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News, 15-19/03/03 (4) THE IRAQI COLLABORATION * Iraqi General in War Crime Probe Vanishes * Missing Iraqi's Son Fears Abduction * Take this war and love it: Iraqi exiles see a U.S. invasion as something to celebrate, not protest THE IRAQI OPPOSITION * Interview: Iraqis 'should run post-war Iraq' * Saboteurs blow up rail tracks * Why does Khamenei co-opt Iraqi Shiite oppositionists? * Shiite Cleric May Be a Force After Saddam THE IRAQI COLLABORATION http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-eur/2003/mar/17/031700959.html * IRAQI GENERAL IN WAR CRIME PROBE VANISHES by Christian Wienberg Las Vegas Sun, 17th March COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) - A former Iraqi general under house arrest while Danish prosecutors investigate his alleged role in gas attacks on Kurds has disappeared, his son said Monday. The circumstances around former Gen.Nizar al-Khazraji's disappearance were murky and few details were released. He had been under house arrest in his adopted country of Denmark since November. Prosecutor Birgitte Vestberg is investigating claims that al-Khazraji, a former Iraqi army chief of staff, was responsible for poison gas attacks in northern Iraq in 1988 that killed more than 5,000 Kurds. Al-Khazraji, 63, says Saddam Hussein, not he, controlled the chemical stockpiles, and some Kurdish opposition groups have defended the general. Al-Khazraji - an outspoken critic of Saddam - left Iraq in 1995 and has been living in Denmark since 1999. He has outlined plans for regime change under which the army would take over temporarily until a new government can be elected, and his name has surfaced as one of several potential interim leaders should Saddam be ousted. His son, Mohammad al-Khazraji, told The Associated Press that his father had stepped out of his home in Soroe, 60 miles southwest of the capital, Copenhagen, for an early morning cigarette and didn't return. "We contacted the police and asked for their help to find him," Mohammed said. "It's a very bad situation and I'm very confused." Investigators said they issued a national arrest warrant for al-Khazraji. They also were seeking an international warrant. Police said they searched a nearby patch of woods where al-Khazraji typically takes walks. The Scandinavian country's border points were told to be on the lookout for him. Al-Khazraji was placed under house arrest in November after he applied for a passport to travel to Saudi Arabia as a means of getting to Kurdish northern Iraq. The house arrest order meant Al-Khazraji was not allowed to leave his house without permission and was required to report to the police regularly. Vestberg said she was not aware what happened to him and her investigation into his alleged crimes would continue. "He could have gotten ill on his walk and collapsed or he could have been abducted or he could have tried to leave the country on his own," she said. Al-Khazraji's lawyer, Anders Josefsen, said his main concern was the general's safety. "I was very surprised to hear it, I didn't expect this and I hope he's OK," he told the AP. Under the Geneva Conventions, which calls for countries to prosecute or expel war criminals, Denmark is obligated to investigate claims he was involved in the poison gas attack. http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/world/5420089.htm * MISSING IRAQI'S SON FEARS ABDUCTION by Christian Wienberg The State, from Associated Press, 18th March COPENHAGEN, Denmark - A son of a former Iraqi general who disappeared from house arrest in Denmark said Tuesday his father was taken by Iraqi agents. "I think he was taken by (Iraqi) intelligence officers, everything points toward that," Ahmed al-Khazraji told The Associated Press. He did not provide any proof to verify his claim. Gen. Nizar al-Khazraji had been under house arrest in Denmark, his adopted country, since November 2002, but disappeared Monday after he stepped out of his home for a morning cigarette. State prosecutor Birgitte Vestberg said authorities are not sure if al-Khazraji tried to leave the country or was taken against his will. "If he left the country freely he will probably appear in public soon, as he's very fond of the media," state prosecutor Birgitte Vestberg told AP. Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for him, and local police said Tuesday they ended a search around his home in Soroe, 60 miles southwest of the capital, Copenhagen. Vestberg is investigating claims that al-Khazraji, a former Iraqi army chief of staff, was responsible for 1988 poison gas attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq. Al-Khazraji, 64, who has repeatedly denied any role in the attacks that left more than 5,000 Kurds dead, called his detention an obstacle to toppling Saddam Hussein. "I feel like a lion in a cage," he said last month when his house arrest was extended. "I should be in Iraq and taking the lead of the people and the military against Saddam Hussein." Al-Khazraji was put under house arrest after he planned to go to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. His passport was taken from him and he was required to check in with police three times a week. A hero of the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran, Gen. al-Khazraji was fired by Saddam in 1990 for criticizing the invasion of Kuwait. He had been in Denmark since 1999 under a Danish policy that lets a person stay in the country without social security, supplied housing or the right to work. Under the Geneva Conventions, which calls for countries to prosecute or expel war criminals, Denmark is obligated to investigate claims he was involved in the poison gas attack. http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2003/03/19/iraqi_exiles/index.htm l * TAKE THIS WAR AND LOVE IT: IRAQI EXILES SEE A U.S. INVASION AS SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE, NOT