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[casi] News, 15-19/03/03 (4)

News, 15-19/03/03 (4)


*  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


*  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


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.

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

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. l

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 showed 1,762 Iraqi exiles out of
2,709  participating in the poll supported American military action against

>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 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, 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.


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

"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

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."         

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"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

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

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