Iran Supported al-Maliki against Militias: OSC; Is the Baker Plan Back? Did Iran Expel Muqtada?

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney initially rejected the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, which advised that Iraq could not be solved militarily and that regional diplomacy and engagement would be necessary.

Bush chose instead to pursue an escalation of the war, which he euphemistically called a ‘surge.’ This tactic backfired when Bush inadvertently allowed the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis of Baghdad, turning the capital into a playground for the Shiite Mahdi Army. As a result of the Shiitization of Baghdad, violence in the city thereafter declined, since there were fewer Sunnis around to kill (many were cowering in Damascus). The US achieved a ceasefire with the Mahdi Army (and why not, since the US military was disarming its enemies and allowing it to then chase them off to Syria?)

Moreover, Baghdad was only one hot spot in a very complicated country, and security continued to deteriorate in the Kurdish north along the Turkish border and in the southern Shiite oil port of Basra, as I argue in an op-ed today in the Boston Globe.

Even the temporary reduction in violence was more modest than the US press tended to assume. And the death rate may have reached its nadir and begun climbing back up now that the extra troops are being withdrawn. As David Fiderer pointed out, that outcome is precisely what the ISG report predicted.

So now it turns out that recently General David Petraeus has been doing regional diplomacy in an attempt to get local regimes to cooperate in cutting the flow of foreign fighters, money and arms to Iraq.

In other words, the military escalation, which is now getting to be over with, did not do the trick. So the only alternative is to go back to the Baker Hamilton Commission recommendations.

Question: How far ahead of the game would we be if this regional diplomacy had started in December of 2006 instead of being dismissed by Bush and Cheney in favor of a set of purely military tactics?

Another question: Why not also talk to Iran?

Likewise, the ISG pointed out that the Badr Corps paramilitary was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is close to Tehran. (See below). It fought on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s side in the recent Basra fighting. In other words, the government side was the pro-Iranian side. The Mahdi Army and Sadr neighborhood militia forces they attacked were largely Iraqi nativists who bad-mouth Iran. Fiderer points out that the ISG report had already diagnosed this syndrome. The Bush team did propaganda, pointedly declining to name Badr as an Iranian client and blaming Iran for the Mahdi Army’s violence. In fact, the violence came as a response to violations of the cease fire by the US and the Iraqi government, which took advantage of it to arrest Mahdi Army commanders (that’s a ceasefire?)

The key role of Iran in backing the Badr Corps (which Ryan Crocker and Gen Petraeus pointedly did not condemn, and Senator Lindsay Graham actually defended!) is demonstrated by the following:

‘ Al-Sharqiyah, Al-Iraqiyah Roundup: Political Blocs Express Support for Government
Iraq — OSC Summary
Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dubai Al-Sharqiyah Television in Arabic . . carries between 1400 GMT and 2000 GMT on 10 April the following . . :

— “The Badr Corps Command took a series of quick measures to protect itself from any possible military campaign against all militias in Iraq. A high-ranking official at the Interior Ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the Badr Corps withdrew its key commanders to Iran in the past few days after it entered a new batch of fighters, around 1500 it total, into the Interior Ministry services. ‘

The Ministry of Interior in Iraq is a security ministry, and its special police commanders have long been dominated by the Badr Corps militia, which as you can see is very close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the ayatollahs in Tehran, but which is also allied with Bush.

Iran admitted on Saturday that it had negotiated a ceasefire by the Mahdi Army when approached by Iraqi parliamentarians (who were from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Da’wa Party, al-Maliki’s backers). In other words, while Bushco blames Iran for Iraq’s instability, in fact the Iranians have tried to and often succeeded in calming the situation down.

Ma`d Fayyad of al-Sharq Al-Awsat even says, writing in Arabic, that the Iranians were annoyed with Muqtada al-Sadr over his militia activities and have more or less expelled him from Iran (though Iranian authorities denied he was ever there). The OSC translation of the money graf from Fayyad’s article (Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Internet Version-WWW)Saturday, April 12, 2008) is:

‘ The Iraqi sources in Qom and Al-Najaf asserted that the Iranian authorities informed Al-Sadr of the need to leave their territories because of the security problems he had caused in Iraq following the armed clashes between the pro-Al-Sadr “Al-Mahdi Army” militia and Iraqi forces in Basra, Baghdad, Al-Diwaniyah, Karbala, and Al-Kut. They added that moderate officials in Iran denounced Al-Sadr’s presence in their territories saying that this was causing problems with the Iraqi Government and that “affects the course of relations between Tehran and Baghdad.” Iraqi sources in Al-Najaf said Al-Sadr “arrived from Qom the night before yesterday and stayed at the house of one of his aides, where his supporters were banned from reaching him, after being forced to stay for six months in an isolated house on the outskirts of the Iranian city of Qom.”‘

The transparently false US charges against Iran, of being behind most disturbances in the Shiite south, are apparently propaganda intended to prepare the way by Dick Cheney for a US attack on Iran. Cheney wants to do regime change in Tehran before he kicks the bucket.

