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IRAQ - Resurgence In The Shi'ite World - Part 9 - Iraq's Ja'fari Militias.

One of the most serious problems in Iraq is the spread of Ja'fari Shi'ite militancy behind militia groups backed by rival factions of Iran's Ja'fari theocracy. The most unruly militia is Jaysh al-Mahdi which is loyal to radical mullah Muqtada al-Sadr, who wants to become in Iraq as powerful as Hizbullah is in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a political ally of Sadr, has vowed to disband all militias in Iraq. These must include Jaysh al-Mahdi, but Maliki has never dared say this in view of the issue's complication and its equally complicated background in Iran.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has become far more powerful than at any time since the advent of the Khomeini's theocracy after Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad was elected to the presidency in June 2005. The IRGC has been behind Hizbullah in Lebanon since the latter group was created in 1982 - in the wake of Israel's invasion of Lebanon - and now is trying to make Jaysh al-Mahdi its equivalent in Iraq. Hizbullah and Jaysh al-Mahdi, however, have Arab nationalist roots more sympathetic to the pan-Arab orientations of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood than to the Persian character of the IRGC.

Yet what unites the IRGC with Hizbullah and Jaysh al-Mahdi more than what divides them is their common struggle against the US and Israel. This struggle transcends ethnic or racial considerations and enables them to reach out to, or draw support from, Sunni militants equally committed to the struggle against Israel and the US - notably including the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The common cement for all these groups was strengthened recently when Hizbullah proclaimed victory over Israel and the US in Lebanon, resulting in a problem for the Jewish state which has plunged into a complicated crisis (see news10-Israel-Sept4-06).

The main rival of Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi in Iraq is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim which has its own militia called the Badr Organisation. Although Badr has been trained by and remains dependent on continuing support from the IRGC, the political leadership of SCIRI follows the mainstream faction of Iran's theocracy to which belong both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. These two leaders represent the pragmatic branch of the theocracy and depend much on their alliance with right-wing ayatollahs of Qom who, essentially, are against Khomeini's concept of Velayat-e-Faqih (the rule of the supreme jurisprudent, leader or guide), such as Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani and Grand Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli.

Lankarani and Amoli have wide following in the world of Ja'fari Shi'ism. Despite their alliance with Khamenei and Rafsanjani, however, these two figures believe that religious imams should not be involved in the politics of the state in which they live and therefore should not hold any political office.

In Najaf, the highest seat for the Ja'fari sect in the world, the most revered religious man is Grand Ayatullah (spelt in Arabic) Ali al-Sistani. An Iranian-born figure, Sistani was a disciple of the late Grand Ayatullah Abolqassem al-Khou'i, an anti-theocracy figure who died in Najaf in 1992 while under house arrest by the Ba'thist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Sistani, Lankarani, Amoli and other grand ayatullahs in the world of Ja'faris have long been against the concept of Velayat-e-Faqih. SCIRI's Hakim is close to Sistani and in recent months has called for all militia groups to be disbanded.

The opposite camp in Qom is led by Grand Ayatollah (spelt in Persian) Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, the most intolerant figure in Ja'farism and a serious rival to Khamenei for the seat of supreme leader of the Iranian theocracy. Mesbah-Yazdi is the source of emulation for the IRGC, for President Ahmadi-Nejad (a former IRGC officer) and for other radical pillars of the Iranian theocracy.

Ahmadi-Nejad is part of the Hojjatiyeh, a group which claims the Mahdi's return to Earth is close. The Mahdi is a male child who went missing in Samarra' (north of Baghdad) in 941 AD, whose return to Earth will begin an era of just rule throughout the world. The theocracy's supreme leader is the Mahdi's deputy on Earth. This means Supreme Leader Khamenei is not just the ruler of Iran but is officially regarded as the ruler of the whole world on behalf of the Mahdi. As such, Khamenei has a representative - called "deputy" occasionally - in each of the Ja'fari communities around the world. His formal representative in Lebanon is Hizbullah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah - for one example. (The "Sayyed" title is given to descendants from the Prophet Muhammad).

At this point it is important to note that Nasrallah, an Arab nationalist, received religious education in Qom and Najaf. But he is linked to the Sadrist Arab movement and has been mainly close to the late Ayatullah Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada who was killed in 1999; some say he was executed by Saddam's regime, while others claim he was slain by a member of the Hakim clan (see fap2-IraqUnityAug28-06). The alliance between Nasrallah and Muqtada was cemented further in August 2004, when Hizbullah militiamen were sent to back Jaysh al-Mahdi against a siege staged by US forces in Najaf. At the time, Sistani was flown to London, where he was in the care of the Khou'i Foundation, so that he was out of the way for a US move into Najaf. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim was part of Sistani's entourage in London during that period.

Experts in Iraq say the Sadrs and the Hakims are sworn enemies, rather than just rivals. These experts argue that Saddam's dictatorship forced the Hakims to flee Iraq and seek refuge in Iran, whereas the Ba'thists spared the elder Sadr until 1999 - when he began to militate openly against their regime.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Sep 4, 2006
Previous Article:IRAQ - Damascus Sees Opportunity To Break Out.
Next Article:IRAQ - Federalism.

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