More Iranians In Karbala Than Iraqis

More Iranians in Karbala than Iraqis?

One finds these little gems in things like theCoalition Provisional Authority Briefing on Dec. 30, already on the Web. (Participating was Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director for Operations and Daniel Senor, Senior Coalition Provisional Authority Adviser.)

The below passage is rich in what it says about how porous Iraq’s borders are and how big the Iranian pilgrimage trade already is. I personally suspect that the Karbala attacks of last Saturday, which killed 19 and wounded dozens, were carried out by Sunni Arab nationalists rather than by Shiites. But it certainly is the case that if the Iraqi Shiites ever did turn against the coalition, they have an extensive source of support and patronage just across the border.

As for population, before the war Karbala was a city of about 300,000, and it is not plausible that has doubled to 600,000, with half being Iranians. But some tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims (some stay for months) is plausible.

“MR. SENOR: Yes?

Q James Hider from The Times. I was down in Karbala after the bombings, and the place is full of Iranian pilgrims. And the police down there say the Iranians don’t have visas, they’re all illegal pilgrims. They were saying there’s actually probably more Iranians there than Iraqis. I was wondering how you expect to stop attacks of this nature if anybody can just wander across the Iranian border — in the thousands, in fact.

MR. SENOR: We are working — I can’t speak to the specific numbers of Iranians down in Karbala, but I can speak more broadly. We are committed to building up a modern, effective Iraqi security infrastructure that, when we are finished, will number in the range of about approximately 220,000 Iraqi security personnel, which will include a robust border police and customs personnel team.

In the supplemental funds that the U.S. Congress recently appropriated, for security alone, there is over $3 billion dedicated toward training and equipping and arming this very advanced and modern Iraqi security personnel. And we think this will be — help a great deal in securing these areas of the country where you cite the sorts of problems that you have referenced.

Q But the borders do appear to be completely open at the moment.

MR. SENOR: Well, I think it’s a topographical fact of life that these are very porous borders. Iraq has very porous borders. It’s an issue we have to contend with. But like I said, by ramping the Iraqi security personnel, ramping up the numbers, giving them effective training, giving them the tools they need, and certainly, in the short term, working alongside coalition forces, we believe we can address the security problems that are here.