Despite incorrect Bushco claims that the Mahdi Army is a tool of Iran (that is like calling the Minutemen vigilantes in Arizona tools of the Mexican government), Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says Muqtada is not considered an enemy of the US if he sticks to politics. What? His politics consists of pushing the US out of Iraq!

As for the Bush charges that Iran backed rogue militiamen against the al-Maliki government, it is contradicted by the US intelligence community. The USG Open Source Center did a report on the Iranian stance toward the recent fighting between al-Maliki’s forces and those of Mahdi Army and other militias. It found that the Iranian press (hint: it is not independent of the Iranian government) backed al-Maliki! In other words, Bush and Iran are on the same side:

‘OSC Report: Tehran Supportive of Iraqi Government Operations Against Militias
Iran — OSC Report
Thursday, April 10, 2008 . . .

Iran-Iraq — Tehran Supportive of Maliki Government Operations Against Militias Iran has praised Nuri al-Maliki and the Iraqi Security Force’s (ISF) operations against militant groups in Basra and has portrayed them as being necessary to establishing peace and stability in Iraq. As such, the Islamic Republic has dismissed allegations that it is supplying weapons to Shiite militias and has echoed its long-standing call for US forces to withdraw from Iraq.

Tehran has publicly been supportive of Nuri al-Maliki and the ISF’s recent performance against militant groups in Basra, and is careful to differentiate such groups from “legitimate” political parties like the Sadr Trend. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki meeting in Baghdad (President.ir, 3 March)

Presenters on Iran’s state-run television described Prime Minister Maliki’s Basra offensive as being against “illegal armed groups,” and Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hoseyni warned Iraqi political parties against falling “into the trap of the lawless militias.” He added: “There is a difference between the illegal armed groups that commit crimes and the political parties that are active in politics and present in the Iraqi government and parliament. The move by Mr Maliki should receive all-out support. This way, both the interests of the Iraqi nation and government and the interests of Iraqi neighboring countries will be served” (IRINN, 7 April).

Similarly, on 8 April, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) described al-Maliki’s response against “illegal armed groups” as being “rightful,” and various Iranian news agencies quoted the prime minister’s statements in which he detailed the ISF’s “successes” in ridding Basra of “lawbreakers, armed groups, and criminal gangs” (Mehr News Agency; Fars News Agency, 3 April).

On 4 April, Iran’s Mehr News Agency published an interview it had conducted with Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council’s Mohsen Hakim in which he claimed that Iran had “played a positive role” in ending the violence in Basra. Three days later, Mohammad-Ali Hoseyni acknowledged that Iran had recently hosted an Iraqi “delegation” and that it had “called on the parties involved to exercise self-restraint” (IRNA, 7 April).

As such, the Islamic Republic has predictably dismissed allegations that it is supplying weapons to Iraqi militias and has attempted to distance itself from Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr — despite Western claims that al-Sadr is currently in Iran.

In an interview with Aftab News, Mohammad-Ali Mohtadi of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s International Relations faculty dismissed claims that Iran was providing weapons to the Mahdi Army, saying: “To Iran, any clash in Iraq will not be to the interest of any clashing party. Therefore, the Islamic Republic of Iran has done its best to stop the clashes. In fact, if anything, Iran played as a mediator in Iraq” (6 April).

On 5 April, Iranian Government spokesman Gholamhoseyn Elham dismissed reports that Muqtada al-Sadr was in Iran as being “released by the occupation forces to blame the current insecurity in Iraq on other sides” (IRNA).

The conservative Tabnak website dismissed Muqtada al-Sadr’s claim in a 30 March interview with Al-Jazirah that he told Iran’s Supreme Leader last year that he disagreed with Iran’s “political and military objectives in Iraq” and that Iran should stop its “intervention.” The website, which is affiliated with former IRGC Commander Mohsen Reza’i, described al-Sadr’s remarks as “rude,” and said that such claims were made at a time when “America’s worst accusation against Iran” is that it is arming al-Sadr’s group and that he is residing in Iran. Tabnak asserted that Iran, “a serious ally of Iraq’s popular government,” always has opposed such actions by “hard-line clans” that “only weaken the government and people of Iraq and give a pretext to its occupiers” (31 March).

Instead, Iranian officials and media have directed blame at the United States for the insecurity in Iraq, and have echoed their long-standing call for US forces to withdraw.

During his 10 April meeting with Iraq’s former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’fari, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki urged the United States to “stop provoking crisis in the Middle East” and called for the US to “set a fixed timeline to withdraw its troops from Iraq” (Fars News Agency).
An editorial in the prominent conservative daily, Jomhuri-ye Eslami, declared that Iraq’s “occupation is the root of all problems” in the country and claimed that “as long as these forces remain in Iraq, bloodshed would continue” (3 April).

On 30 March, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hoseyni called upon Iraqi Government forces and militias to end their fighting in order to remove any “pretext” for US troops to stay in Iraq” (Fars News Agency). ‘

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