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Sadr's Twin Strategy.

Maliki began his offensive of JaM in March, when he sent the Iraqi army, with US support, into Sadrist bastions in Baghdad and the southern oil city of Basra. At the same time, Maliki launched a campaign against the Sunni/Neo-Salafi Qaeda in the northern city of Mosul. Sadr's conciliatory stance showed he was pursuing a twin strategy - trying to regain control of his unruly JaM while avoiding armed confrontation with the government.

The anti-US cleric had at times seemed on the verge of declaring war on security forces. But both cases, Sadr is losing ground, as Iran has since reversed course and let Maliki crack down harder on JaM and other rogue Shi'ite militia groups.

Iran's reversal followed Maliki's recent visit to Tehran, where the Shi'ite PM gave Supreme Leader Ayatullah 'Ali Khamenei evidence of interference by the Quds Force, the external arm of the Shi'ite theocracy's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which also controls Hizbullah in Lebanon. The IRGC, in fact, has been ruling Iran since the June 2005 election of President Ahmadi-Nejad, a figurehead for the guard and for the supremacist wing of the theocracy. Maliki's evidence included documents showing that the Quds Force was seeking to weaken the Shi'ite-led government in Iraq.

Iran is losing much of its influence in Iraq as the country's Shi'ite Arab tribes have lately become deeply suspicious of Tehran's "Safawid motives" - a reference to the Turko-Persian empire which controlled most parts of the GME in the 16th century AD. Sadr belongs to a prominent Shi'ite family which has deep roots among Shi'ite Arab tribes in Iraq and Lebanon, as well as among Iranian Sh'ites of Lebanese and/or Turkoman origins.

Lebanon's Historical Link To Iran's Shi'ites: First contact between Iranian and Lebanese Shi'ites was established at the beginning of the 16th century when some of the senior Lebanese Shi'ite 'ulama' (clerics) were invited to Persia by the newly established Safawid dynasty. The Safawid rulers, partly originating from a Turkoman clan, converted Persians to Shi'ism and made it the official religion in what is today called Iran. They invited Shi'ite scholars from Lebanon, from what is today called Iraq, from Yemen and from Oman to help them construct the theoretical framework for a Shi'ite state in a country where Shi'ism had hitherto been only a minority sect.

Lebanese 'ulama' who moved to Persia and led the conversion process at the time included Shaikhs Jabal 'Ameli and Sadr. These were two senior Shi'ite scholars from south Lebanon's Jabal 'Amel region. In Persia, they stayed at the Safawid court for many years. During the ensuing centuries, hundreds of Lebanese Shi'ite 'ulama' and seminary students travelled to Persia to study Shi'ite jurisprudence. They mainly resided in the holy city of Qom, which gradually became the centre for Shi'ite study in Iran. Many married into Iranian families.

The Iranian rulers did not interfere with the presence of Lebanese seminary students or 'ulama' in Qom since they never got involved in politics. It was not only in Iran that the Lebanese Shi'ite 'ulama' shunned politics - shunning politics had long been a tradition among the Shi'ites of Lebanon, Iraq and the rest of the Arab world. The same pattern was evident in Lebanon as well. The Lebanese Shi'ite leaders were tolerated and financially backed both by the Persian 'ulama' and by the Iranian regime, all the way through the monarchy of Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi.

The first political contacts between Iranian and Lebanese Shi'ites were made in the late 1960s by Mustafa Shamran, a man with a physics PhD from Harvard and a leading figure in the Iranian Islamic Student Movement in the US who vehemently opposed the shah's regime. At the time, Shamran had the support of Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini, who then was living in exile in Najaf (regarded the most authoritative seat of Ja'fari Shi'ite learning and religious authority). Soon, Khomeini's aides sent young Shi'ite mullahs as volunteers to train in guerrilla warfare in the Palestinian camps in southern Lebanon through the help of Syria's military intelligence - at the time controlled by Syria's then defence minister Hafez al-Assad who took power in a coup in 1970. Assad later converted from 'Alawi Shi'ism to Sunnism to become president.

Other militant opponents of the shah during that period joined Palestinian guerrilla groups to receive military training for their planned struggle against the regime in Iran. Shamran in 1969 entered into direct contact with Grand Ayatullah Muhammad-Baqer al-Sadr in southern Lebanon, where this Iraqi-born 'alem wrote an essay on the concept of Wilayat ul-Faqih (WuF).

Later Khomeini adopted much of that concept into his own version of WuF which he applied in Iran in the early 1980s - hence his theocracy. At the time, Grand Ayatullah Sadr was in Lebanon in self-exile; he only returned to Iraq after having established al-Da'wa al-Islamiya, a Shi'ite political movement which was to become trans-national. Saddam's Sunni/Ba'thist dictatorship had Sadr and his sister executed in 1980. A co-founder of al-Da'wa, a member of the rival Shi'ite clan of al-Hakim, was also persecuted by Saddam's regime. But the Hakims fled to Iran. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Hakims returned to their country but their rivalry with the Sadrs became violent in the subsequent years.