PROTEST by Adil Awadh and Sayyid Ali Al-Ridha Salon, 19th March So now we know what the American and European antiwar activists are planning for the first day of the war: sit-ins, insurgencies and shutdowns. While they are busy planning their acts of defiance, we Iraqis living in exile won't be joining them. In fact, Iraqis who live outside the control of Saddam's brutal regime are overwhelmingly in favor of a war. (A poll last year on the Iraqi exile site Iraq.net showed 1,762 Iraqi exiles out of 2,709 participating in the poll supported American military action against Saddam.) >From our perspective, the imminent U.S-led military action is the long-awaited liberation of our homeland, and not an invasion. Virtually all Iraqis living in exile, and in liberated Iraqi Kurdistan, endorse this war of liberation. It should be noted that this is not a small number of people: there are 4 million Iraqis living in exile and 3 million in the liberated area of Iraqi Kurdistan. If the flight of over 4 million Iraqis from their beloved and wealthy homeland -- out of a total population of 24 million -- does not count as an _expression of strong disapproval of the regime of Saddam Hussein, then what really does? Ironically, the antiwar protesters continue to base their argument on the assumption that the war will have adverse consequences for the Iraqi people. Certainly, Iraqis aren't happy to see their own country bombed. But sadly, the cancer of Saddam is deep-seated, and today only radical surgery can treat Iraq's ailing body. Those who feel that a war led by the U.S. is not worth the price in Iraqi casualties overlook the fact that Iraqis are already losing their lives daily in their defiance to the regime. The only way to end this tragedy is by ending the regime once and for all. In any case, this war is unlikely to involve many casualties: The Iraqi army is likely to revolt, and we believe that the Iraqi people themselves will finish the regime in a mighty uprising, even before the U.S troops enter the Iraqi cities. Iraqis are not waiting passively for the Americans to come and liberate them. Iraqis have fought Saddam bravely for over three decades. Sometimes our resistance was shrouded in secrecy, and other times our martyrs fell fighting in Iraq's narrow streets. Just last Friday thousands of Shia Muslims congregated in the holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who died fighting a Saddam-esque dictator close to 1,400 years ago. They assembled to pay homage to his sacrifice and tribute to his staunch opposition to tyranny. Given the background and atmosphere of the gathering, the crowd built its own momentum, and the assembled masses began to chant anti-Saddam slogans. According to reports http://www.annabaa.org/nbanews/18/103.htm from the area, Saddam's security forces opened fire on the crowd, and dozens of them lost their lives. This wasn't the distant past -- this was just last week. Yet while the streets of the holy city of Karbala bled, the streets of American and European cities resonated with chants in indirect support of Saddam. One of the coauthors of this article served in the Iraqi army from 1994 till 1996, and as a doctor was assigned to the 4th Army in Southern Iraq. His colleagues, ranking officers of the Iraqi army, were terrified of the Shia rebels. Saddam had managed to suppress their heroic 1991 uprising and reoccupy the 14 provinces they liberated in the wake of his defeat in Kuwait, but he was unsuccessful in wiping them out. Ill-equipped, malnourished and without external support, these rebels still manage to control a territory the size of Lebanon in Southern Iraq. No supporter of Saddam dares to walk that land after sunset. In coordination with U.S. forces, the Iraqi opposition forces in Iraqi Kurdistan and some southern parts of Iraq are joining forces to topple the regime as quickly as possible. Already, under the provisions of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, passed with bipartisan congressional support and signed into law by President Clinton, thousands of Iraqis living in the U.S. have signed up for training in Hungary. Iraq under the totalitarian regime of Saddam is not a country, it is a vast suffocating prison run by a sectarian maniac. It is a place where the goons of Saddam roam free, where mothers witness their young sons being dragged off in the dark of the night, never to be seen or heard of again. We personally know one such Iraqi mother: She still cries when she looks at the worn-out pictures of her four missing sons. All four, young men in their late teens and early 20s, were arrested from their home by Saddam's security forces in 1983. The remaining members of this family were loaded on the back of a truck and unloaded at the Iranian border. It was a heartbreaking sight: a broken father, three daughters, two small boys and a mother without four of her young sons, standing at the Iranian border in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, this family was not alone in suffering this horrible ordeal, for over 200,000 Iraqis remain missing and unaccounted for. The arrests and deportations are part of the regime's policy of ethnically cleansing Iraq. Ask the mother of this family, now a refugee in the U.S. and still waiting for the return of her four missing sons, does she want the American army to fight Saddam? Her answer without hesitation is an enthusiastic and passionate yes, and deep in her voice you can sense the rising hope of reuniting with her missing sons after 20 years. Instead of opposing Iraqis' hopes for liberation, U.S. peace activists could contribute more positively to the cause of the Iraqi people by helping them heal, recover and build anew the country they lost to the scourge of Saddam. Such efforts should be made in the spirit of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which mandates that the United States "support efforts