Tony Blair In Southern Iraq Warned

*Tony Blair, in southern Iraq, warned Syria and Iran against interfering in Iraq or supporting terrorism there. There were demonstrations Thursday by Shiite clergymen who claimed that the Americans had imprisoned some of their colleagues, and had “plundered Najaf” (the Shiite holy city). The hundreds of demonstrators passed out pamphlets from the “military wing” of the “al-Hawzah al-`Ilmiyyah” or religious center at Najaf, which threatened US troops with suicide bombings if they did not cease making these arrests of Shiite clerics. Blair was told by a British envoy in Basra that Iran was trying to put in place an apparatus that would allow it to exercise influence in Iraq. Paul Bremer, the head of the Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction in Iraq, warned that Iran was attempting to replicate the formula it had used in southern Lebanon, of sending in agents, gaining popularity by providing social services, and then arming a local force (i.e. the Hizbullah in Lebanon).

I have to say that these alarums about Iran appear to me to be overblown. The major force among the Iraqi Shiites appears to be the Sadr Movement, and its leader Muqtada al-Sadr has criticized Iranian leadership of Shiism. Its militias appear to be quite homegrown. The only obvious Iranian influence is via the Badr Brigades of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI has been for the past year an ally of the Pentagon in overthrowing Saddam, and the US has promoted it! So it seems rather hypocritical to now worry about it being an agent of Iranian influence. Although the Badr Brigades were trained by Iran, they are Iraqis and loyal to the Iraqi leader Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. Al-Hakim bucked the Iranian hardliners to join with the Americans, so he isn’t just a puppet of Tehran. In short, most Shiite militancy in Iraq is from Iraqi Shiites and has been unleashed by the US, intentionally or not. I am suspicious of this new drumbeat against Iran now. If the US and Britain think that Iraqi Shiites can be wholly insulated from Iranian influences, they are really kidding themselves.

*For my recent interview on Iraq and contemporary Middle Eastern affairs on Chuck Mertz’s show WNUR 89.3 FM in Chicago, see Click on the link that says:

“Listen online to that day’s complete broadcast by clicking here.” To explore this interesting site, click on “Home” at the top of the archives page. I thought it was a great, probing and informed interview, and hope I did the questions at least some justice.

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