With the assistance of Iranian-born Lebanese Shi'ite leader Imam Musa al-Sadr, Shamran in the early 1970s established the Amal organisation. With generous financial help from the Shi'ite 'ulama' in Qom, Amal supported poor Lebanese Shi'ite youth. During its early phase, Amal acted as a charity organisation for poor and downtrodden Lebanese Shi'ites. But Shamran did not perceive Amal as merely a charitable institution. He cultivated the seeds of radical Shi'ite ideas among Amal members as well as providing some with military training.

Shamran "disciples", including 'Imad Mughniyeh, formed the genesis of Hizbullah. Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus on Feb. 12, 2008, in a mysterious way with a question mark about the Assad regime and its alleged "secret links with Israel" (see news8-LebSyrHizbIranFeb18-08 & rim2-IranIraqFeb25-08). Imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared during a visit to Libya in 1978, in an equally mysterious way with a question mark about the Khomeini movement and the IRGC.

Shamran travelled to Iran during the revolutionary upheavals of 1978-79, bringing with him dozens of his Lebanese Shi'ite disciples. They assisted in forming the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 1979 shortly after the fall of the shah. More Amal and Hizbullah cadres went to Iran after the revolution. Shamran was made minister of defence a few months after the revolution and led the fighting against the Kurdish armed uprising which challenged the newly formed theocracy in Iran. Saddam's attack on Iran in September 1980 and the subsequent war with Iraq further strengthened the position of Shamran within the theocracy. Deeply trusted by Imam Khomeini and other Iranian theocrats, Shamran rose further in prominence within the theocracy.

Shamran's Hizbullah "brothers" were with him both in the fighting in Kurdistan and during the war with Iraq. Hundreds of Lebanese Shi'ites went to Iran to fight alongside the IRGC against Iraqi forces. But most Iraqi forces were fellow Shi'ites and, on realising that fact, most of the Lebanese volunteers abandoned that front and returned to Lebanon; some remained within Hizbullah, and others left the Shi'ite militant movement altogether.

Some went to Qom to study jurisprudence, some to university, and many more joined the IRGC to receive military training. Among those who went to Qom was a teenager called Hassan Nasrullah, now Hizbullah's secretary-general and the Lebanon representative of Supreme Leader Khamenei. Nazrullah has long vowed to apply the WuF concept in Lebanon.

The arrival of IRGC figures in Lebanon in the 1980s was the next stage of Iranian involvement there and went surprisingly unnoticed both by the Americans and Israelis. The latter were so concerned with the Palestinian presence in Lebanon and the perceived security threat it entailed for Israel that they completely failed to see the steady rise of Hizbullah in the south of Lebanon and the Beqa'. Hizbullah's most crucial backer at the time was then Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, an 'Alawite/Ba'thist ruler who was Saddam's worst enemy.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in mid-1982 to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its armed groups was a blessing in disguise for Hizbullah and its IRGC guides, as well as for Assad's regime. The vacuum created by the PLO's departure from Lebanon enabled Hizbullah, with IRGC assistance, to establish a state within a state in that country. Iranian involvement in Lebanon through Hizbullah seeks two basic objectives: (1) application of WuF in Lebanon as a first step towards turning Iran's theocracy as a universal imamate, i.e., a trans-national WuF movement; and (2) to defend the Iranian theocracy against both the US and Israel.

Iran's theocrats perceive an existential threat from the US and Israel. Tehran uses Hizbullah as a war machine against both. The 34-day war in July/August 2006 between Israel and Hizbullah showed that. In the words of a theocrat at the end of that war, "Iran demonstrated to all its enemies, particularly the Americans and Zionists, that if they came to Iraq and Afghanistan to impose military threats against us, we too have moved close to Israel to impose the same threat on the enemies of Islam".

Iranian involvement in Lebanon is, therefore, partly defensive. If the Iranian theocrats one day feel the US is not seeking their overthrow, would they still insist on involvement in Lebanon? This now is a hot question among Arab Shi'ites, not only in Lebanon but also in Iraq. They and fellow Shi'ites elsewhere in the Arab world know that the theocracy of the 16th century was a failure. Will they want to risk another one now, whether in Lebanon, in Iraq, or in both Arab countries? (see rim6-IraqSadrVsHakim-Shi'iteHistoryJun11-07).
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Title Annotation:Muqtada al-Sadr
Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jun 23, 2008
Previous Article:The Afghan & Iraq Fronts.
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