to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein ... and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace it." After all, democracies are the best keepers of peace, for history shows that the chance of war between two democracies is next to nil. Iraq today is a big factory of terror. In Saddam's Iraq, every Thursday schoolchildren assemble in their playgrounds to pay tribute to the Iraqi flag -- and to the sarcastically smirking picture of Saddam. At the end of each assembly, one of the schoolteachers, dressed in army fatigues, proceeds to fire an entire cache of bullets into the air. The purpose of this militant ritual is to introduce Iraqis into Saddam's culture of violence and death early in their lives. It also sends a message to the terrified children that the very same weapons will point toward them if they ever choose to disobey the regime. Fortunately for Iraq, Saddam has failed miserably in his attempts to fully subjugate the people of Iraq. His failure was highlighted by the popularity of the Shia-led Iraqi uprising of 1991. Saddam's reaction to that uprising was the infamous order, "No more Shia and Kurd after today." As a result of that heinous presidential decree, over 300,000 Iraqi Shia and Kurds were massacred in the streets in a span of two weeks. To give antiwar protesters a more personal example, we tell them that, although we were subjected to Saddam's system of terror, like many others before us, we prefer to ally ourselves with the oppressed rather than the oppressor. It's sad to see the antiwar protesters preparing to choose the wrong side in the days ahead. About the writer Sayyid Ali Al-Ridha is a member of the Iraqi National Congress. Dr. Adil Awadh, firstname.lastname@example.org an Iraqi doctor, worked in a military hospital in the southern part of Iraq from 1994 to 1996, where he witnessed ear-cutting atrocities firsthand. He refused to perform such acts and deserted the Iraqi army. He is currently a member of the Iraqi National Congress and lives in the Washington area. THE IRAQI OPPOSITION http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/news.asp?ArticleID=80959 * INTERVIEW: IRAQIS 'SHOULD RUN POST-WAR IRAQ' by Neena Gopal Gulf News, 17th March Flying in the face of a carefully orchestrated, U.S.-inspired opposition that convened in Salahddin only weeks ago, that aims to set up an interim administration in post war Iraq overseen by the Americans, Adnan Pachachi, former former foreign minister of Iraq and a self described "Arab nationalist" is putting the finishing touches to his own wholly Iraqi opposition conference. To be convened on March 29 in London, the conference will represent "the silent majority of Iraq," the stepping stone towards creating 'a post war Iraq for Iraqis by Iraqis.' His group, the so-called 'Leadership Group's conference later this month will bring together "hundreds of independent Iraqis, representative of the silent majority of Iraq, the true Iraq, a secular, democratic Iraq." "We want to establish a pluralistic democracy in Iraq, a free press, free speech, restore human rights," he said, in an exclusive interview with Gulf News yesterday, a day after returning from London. Determinedly brushing aside criticism that Iraq unused to democracy for over 30 years may find freedom unleashing fissiparous tendencies he said: "Churchill said democracy maybe a terrible system of government but it is still the only acceptable system. Why can't we have a democracy? "We had it in the '20s when the state of Iraq came into being, and up until the government was overthrown in 1958. There was a vocal opposition that was allowed to freely criticise the government over its policies. There was no retaliation. The only government crackdown was on saboteurs and communists." "Even an imperfect democracy is better than this," he added. Distancing himself from the so-called 'group of six' formed at Salahddin, overseen by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, he said: "My name was put up twice, I was nominated twice, and I have declined twice. I have nothing to do with Salahddin." Pachachi's critique - the group, made up of mainly Kurdish and Shia leaders is "deeply controversial" as it is not broadly representative of the Iraqi people and divided on ethnic and religious lines, when in fact, Iraqis do not see themselves as coloured by their ethnic or religious roots. The fact that it was under the U.S.' umbrella and therefore suspect in Iraqi eyes was left unsaid. He is the lone Sunni, in a largely Shia-dominated opposition with known links to neighbouring Iran but rejects that nomenclature, saying: "We Iraqis have lived together for centuries without discriminating between Christian and Muslim and Shia and Sunni. There are no blood feuds. There is widespread inter-marriage. The spread of education has ensured that we remain secular." As Iraqi ambassador to the UN from 1959-1965, and again from 1967-1969, and foreign minister from 1965-1967, he is seen by many in Washington as having the democratic credentials and necessary gravitas to head an interim administration in a post-war Iraq, as opposed to the other U.S. favourite Ahmed Chalaby. Pachachi's political lineage is also impressive - his father, father-in-law and uncle were members of a secret society that worked against Ottoman rule, and took over the running of the newly emergent Iraqi state. While admitting that at the current time, he is uncertain what role, if any, the UN could play, with the U.S. and Britain looking to bypass the UN on plans to attack Iraq, Pachachi said his group's London conference would go ahead with plans to work with the UN on appointing a representative to run post-war Iraq. This representative would in turn, hold extensive consultations with Iraqis drawn from all political persuasions and professional groups to set up a civil administration. "This Iraqi administration will have three main tasks - to maintain peace and order, to protect