the Iraqi people cannot be trusted to handle their own affairs just yet and that a sizable independent force on Iraqi soil will put many of these people in check but my heart tells me a permanent presence of foreign troops with immunity from prosecution and all the other bolt-on bonuses is something Iraq must not and cannot accept.
Looks like this summer will give Iraqis a lot more than the unbearable heat and lack of electricity to talk about. Finalization of the SOFA will probably come amid hectic preparations from all sides for the provincial elections. Whether or not the elections are delayed, one thing is certain, SIIC's grip on power in the region will be loosened and the Sadrist Movement will gain.