and defend the country against any outside interference, and to provide all essential services to the people including water and food, as well as healthcare, education while taking immediate steps to revive the economy." The main task he stressed will be to set up a transitional government that will prepare Iraq for democratic elections. "We would set up electoral laws, based on universal suffrage, preceded by free debate in newspapers and the media. There will be a constituent assembly set up under the UN's auspices that will be entrusted with the task of drafting a constitution, which will have irrevocable guarantees of democratic freedoms and a smooth transfer of power through periodic elections." "This constitution will be submitted to the Iraqi people's approval in a referendum. The Iraqi people will decide what system of government they want - a republic, a presidential form of government, a bicameral parliamentary system. And within two years, we will hold elections. We want a lasting, genuine democracy in Iraq, that expresses the will of the people." Objecting to U.S. plans to run post war Iraq, he said he held talks on Friday with U.S. special envoy to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad on the subject. "Why do we need anyone other than Iraqis? " he asked. "We have highly educated, accomplished Iraqis who can be tasked with running an interim administration," added Pachachi. He believes too that there is no necessity for U.S. troops to be involved in peacekeeping once the Iraqi regime had been ousted, warning that it could lead to instability. "The Iraqi soldier is not political, the bulk of the Iraqi army is far removed from the regime, he would do a far better job with maintaining peace and order than an American soldier as he knows the country better. He would also be far more acceptable." Suggesting that "a general amnesty" would be in order to avoid the politics of vendetta, he said it was the only way to start afresh. "A lot of people have suffered under this brutal regime," he added, noting too that the U.S. attempt at regime change was probably the only way to replace the current dispensation. "None of the previous attempts to topple the regime have succeeded." Indeed, he says, President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's proposal calling on Saddam to step down was welcomed by Iraqis all over the world. "It was the proposal of a leader and a visionary who understands the wishes and aspirations of the Iraqi people," he added. As Pachachi emerges from retirement to pick up the baton of opposition leader of what is even now, with war seemingly only days away, a largely discordant orchestra, he is stepping back into a diplomatic vortex. The phone doesn't stop ringing in his plush apartment overlooking the azure blue Arabian Gulf in Abu Dhabi. There are a string of visitors, among them senior diplomats, and back to back interviews with journalists these days. "My life is completely topsy-turvy," confesses the urbane former diplomat who served in the UAE government as an adviser to Sheikh Zayed for 30 years until his retirement recently. He is now a UAE citizen and there is no longing to return home. "Even when I worked for the Iraqi government I lived abroad, I am a citizen of the world." "My wife Selwa and I were looking forward to the quiet life in the twilight of our years, you know I am nearly 80," he said, A black and white photograph of him with Sheikh Zayed in 1971 on the day the UAE became a nation underlines his strong links with his adopted home. "But with events unfolding the way they have, I felt compelled to step in," he said. Never targeted by Iraqi President Saddam Hussain, he has in fact been invited to return many times. "The Baathists never saw me as a threat. I am not motivated by vendetta, my motivation is purely the restoration of democracy to my country." http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/news.asp?ArticleID=81032 * SABOTEURS BLOW UP RAIL TRACKS by Con Coughlin Gulf News, from Daily Telegraph, 17th March Open acts of defiance by opponents of Saddam Hussain's regime have intensified in the past week, with saboteurs carrying out attacks against Iraq's railway system and protesters openly calling for the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator. The most blatant act of sabotage took place 20 miles south of the north Iraqi city of Mosul when members of the Iraqi opposition blew up a stretch of track on the Mosul-Baghdad railway, causing the derailment of a train. Before fleeing back to their base in Kurdistan, they left piles of leaflets by the side of the track urging the Iraqi soldiers who were sent to investigate the explosion to join the "international alliance to liberate Iraq" from "Saddam the criminal". In a separate incident, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a train illegally transporting fuel from Baghdad to Syria. Demonstrations were also reported to have taken place in Kirkuk, where an estimated crowd of 20,000 marched on the Baath party's main administrative headquarters demanding Saddam's overthrow. Three posters of the Iraqi leader were torn down and a grenade was thrown at the government building. One senior Baath official was reported killed in the attack. There were also unconfirmed reports that another demonstration in the holy city of Kerbala last weekend was violently suppressed after the intervention of militiamen loyal to Saddam. The escalation in attacks by Iraqi opposition groups has also been accompanied by widespread acts of anti-Saddam vandalism. Posters of the Iraqi president, which adorn every public building, are being openly defaced and vandalised throughout the country. Until recently anyone caught carrying out such acts would have received the death sentence. But the mounting acts of open defiance against Saddam's regime is indicative of the growing confidence being displayed by the main Iraqi opposition groups. "Until recently such acts of open defiance were very rare, and were dealt with harshly," a British Foreign Office official commented. "But as Saddam concentrates his energies on trying to protect his regime from attack, Iraqi opposition groups are becoming more audacious in their attacks." The only area where Saddam can rely with confidence on the loyalty of his security forces is in the Baath party's heartland around Baghdad. In an attempt to reassert his authority Saddam last week issued a directive ordering Iraqi officials not to give up their positions and flee the country. To set an example, members of Saddam's security forces arrested a civil servant in the Al Hurriyya suburb of Baghdad on suspicion of preparing to leave the country. The unfortunate official was then tied to a pole in the street and passers-by were ordered to watch as his tongue was cut out and he was left to bleed to death. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/opinion/18_03_03_d.htm * WHY DOES KHAMENEI CO-OPT IRAQI SHIITE OPPOSITIONISTS? by Ali Nourizadeh Lebanon Daily Star, 18th March It's nearly five months since Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cashiered his senior adviser, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Up to last Oct. 16, Velayati played an influential role in planning and running Iranian foreign policy. It was Velayati who at least twice undermined President Mohammad Khatami's efforts to normalize relations with Egypt. He was also responsible for making sure that efforts to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States came to nothing. (In September 1998, and on Velayati's advice, Khamenei ordered Khatami not to have his picture taken with former US President Bill Clinton at the UN headquarters in New York. Clinton had listened to the Iranian president speak, and then waited 20 minutes to shake his hand. But Khatami, having received orders from Tehran, left the UN headquarters without meeting with the American president). Until his dismissal, Velayati was also secretary-general of the Ahlul Bayt World Assembly, one of the most important Iranian institutions, supervised directly by Khamenei. It has to be said though that Velayati's appointment to Ahlul Bayt more than three years ago was a major surprise in its own right. Since its inception, Ahlul Bayt - a religious institution - was always headed by clerics. Velayati's predecessor, Hojjatoleslam Ali Mohammed Taskhiri, was an Iraqi Shiite cleric who had been deported to Iran in the 1980s. Taskhiri's mother tongue was thus Arabic, and he was well versed in the history and heritage of the Ahlul Bayt (the descendents of the Prophet Mohammed). Velayati, on the other hand, was a pediatrician-turned-politician, who ran Iran's foreign service for more than 16 years. His knowledge of Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence, though, was modest to say the least. In fact, his expertise in these fields did not exceed those of Iranian high school students, who usually duck these boring subjects. During the three years Ahlul Bayt was under Velayati's control, it failed to advance a single step toward fulfilling its objectives (among the institution's goals are advancing the Shiite cause around the world, and holding conferences and seminars arguing the justice of the Shiite cause). During Velayati's tenure, dozens of Shiite missionaries who had been dispatched to various locations in Africa and Latin America to spread the word returned to Iran either voluntarily or forcibly. Even Azerbaijan, the world's only Shiite state besides Iran, refused to renew the visas of Ahlul Bayt advocates operating in the country. South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Thailand, Singapore, and a number of Central Asian republics all asked Ahlul Bayt campaigners to leave. Under Velayati moreover, Ahlul Bayt failed to publish any remarkable books and periodicals. Nevertheless, Velayati was not deposed because of negligence. There were other reasons for the supreme leader's decision to do without his senior adviser and replace him with an Iraqi who had - until his appointment on Oct. 16 - been leading Ad-Daawa, a Shiite opposition movement to the Baghdad regime. Ad-Daawa is a militant Shiite opposition movement famous for its daring armed attacks against the Baathist Iraqi regime. One of its most audacious exploits was the attempt on the life of Udai, Saddam Hussein's eldest son, in 1997. The Ad-Daawa unit that carried out that attack (which only succeeded in injuring Udai) managed to slip out of Iraq undetected and its members have been living in Iran since. The appointment of Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Asefi as secretary general of Ahlul Bayt was a surprise to the Iranian regime and the Tehran-based Iraqi Shiite opposition - not to mention ordinary Iranians, who saw it as another sign of Khamenei's lack of confidence in the Iranian clergy, and proof of his increasing reliance on Shiite Iraqi deportees of Iranian descent. A glance at the number of Iraqis and Iraqi deportees holding senior positions in Iran reinforces the belief that Khamenei trusts them more than he does others - including Iranians. The head of the Iranian judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, for example, was the first leader of the Iraqi opposition group known as the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI). SAIRI is the largest Iraqi Shiite organization, boasting a 10,000 strong militia that goes under the name of the Badr Brigades. Prosecutor General Ayatollah Abdolnabi Namazi is another Shiite cleric deported to Iran by the Iraqi authorities. So was Ali Mohammad Taskhiri, Velayati's predecessor at the Ahlul Bayt foundation. Taskhiri currently sits on the powerful Council of Experts; he also holds eight other posts in the Iranian regime. Another Iraqi deportee is General Mohammed Reza Shams (aka Naqdi), former head of intelligence and security for the national police force and currently a senior intelligence officer with the Iranian General Staff. In addition, many of Khamenei's representatives overseas and a large number of heads of Iranian cultural missions in foreign countries are former Iraqi opposition figures who left their original calling after being appointed to posts in the Iranian government - on the orders of the supreme leader. Moreover, it is rumored in Iran that the current leader of the Iraqi Shiite opposition, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, will soon be appointed head of the Islamic Advocacy organization. With all his senior opponents turning into Iranian government apparatchiks, Saddam Hussein can rest easy. Whether Hakim joins the ranks of Shahrudi, Taskhiri, Asefi et al, it is a fact that the integration of these Iraqis into the Iranian establishment will strengthen the Iraqi regime, especially among the Shiites of Iraq. Since SAIRI was founded, it was seen by Baghdad as a non-Iraqi organization controlled by Tehran. It has to be said that SAIRI committed a series of grave errors that seriously eroded its credibility among the Shiites of Iraq. SAIRI is still committing such errors. A simple comparison between Mujahid, the journal published by the Iraq-based Iranian opposition Mujahideen-e-Khalq organization, and Badr, the organ of SAIRI's Badr Brigades, shows that despite being under the control of Iraqi intelligence, the Mujahideen still enjoy more freedom than Badr. There are no portraits or news of Saddam Hussein or of Iraq in Mujahid. The journal does not even mention Iraq-Iran relations or the imminent US war on Iraq. Badr, on the other hand, always prints portraits of Khamenei on its front page, together with quotes from his latest speeches. In addition, the paper usually features news about the latest visits by Khamenei's representative Hojjatoleslam Ahmed Saleq to Badr camps. Moreover, graduates of Badr training courses receive their degrees from Khamenei's representatives. According to Badr, the brigade's commander is periodically "honored" to meet with "the Guardian of all the World's Muslims" (as Badr calls Khamenei) to inform him of his men's exploits against the minions of the "infidel Baathist regime," and receive the supreme leader's instructions. It goes without saying that none of Badr's columnists and reporters has ever had the courage to ask Khamenei about the frequent visits to Iran by senior Iraqi government officials - officials of a regime that the paper itself brands as infidel and atheist. The responsibilities associated with running a large institution like the Ahlul Bayt will not leave Asefi much time for opposition work. Chances are he will not even be able to lead Ad Daawa on a part-time basis. In fact, there are those who say that the policy of appointing Iraqi Shiite opposition leaders in senior government and clerical positions in Iran is one of the main reasons why Baghdad is pleased with the Iranian government. Thanks to this policy, all Iraqi Shiites living in Iran have gradually become Iranian citizens. The yellowed Iranian birth certificates (issued by Iranian consulates in Karbala and other Iraqi cities) of Shahrudi, Asefi, Taskhiri, Namazi and Naqdi bear witness to the fact that those Shiites who dream of ruling Iraq one day are more Iranian than Iraqi. Ali Nourizadeh, one-time political editor of the Tehran daily Ettelaat, is an Iranian researcher at the London-based Center for Arab-Iranian Studies and the editor of its Arabic language newsletter Al-Mujes an-Iran. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/ny woshia183178917mar18,0,1050957.story?coll=ny%2Dnationworld%2Dheadlines * SHIITE CLERIC MAY BE A FORCE AFTER SADDAM by Mohamad Bazzi Newsday, 18th March Tehran, Iran - Before prison and torture, before life in exile, before surviving seven assassination attempts and the execution of dozens of his relatives, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim wished only to become a Muslim theologian. By the age of 25, al-Hakim had achieved his goal and was teaching Islamic law in Baghdad. The choice he made to become a Shiite Muslim cleric - like his grandfather, father and older siblings - set him on a lifelong confrontation with the secular Iraqi regime and a life in which religion and politics were inextricably linked. Today, al-Hakim, 63, is the most important Iraqi opposition political or religious figure, a man who will have a lot to say about the stability of Iraq if the United States forcibly removes Saddam Hussein from power. While Shiites are the dominant group in Iraq, making up 60 percent of the country's population of 24 million, a minority from the Sunni branch of Islam has ruled the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1932. The Shiites have been waiting seven decades for a chance to rule, and most of them look toward al Hakim for leadership. But the United States has a testy relationship with al-Hakim, suspicious of his ties to Iran, where he has lived in exile since 1980. Al-Hakim and the group he leads, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, are strongly backed by the Iranian government, which President George W. Bush considers part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea. Despite wariness about forging an alliance with an Iranian-backed cleric, U.S. officials have held talks in recent months with al-Hakim's group. The contacts seem to have produced few results, however, and al-Hakim has been kept out of U.S. war planning, like the rest of the Iraqi opposition. Al-Hakim controls a militia, called the Badr Brigade, that numbers about 10,000 fighters, many of them Iraqi army deserters who are trained and armed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The militia has been conducting a guerrilla war against the Iraqi regime for 20 years, to little effect. In 1991, al-Hakim's fighters came pouring over the border from Iran into southern Iraq after President George Bush urged Iraqis to topple Hussein while his forces were in panicked retreat at the end of the Gulf War. But the United States did not back the Shiite uprising that ensued, and the rebels were quickly crushed by Iraqi forces. The Shiites, who dominate southern Iraq, felt they were betrayed by the United States, and many are still suspicious of American motives. Al-Hakim says his fighters are ready to battle once again, and he expects tens of thousands of Shiite conscripts in the Iraqi army to join his forces once a U.S. attack begins. But he also appears to be on a collision course with the United States, which plans to establish a military government in Iraq once Hussein's regime is toppled. Al-Hakim repeatedly has said that his forces would not work under U.S. control and that military occupation would lead to a popular rebellion. "If the Americans enter Iraq because they want to rescue our people from this evil regime, and then they leave matters to the Iraqi people themselves, then everyone will be pleased," al-Hakim said in an interview at his Tehran office. "But if the Americans come in with the intention of controlling Iraq, its wealth and its resources, then they're going to face strong opposition from all the Iraqi people." He warned that a prolonged occupation would give the war the appearance of a crusade. "This will inflame religious tensions," al-Hakim said. "It will show that the Americans want to humiliate and subdue the Iraqi people. It will bring us back to the days of colonial rule, and that will renew nationalist feelings in Iraq." He deflected a question about whether his Badr fighters would attack U.S. forces during an occupation. "We have been fighting for our freedom for a long time," he said, guardedly. "We will continue to do so." Al-Hakim further antagonized the United States last month after he dispatched about 1,000 fighters to set up a military camp in northern Iraq, an area outside the Iraqi government's control and administered by Kurds. The Bush administration is worried the Badr forces will serve as an Iranian proxy and further complicate an already delicate situation in northern Iraq, which is controlled by two competing Kurdish factions watched warily by neighboring Turkey. "We think any Iranian presence or Iranian-supported presence in that region is destabilizing and not positive," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said soon after the Badr Brigade deployment. The ayatollah has sent his younger brother, Abdulaziz, who is chief of staff of the Badr forces, to work in the Kurdish-controlled city of Arbil. Still, al-Hakim dismissed U.S. concerns about his group's growing presence in the area. "We have been operating in the north of Iraq for more than 10 years," he said. "The Badr Brigades is an Iraqi force working on Iraqi land. Why is the United States worried about the presence of Iraqis on their own land?" No matter what the Bush administration thinks of al-Hakim's motivations, analysts say it has little choice but to deal with him. "He's one of the few opposition figures with real support inside Iraq," said Edmund Ghareeb, a political science professor at American University in Washington and an expert on the Iraqi opposition. "And he's a Shiite spiritual leader with a worldwide following. The U.S. administration would ignore someone like him at its own peril." One of the Bush administration's greatest worries about al-Hakim is his close ties to Iran's hard-line conservative clergy, and especially the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Badr Brigade has several secret bases in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq. The United States is concerned that if al-Hakim and his supporters gain a share of power in a new Iraqi regime, they would try to impose an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq and they would be beholden to Tehran. But al-Hakim and some analysts note that Iranian and Arab Shiite Muslims each have a distinct sense of identity, and Iraqi Shiites are not likely to allow excessive Iranian influence over any new government. "Most Iraqi Shiites feel a stronger devotion to Arabism than to Shiism," said Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a political analyst in Tehran. "The American notion that Iraqi Shiites would ally themselves with Iran in a post-Saddam government is mistaken." Bavand noted that the vast majority of Iraqi Shiites remained loyal to Iraq during their country's 8-year war with Iran in the 1980s. The fear of Iranian influence on Iraqi Shiites was one of the main factors behind the U.S. decision not to support the 1991 Shiite uprising in southern Iraq. If the Iraqi regime is toppled, there is the potential for competition between Iranian and Iraqi Shiites for dominance over the worldwide Shiite community. Shiites compose about 20 percent of the world's 1 billion Muslims. While the majority of Muslims worldwide are Sunnis, Shiites constitute a majority in several countries, including Iraq, Iran, Bahrain and Lebanon. For centuries, the leading center of Shiite learning was in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, where Imam Ali, the founding figure of Shiism, is buried. After the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, thousands of Iraqi Shiite clerics fled to the Iranian city of Qom to avoid a crackdown by Saddam Hussein's government. Since then, Qom has become the center of Shiite scholarship, and it has produced most of Iran's conservative clerics. But the 5,000 Iraqi Shiite scholars and students who now live in Qom are likely to return to Najaf, making it once again Shiism's intellectual center. "There could be a struggle between the theologians of Qom and those of Najaf," Bavand said. "Those in Najaf are likely to win because it is the burial place of Imam Ali." Al-Hakim has become more pragmatic in recent years, trying to distance himself from the Iranian regime and saying he no longer believes it would be viable to establish an Islamic state in Iraq, as his movement had long advocated. Instead, al-Hakim said he wants to see a "democratic, free Iraq that represents the interests of all its people." But he quickly added that he's willing to fight to protect the interests of the Shiite majority. "The best form of government for Iraq is democratic rule that respects Islam and the special makeup of the Iraqi people," al-Hakim said in his greeting room, furnished with faux-Persian carpets and floral-print couches. "It has to be a government that guarantees freedom, independence and justice." Al-Hakim's office is on a main thoroughfare in the center of Tehran, in a four-story concrete building with steel plates on the windows. The building is heavily guarded, not by Iranian soldiers but by members of the Badr militia who thoroughly search visitors and keep cars from idling outside on the street. Whenever he's in the office, al-Hakim leads afternoon and evening prayers for his staff in a small, carpeted room lined with gold-framed photographs of five siblings and other relatives executed by the Iraqi regime. On religious holidays, he receives a constant stream of visitors and he delivers sermons to thousands of worshipers at mosques in Tehran and Qom. He writes a column in his group's weekly newspaper in which he answers a few of the hundreds of letters he receives each week inquiring about everything from the finer points of Islamic law to the proper method of praying. Al-Hakim is an ayatollah by virtue of being a high-level Shiite cleric and scholar. He wears a black robe over a gray tunic, and the black turban of a sayyid, who Shiites consider a direct descendant of Muhammad. He has a lively manner and smiles often, even when answering criticism. He speaks in a deep voice, and he peppers his speech with colloquial expressions, forgoing the classical Arabic of clergy and politicians. He would not say whether he wants a political office in a future government. In his group's literature, al-Hakim says he believes a political leader must be a "righteous" individual who is knowledgeable enough in Sharia, or Islamic law, to be able to make his own interpretations. That would suggest a cleric. One of the ayatollah's top advisers said al-Hakim plans to return to Iraq as a religious, not political, leader. "We realize that we have to make compromises and that we have to be part of a coalition government," the aide said. "We don't expect to create an Islamic state." Al-Hakim was born in 1939 in Najaf, the fifth of nine sons of Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al Hakim, who later became the spiritual leader of the worldwide Shiite community for nearly 20 years. After the Baath party came into power in Iraq in 1968, the elder al-Hakim issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against membership in the party. That set off a confrontation between the al-Hakim family and the secular regime, which continues today. After the grand ayatollah's death in 1970, the mantle of spiritual leader for Iraqi Shiites fell to Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr, who was a close friend of Muhammad al-Hakim. The pair accelerated the Shiite community's political organization and efforts against the Baathist regime. They and their followers were arrested repeatedly and tortured during the 1970s. "In this period, we lived with killings, imprisonments and torture," al-Hakim said. "I was shocked with electrical wires, burned with cigarettes, beaten harshly, and my head was put into a metal box." In 1977, the Iraqi regime attacked a large religious demonstration in Najaf led by al-Hakim, and a widespread purge of the Shiite community followed. Several thousand Shiites were arrested, and five leading clerics were executed. Al-Hakim and al-Sadr were sentenced to life in prison, but they were released the following year because of pressure from several Arab governments. In April 1980, al-Sadr was arrested again and executed, prompting al Hakim to flee Iraq. He went to Syria and a few months later moved to Tehran. As al-Hakim waged a guerilla battle against the Iraqi government through his Badr militia, the regime retaliated by arresting more than 100 of his relatives in Najaf. Five of al-Hakim's brothers, nine of his nephews and nearly 50 other relatives eventually were executed. The al-Hakim family saga resonates with the martyrdom tradition in Shiism, which makes al-Hakim's influence in modern-day Iraq even greater. It echoes the life story of Imam Ali, the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law and Shiism's founding figure, who was assassinated in the year 661 as he stood in the door of a new mosque near the Iraqi city of Kufa. Nineteen years later, Ali's two sons, Hussein and Abbas, were killed in an ambush not far from where their father was felled. The killings of Ali and his sons became the defining factor in the split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam. They also made martyrdom one of the most important tenets of Shiism. As the oldest surviving son in his family, al-Hakim is the bearer of that legacy, and he has made use of Shiism's historical symbols. He chose to name his militia after the Battle of Badr, which took place in the year 624. In that battle, the first fought in the name of Islam, Ali commanded a force that defeated a larger army. Today, al-Hakim is using similar symbols to warn Washington about the perils of occupying Iraq. He cited the Iraqi rebellion of 1920 against British rule, which led to the installation of a monarchy in Baghdad, as a warning to the United States of what can happen to foreign invaders in Iraq. "The Iraqi people are not going to tolerate years of American military occupation," he said. "We fought foreign invaders before, and we would do it again." _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk