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[casi] News, 01-08/05/03 (6)



News, 01-08/05/03 (6)

NERVOUS NEIGHBOURS

*  Pullout from Saudi Arabia part of new US regional strategy  analysts

*  What must Syria do to defend itself?
*  Few signs of US-Iran rapproachment
*  U.S.-Israel strategic talks focus on threats from Iran and Iraq
*  Tehran is our next target
*  U.S. Official Criticizes Turkey Over Iraq
*  Washington to Syria: Hand over Saddam's WMD First
*  Chalabi threatens to lift lid on Saddam links
*  Charity foundation to run three hospitals in Iraq
*  GCC forces withdraw from Kuwait
*  OPEC President says Iraq will remain in organization

TURBULENT MULLAHS

*  Shiite politician plans return to Najaf
 *  Iraqi Shi'Ite leader claims regime executed 750,000
*  Two suspects detained in killing of Shi'ite cleric in Iraq
*  Iraq's Shiites contemplate a power vacuum
*  Shiite radicalism and the future of Iraq


NERVOUS NEIGHBOURS

http://www.jordantimes.com/Thu/news/news10.htm

*  PULLOUT FROM SAUDI ARABIA PART OF NEW US REGIONAL STRATEGY  ANALYSTS
Jordan Times, 1st May
    
RIYADH (AFP): Riyadh and Washington took the decision Tuesday to end the
presence of some 10,000 US troops, dozens of aircraft and a state-of-the-art
command and control system following talks between defence ministers of the
two countries.

"I don't think it was anything to do with domestic pressure or external
Islamic opposition," led by Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda
network, said Turad Al Amri, head of Saeed Al-Amri Centre for Strategic and
Security Studies.

"It was part of the new US regional strategy after victory in Iraq. The
Americans appear set for a long stay in Baghdad. I believe it won't be less
than 10 years," Amri of the Jeddah based independent think tank, told AFP.

"The timing is perfect. It is clear the forces' mission is over and there is
no justification for them to continue. There is no military purpose for US
troops to stay here," Amri added.

The withdrawal was announced by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the
end of a brief visit to Riyadh, Washington's chief ally in the Gulf but a
critic of the war on Iraq. Rumsfeld said the transfer of the regional air
and command centre to neighbouring Qatar was part of a plan to reduce and
rearrange US forces in the whole of the Middle East after toppling the
regime of President Saddam Hussein.

"By mutual agreement the aircraft that have been involved will be able to
leave," Rumsfeld told a press conference with Saudi Defence Minister
PrinceSultan.

"It is now a safer region because of the change of regime in Iraq ... We
will rearrange our forces in this part of the world," Rumsfeld added.

Prince Sultan said that following the end of Operation Southern Watch, in
which US and British warplanes enforced a no-fly zone over southern Iraq,
"there's no need for them to be here."

US and Saudi officials denied the withdrawal was due to differences or
demands by bin Laden, but Amri said the measure will assist the Saudi
government in silencing opposition voices.

"The measure will certainly boost the government's credibility ... It will
be used to apply pressure against the opposition," who had used the presence
of US troops as a reason to criticise Riyadh, Amri said.

Saudi pro-government newspapers  there are no anti-government newspapers in
the ultra conservative kingdom  on Wednesday welcomed the withdrawal but
used the event to scorn the opposition.

"The departure of the US forces from Saudi Arabia comes as a response to
those (in the opposition) who have used every media to spread their
prejudice," Al Watan said in an editorial.

Okaz daily said the decision showed the kingdom has absolute sovereignty
over its territory and that the presence of these troops "was for a specific
purpose to monitor the no-fly zone over southern Iraq."

It added that the departure would "silence all those who have been leading
frenzied campaigns against the kingdom, accusing it of allowing foreign
bases on its territory."

Saudi Arabia first opened its doors to foreign forces in 1990 when more than
500,000 US troops, in addition to tens of thousands from Britain, France and
Arab countries poured into the kingdom following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

After Kuwait was liberated in the Desert Storm campaign, the United States
maintained several thousand air personnel and dozens of aircraft to enforce
the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

Their presence in a country that houses Islam's holiest shrines in Mecca and
Medina has aggravated anti-US sentiment, giving rise to religious protests
and widespread arrests.


http://www.dailystar.com.lb/opinion/03_05_03_b.asp

*  WHAT MUST SYRIA DO TO DEFEND ITSELF?
by Patrick Seale
Lebanon Daily Star, 3rd May

The American invasion of Iraq has sent tremors of alarm throughout the Arab
world. Who will be next? What are America's ultimate intentions? No one can
yet be certain, perhaps because the United States itself is confused.
Flushed with military victory, Pentagon hawks want to "remodel" the entire
region to suitAmerican and Israeli interests, a course which they insist
requires more "regime changes" in a pro-American direction. In contrast,
doves in the State Department argue that, rather than engage in further
military adventures, the US should give priority to ending the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if it is to contain the dangerous wave of
anti-Americanism sweeping the region. In this tug-of-wills, most observers
predict that the hawks will win because President George W. Bush is seeking
re-election in 2004. There are no votes to be won from putting pressure on
Israel, as his father discovered.

What seems clear is that the United States intends to retain a forceful
presence in the Middle East and that every Arab regime will need to adjust
to this enforced "new reality." The populations of the Arab world are not
about to become pro-American, although it is widely recognized that the
absence of democracy in Iraq robbed that country of the capacity to defend
itself against foreign occupation.

Change is coming in the Arab world. Some 30 political parties took part in
Yemen's elections. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has responded
positively to calls by hundreds of Saudi intellectuals and businessmen for
modest reforms. By declaring that elections will take place in June, King
Abdullah of Jordan has confirmed that Jordan's Parliament, suspended since
June 2001, will soon be able to function again. Writing this week in the
International Herald Tribune, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Moasher said
"the Arab world needs to take the initiative in making its political and
economic systems more democratic." A tardy resuscitation of the "Damascus
Spring?"

Of all Iraq's neighbors, none seems more vulnerable than Syria to the new
US-imposed environment. Having benefited over the past two years from
considerable trade with Iraq, it must now cope with what it hopes will be
only a temporary closure of the Iraqi market. Being in the front line of the
Arab-Israeli conflict, it risks being squeezed between the jaws of American
power on one front and Israel power on the other. Ruthless men in Washington
and Tel Aviv have vowed to punish Syria for its support for Hizbullah in
Lebanon and for radical Palestinian factions. The destruction of the Iraqi
Baath Party has encouraged those who would like the Syrian Baath to suffer
the same fate, removing from the political scene the last party proclaiming
an Arab nationalist ideology.

So what should Syria do to defend itself? The threat appears to be have been
understood by both leadership and population. On April 18, Akhbar al-Sharq,
an internet magazine published in London, reported that 1,124 Syrians, many
in the exiled opposition, had signed a manifesto saying they would return
home to fight if American troops entered Syria. Other manifestos issued on
April 17, Syrian independence day, were addressed to the authorities. About
140 leftists, rightists, Muslim Brothers and ordinary citizens signed a
manifesto published by the Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights
Studies declaring that a strong internal front based on freedom for all was
the only effective defense against American and Israeli aggression. As the
war against Iraq has proved, the signatories wrote, one-party rule and
repressive security services cannot protect a country's independence and
dignity. A population that feels persecuted and repressed cannot defend its
own state. Effective resistance would require the cancellation of the state
of emergency laws, the freeing of all political prisoners, the amnesty and
return of all exiles, and the restoration of full civil rights to all those
illegally deprived of them. This should be followed by the formation of a
national unity government on the basis of freedom and national
reconciliation.

On April 21, Akhbar al-Sharq said Tayyib Tizini, a well-known professor of
philosophy at Damascus University, had called for a national democratic
dialogue. "Please start to open the circle from inside," he urged the
authorities, "before some foreign power opens it from outside!" A petition
is now circulating in Syria and on the internet calling for a national
conference to draft political and economic reforms.

This new agitation for political freedoms recalls the flowering of free
debate which took place during the six-month "Damascus Spring" of 2001, a
brief period of relative freedom which was brought to an abrupt end with the
arrest of 10 leading civil rights activists in August and September of that
year and the closing down of the civil-society forums they had founded. Two
independent members of parliament, Mamoun Homsi and Riad Seif, were
sentenced to five years in jail on what were widely seen to be trumped up
charges. According to an Egyptian lawyer, Ahmed Fawzi, who wrote a detailed
report of their case for the Arab Commission for Human Rights, their arrest,
detention and trial constituted a flagrant violation of their parliamentary
immunity, of the Syrian Constitution, and of the commitments Syria had made
under international law.

A more recent case of arbitrariness was the arrest on Dec. 23 2002 of
Ibrahim Hamidi, the respected Damascus correspondent of Al-Hayat -
supposedly because of an obscure feud between security services. He has been
held without charge ever since. Appeals to President Bashar Assad to review
his case - in the interest of Syria's own reputation - have gone unanswered.

After Assad came to power in July 2000, the official reasoning in Syria was
that priority should be given to economic reform, allowing the political
system to remain under firm control. But considering the grave threats and
heavy pressures Syria is facing, the view now is that political reform
should be the priority ahead of economic reform.

In spite of obstruction from entrenched interests, the political arena needs
to be opened up to allow various political tendencies to emerge. Political
parties need to be allowed to operate freely, debate should be encouraged
inside the Baath itself, while the National Progressive Front (a grouping of
six small factions around the Baath Party) should be abolished. The energy
of all Syrian citizens needs to be mobilized in these difficult times,
freeing the Syrian economy from certain individuals, grown rich and powerful
in the 1990s, who have acquired a stranglehold on the Syrian economy and
block any government reform program. They have a monopolistic grip over key
sectors of the economy. Indeed, Riad Seif's real "crime" is thought to have
been the letter he wrote to Parliament about the awarding of the cellular
phone contract to private interests which, he claimed, caused "great damage
to the national economy."

The Syrian state is not working effectively on either the administrative or
the political level. Managers of the large public sector companies are
poorly paid (between $200 and $300 a month) and, as they work under strict
control from policing bodies, have little authority or incentive to do
better. Because of blockages at all levels, businessmen and industrialists
resort to corruption in order to bypass regulations. Increasingly, the real
economy is taking place outside the legal structures of the state. Honest
civil servants, seen as obstacles to private deals, find it hard to survive
as the economy becomes a battleground for rival interest groups.

Independent Syrian economists agree that the real urgency is to encourage
the private sector, both Syrian and foreign. Once local businessmen and
industrialists are seen to be able to work and make money within the law,
without obstruction from well-connected barons, foreign investment might
well follow. At the same time, civil servants and public sector managers
need to be given the protection, and the pay, to defend the public interest.
Public debate and criticism of the government's performance, as well as of
the activities of special interest groups, should be encouraged, as it is
the only way to ensure that reforms serve more than a few individuals.

Without open public criticism there can be no accountability. Syria has
enough foreign currency reserves to let it carry out economic reforms
without risk of a financial crisis. Thanks to strict budgetary austerity in
the 1990s and to high oil prices, it has accumulated an estimated $15
billion. In addition, the Syrian government is in the unique situation of
having no significant internal debt. The downside, however, is that the
government has in recent years virtually withdrawn from playing any vital
role in the economy, yet without liberating it either. Inadequate current
spending has caused most public services to deteriorate. There has been
virtually no major public investment in the past five years, apart from the
construction of power plants (after repeated crises when lights went out in
the capital) and of a cotton spinning factory, as well as long-delayed deals
with the American company Conoco and the French TotalFinaElf for the
recovery and distribution of associated gas.

The opportunity to undertake necessary structural economic reforms was
missed during the period of strict austerity of the 1990s, and missed again
in the past few years when Syria enjoyed an artificial boom from trade with
Iraq and the flow of subsidized Iraqi oil. Syria must now reform under
external pressure. Respect for the rule of law, the granting of political
and economic freedoms, responsible government and greater accountability -
these must surely be Syria's best defense lines. President Assad came to
power promising reform. He now deserves all possible support as he steers
Syria through the dangers ahead.


http://www.dawn.com/2003/05/05/int13.htm

*  FEW SIGNS OF US-IRAN RAPPROACHMENT
by Karl Vick
Dawn, from The Washington Post, 5th May

[.....]

More immediately, conservatives and reformers in Iran have united in
demanding that US forces in Iraq disarm and repatriate to Iran members of
the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or People's Mujahideen, an Iranian exile group that
has fought Iranian governments since the 1970s and was armed and supported
by Saddam Hussein since the Iran-Iraq war.

The State Department considers the People's Mujahideen a terrorist
organization, but after bombing its positions in Iraq for several days, the
US Central Command negotiated a ceasefire that will allow the group to
retain most of its arms, at least temporarily.

The ceasefire agreement has drawn a strong rebuke from Iranian officials.
The head of the Iranian military's Revolutionary Guard last week said US
treatment of the group would test the consistency of the 'war against
terrorism'.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a key strategist in the country's reform movement,
suggested that if the United States handed over members of the group to
Iran, Iranian hardliners might be persuaded to turn over several relatively
senior members of Al Qaeda who fled Afghanistan and found refuge in Iran, as
well as leaders of Ansar al-Islam, a Muslim guerrilla group that was driven
out of northern Iraq by US forces.

During the US-led war in Iraq, Iran's cooperation with the United States
amounted to what one diplomat described as "mostly a matter of what they
didn't do." Iran closed its border to members of Ansar al-Islam. Violations
of Iranian airspace by US warplanes and even errant missiles were scarcely
protested. Iran played co-host to Iraqi opposition groups backed by the Bush
administration.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shia group
headquartered in Tehran since 1980, is Iran's closest ally among the
anti-Saddam groups. But opposition figures say Iran also has close relations
with Iraq's two main Kurdish parties and with the Iraqi National Congress,
whose chairman, Ahmed Chalabi, is championed by Pentagon officials.


http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=163474&contrassID=2

*  U.S.-ISRAEL STRATEGIC TALKS FOCUS ON THREATS FROM IRAN AND IRAQ
by Nathan Guttman
Ha'aretz, 6th May

 WASHINGTON - Israel and the U.S. met for another round in their strategic
dialogue in Washington yesterday, focusing on regional threats to Israel,
primarily from Iran and Iraq.

Minister Dan Meridor led the Israeli delegation team, which included
National Security Adviser Uzi Dayan, the prime minister's adviser Danny
Ayalon, and Foreign Ministry director-general Avi Gil. The American team
included deputy secretary of state Richard Lee Armitage and deputy secretary
of defense Dr. Paul Wolfowitz.

In past discussions, Israel has brought up the threat posed by Iranian and
Iraqi attempts to procure missiles and non-conventional weapons, and
Israel's situation in any future attack by the U.S. against Saddam Hussein's
regime.

Last Friday, the American committee that monitors the transfer of weapons
and know-how from the former Soviet Union to Iran also held talks.

Strategic talks between the U.S. and Israel do not formulate policy
conclusions. Their purpose is to keep an open channel on matters of
long-term strategic importance. Details of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,
for example, are not discussed.


http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20030506/COIR
AN/TPComment/TopStories

*  TEHRAN IS OUR NEXT TARGET
by Michael Ledeen
Globe & Mail, 6th May

Saddam has fallen but the war against terrorism continues. That was
President George W. Bush's message to the world from the deck of the warship
USS Abraham Lincoln last week. And he is entirely right. We can forget about
the happy dream of being able to destroy the Baathist regime in Iraq,
democratize the country and then calmly decide what to do next.

Like Afghanistan, Iraq was just one battle in the war against the terror
network and the countries that sustain it. And Saddam Hussein's Iraq was
never even the most threatening of those countries. That dubious honour
belongs to Iran, the creator of modern Islamic terror in the form of
Hezbollah, arguably the world's most lethal terrorist organization. And then
there is Syria, which has worked hand in glove with Iran to support
Hezbollah.

It is impossible to win the war on terrorism so long as the regimes in Syria
and Iran remain in power. So now what? The short answer is regime change.

No one I know wants to wage war on Iran and Syria, but I believe there is
now a clear recognition that we must defend ourselves against them. Left
undisturbed, they will wage war on us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and mount new
attacks on our homeland. Fortunately, a military campaign is unnecessary to
achieve a change in regime because the leaderships in Iran and Syria are
vulnerable to political attack. In Iran, we have an irresistible card to
play: Give the people opposed to that vicious "mullahcracy" that has wrecked
their country over the past 23 years support for a peaceful transition from
dictatorship to democracy.

As I wrote in The War Against the Terror Masters, the Iranians and the
Syrians long ago concluded that a successful U.S. campaign in Iraq would
threaten them both.

The Iranian regime was particularly alarmed because it faces a population
that is openly hostile to its rule. Their own public opinion polls show that
upward of 70 per cent of their people oppose them, and their internal
analyses predicted a domestic social explosion unless living conditions --
including greater freedom -- improved quickly and dramatically. This was
decidedly not in the cards, and therefore the Iranians intensified domestic
repression in the months leading up to the war in Iraq. Scores of young
Iranian dissidents were publicly hanged after summary trials, newspapers and
magazines were shut down, radio and television signals from overseas were
jammed, and foreign thugs were brought into the country to put down
demonstrations (the regime no longer trusted its own security forces for
such purposes).

The Syrian authorities obviously had similar concerns, for they orchestrated
a cabinet reshuffle in Lebanon, removing the slightest sign of independence,
and similarly shut down all voices of criticism.

Having waited more than a year after our victory in Afghanistan before
turning to Iraq, we gave these other terror masters time to prepare their
strategy. Expecting a long, drawn-out military campaign in Iraq (they
dreamed of a second Vietnam), they organized a battle plan appropriate to
weak countries facing a more powerful opponent. They planned to combine
terrorist attacks with popular uprisings, all the while mobilizing the Iraqi
Shiites against the U.S.-led coalition. As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad
incautiously proclaimed in an interview shortly after the start of the Iraqi
campaign, their model was Lebanon, where the same sort of battle plan had
driven out American marines in the 1980s, and the Israelis in the 1990s.

By now, the Iranian/Syrian strategy should be clear to the world, even to
those diplomats and policymakers who had considered Syria an ally in the war
against terrorism, and had dreamed of coming to some sort of working
arrangement with the Iranians. In the war just ended, we saw thousands of
terrorists pour into Iraq from Iran and Syria. The Shia demonstrations were
clearly organized from Tehran, and top Iraqi officials found havens in both
countries. Indeed, as Baghdad fell, busloads of Iraqi leaders raced into
Iran, boarded a civilian aircraft, and flew off to Sudan, even as Saddam
Hussein himself headed for Damascus.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, a man of great patience and optimism, flew
to Damascus himself last weekend to try to explain the new facts of life to
President Assad, and to encourage him to change his behaviour and adapt to
America's requirements.

It isn't likely to work and, at the end of the day, we will have to face the
unpleasant fact that such regimes will never abandon terrorism.

Happily, it doesn't seem necessary to wage war in order to accomplish regime
change in Tehran and Damascus. Political warfare is the order of the day,
just as we brought down Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, the Marcoses in
the Philippines, and regimes in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in the
latter days of the Cold War. I have no doubt that many Western countries
will come to this conclusion, and collectively support the incipient
democratic revolution that will start in Iran.

Michael Ledeen, author of The War Against the Terror Masters, is a resident
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and moderator of a conference
on the future of Iran taking place today in Washington.


http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-me/2003/may/06/050602113.html

*  U.S. OFFICIAL CRITICIZES TURKEY OVER IRAQ
by Selcan Hacaoglu
Las Vegas Sun, 6th May

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz harshly
criticized Turkey for not backing the United States in its war against Iraq
and urged the Turks to now follow Washington's line in relations with Iran
and Syria.

Wolfowitz' sharp comments in an interview broadcast Tuesday underlined
tensions that have characterized U.S.-Turkish relations since Ankara refused
to allow the deployment of U.S. ground troops to open a northern front
against Iraq or the use of Turkish bases for raids on Iraq.

He told private television CNN-Turk that he was particularly disappointed
with the Turkish military.

"I think for whatever reason, they did not play the strong leadership role
... that we would have expected," he said in the interview, conducted Monday
in Washington.

Turks overwhelmingly opposed the war against another Muslim country, saying
it would destabilize the economy and the region. Many analysts believe
Turkey's military did not feel Washington was taking its security concerns
into account, including fears that the strengthening of Iraqi Kurdish groups
could inspire Turkey's Kurdish rebels.

Wolfowitz said turning a new page in relations depended on Turkey's close
cooperation on Iraq and also on Iran and Syria - other neighbors of Turkey
that Washington accuses of sponsoring terrorism.

"But if we are going to have a new page let's have a Turkey that instead ...
of saying 'Well, we don't care what the Americans' problems are with Iran
and Syria, they are our neighbors,' let's have a Turkey that steps up and
says, 'We made a mistake, we should have known how bad things were in Iraq,
but we know now. Let's figure out how we can be as helpful as possible to
the Americans,'" Wolfowitz said.

"I'd like to see a different sort of attitude than I have yet detected," he
said, adding, "Maybe it's there, I haven't been to Turkey in a while."

He said Turkey and the United States could still mend ties by closely
cooperating in rebuilding Iraq.

"We have an opportunity in cooperating on maybe the most important project
of this century, which is to build a free, democratic Arab country to the
south of your country and frankly, if we can work together to achieve that
in Iraq, it will more than repair whatever damage has been done."

Turkish companies are keen to participate in Iraq's reconstruction.

Ankara's refusal to let in U.S. troops not only strained long-standing ties
with the United States, but also led the Bush administration to shelve a $6
billion aid package and U.S. commanders to rely on other bases in the
region.

"It is true we didn't get the full support we expected, but I think at the
end of the day, Turkey has paid a bigger price for that than we have,"
Wolfowitz said.

The United States shut its last major Turkish military mission last Thursday
as part of a regional shuffle of bases, raising questions about Turkey's
strategic importance to Washington.

Wolfowitz said he had expected Turks to lift restrictions on the U.S. use of
the Incirlik air base during the Iraq war, but instead Washington was told
that the operation monitoring the no-fly zone in northern Iraq was over, "so
leave."

"We don't want to be in places where we are not wanted, and we don't want to
be in places where we may be wanted but we are no longer needed," he said.


http://www.debka.com/article.php?aid=471

*  WASHINGTON TO SYRIA: HAND OVER SADDAM'S WMD FIRST
DEBKAfile Special Report, 21st April

Sunday, April 20, Damascus surrendered a top official of the Saddam
Hussein's regime, one of the eight granted sanctuary (as listed by DEBKAfile
last Friday, April 18), Republican Guards secretary Kemal Mustafa al
Tikriti, who is married to Saddam's youngest daughter. The Syrians pushed
him across the border to Iraq where he 'surrendered" to US forces.

This was Syrian president Bashar Assad's first response to the
newly-delivered US ultimatum: deliver Iraq's WMD and regime leaders or face
military action. President George W. Bush noted with satisfaction that Syria
was beginning to "understand the message". But, according to DEBKAfile's
Washington sources, the handover of all the high-ranking Iraqi fugitives
sheltering in Syria will not satisfy the US government or get it off the
Assad government's back. The US ultimatum to Damascus consists of three
demands, to be followed in the same order:

First, give up the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam has secretly
hidden in Syria.

Second,  return to Iraq all the officials of the Saddam regime granted
asylum.

Last Friday, DEBKAfile listed the top eight as being: former vice president
Izzat Ibrahim Al Douri, Saddam's bureau chief Abd Hamoud, Baath party boss
Aziz Salah, special security service chief Hanni Tefalah, Republican Guards
Secretary Kemal Mustafa, Republican Guards Commander Seif A-Din Suleih,
Iraqi Intelligence Commander Taher Jaloul and Special Republican Guards
commander, Gen. Barzan Suleiman Tikriti.

Kemal Mustafa was handed over Sunday.

Third, disband the command structures of the Hizballah, Hamas, Jihad Islami
and other Palestinian terrorist groups operating out of Lebanon and Damascus
and give their leaders into American hands.

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and other Arab emissaries, diplomatic and
covert, who called on the Syrian president on Sunday laid stress on the
first of the three demands as paramount. They warned him that Bush and his
team will not rest as long as Syria withholds the evidence to show the world
that America fought a just war against Iraq. The evidence that Saddam
developed weapons of mass destruction is hidden in Syria. Washington may
hold back a few days but, ultimately, Assad will not be allowed to dictate
the way the war ends by denying the United States the primary fruits of
victory  and not just over Saddam and his regime. Exposure of his banned
arsenal will show up the error of those opposed the war, the United Nations,
France, Germany, Russia and international anti war opinion.

The Syrian ruler's responded initially to the triple demand by an offer to
gradually turn over the eight Iraqi leaders. He denied knowledge of any
weapons of mass destruction hidden in Syria but promised to check again. In
confidence, he told his close aides, according to DEBKAfile's intelligence
sources, that baring a single Iraqi unconventional weapon to the Americans
would be suicidal for him, whether personally or as an Arab leader. He dare
not stand out as the first and only Arab leader to surrender an Islamic
weapon of mass destruction to the United States. As for the terrorist groups
that Syria sponsors and hosts, Assad declared firmly that he will always
regard them as freedom fighters  not terrorists.

These maneuvers were the Syrian president's way of defusing the bomb
Washington had laid at his feet by breaking it down into components. It is
hard to imagine Washington letting him get away with this tactic.
DEBKAfile's Washington and Middle East sources all agree that, while
welcoming the handover of Saddam's list of eight, the Bush administration
will not relent on its first and primary demand for the forbidden weapons
arsenal. If Syria fails to hand it over voluntarily, the United States will
take forcible action to recover it from its hiding place.

The ultimatum to Assad was not the only one Washington delivered Sunday,
April 20, to a Middle East figure.

The second one went to Yasser Arafat in Ramallah .

The day before, on Saturday, the penny dropped in Washington that the
wrangling between Arafat and the first Palestinian prime minister designate
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) over the makeup of the new government was not as
aimless as it looked. Arafat was keeping the heat up to distract attention
from his next move, which was to be to dump the intransigent Abu Mazen in
favor of his long-time pawn Nabil Shaath, to whom Abu Mazen had refused to
award an influential post in his lineup. Arafat dispatched Shaath to Cairo
where he normally resides to test the response in Hosni Murabak's inner
circle to his appointment. However, Washington struck fast on two tracks. A
request went to the president's office in Cairo not to receive the new
Palestinian candidate; a stern US ultimatum was relayed to Arafat: Any more
interference with Abu Mazen's attempts to set up a Palestinian government
will result not only in prolonging the international boycott of Arafat in
person, but cause the scrapping of the Middle East road map promising the
Palestinians a state.

Arafat's response is now awaited in Washington. It would be in character
from him to employ dilatory tactics like Assad. Both appear to find it
difficult to adjust to the fresh impetus and determination with which the
Iraqi War has infused Washington's Middle East strategy.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,950548,00.html

*  CHALABI THREATENS TO LIFT LID ON SADDAM LINKS
by Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, 7th May

Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled financier promoted by the Pentagon as a leader of
postwar Iraq, claims to have obtained 25 tonnes of intelligence documents
detailing Saddam Hussein's relationship with foreign governments and Arab
leaders.

The files, seized by his Iraqi National Congress supporters from Ba'ath
party offices and secret police stations, may fuel a fresh round of
recriminations and score-settling as politicians meeting in Baghdad struggle
to agree the terms of an interim administration.

In interviews with Abu Dhabi television and Newsweek magazine, Mr Chalabi
has already threatened to use the papers to damage the Jordanian royal
family and the satellite television service al-Jazeera - organisations with
which he has had long-running disputes.

Some of the documents may be published, the Iraqi National Congress (INC)
offices in London said yesterday but other Iraqi political groups, and the
Foreign Office, called for the files to be returned to the authorities.

The papers were collected from abandoned buildings used by Saddam's Special
Security Organisation and the mukhabarat intelligence service, from Ba'ath
party offices, and from the Iraqi army.

"The SSO was the organisation closest to the regime," said a spokesman for
the INC in London. "Its members were those running the country and their
bodyguards. Some of the documents will be used in the interests of Iraq;
some kept for the future government.

"In the case of al-Jazeera, for example, it has been bombarding Arabs and
Iraqis with false news for so long. Now we can put things right. Likewise
the Jordanian [royal family] has been leading the campaign against Iraqi
opposition politicians. But I don't think there's a plan to go after any
other person or country."

Mr Chalabi has repeatedly been accused of being a creature of the US
government and was blamed for the collapse of the Petra bank, which he
headed in Jordan in the 1980s. The Amman authorities convicted him of fraud
and theft.

Speaking on Abu Dhabi television, Mr Chalabi read from documents which he
claimed showed a number of reporters for the Qatar-based al-Jazeera were
working for Iraqi intelligence. "We will not allow this channel to continue
its destructive work, which might lead to civil war in Iraq, through their
lies and the spreading of rumours," Mr Chalabi said.

In the latest issue of Newsweek Mr Chalabi targeted the Jordanians,
declaring: "Some of the files are very damning." King Abdullah, who has
ruled Jordan since 1999, "is worried about his relationship with Saddam.
He's worried about what might come out".

The Jordanian government has not yet replied to the threats or to the
suggestion that the royal family privately profited from its dealings with
Saddam. Al-Jazeera said it had not seen the details and could not therefore
comment on the allegations.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office observed: "There are regrettably still
incidents of theft and looting. Those in possession of documents/property
should return them to the appropriate authorities."

Dilshad Miran, the London head of the Kurdistan Democratic party, one of the
organisations involved in negotiations to form the interim administration,
said: "It's not for different political parties to keep these documents.
They are the property of the new government."


http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/news.asp?ArticleID=86715

*  CHARITY FOUNDATION TO RUN THREE HOSPITALS IN IRAQ
by Shadiah Abdullah
Gulf News, 7th May

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation
has taken over the running of three hospitals in Iraq. The foundation will
also send two planes, each carrying 17 tonnes of medicine, to the
beleaguered country early next week.

Shipments of clean water, food and medical supplies will also be delivered
to the port of Umm Qasr as soon as possible.

This is part of its relief operation in Iraq, for which it has collected
Dh50 million through a massive donation campaign.

The foundation has allocated Dh4 million as part of a three-month emergency
relief operation to Iraq, said Ibrahim Bu Melha, Deputy Chairman of the
Dubai Justice Department, Dubai Attorney General and Vice-Chairman of the
Board of Trustees of the foundation, at a press conference.

"We sent a team to the country last week to assess the situation on the
ground and as a result we have chalked out a long term strategy to help the
Iraqis. Our priority right now is to provide health care, clean water and
food to the people," he said.

He said General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince
and UAE Defence Minister, has promised to provide them with extra funds if
the Dh50 million they have collected runs out.

Bu Melha said: "We run two hospitals, Al Karama and Al Nouman, in Baghdad,
and the Al Khansaa Maternity Hospital in Mosul."

Both hospitals in Baghdad have 400 beds each, with a staff of 1,800. As for
Al Khansaa hospital, it can accommodate 400 in-house patients and is run by
a staff of 617 men and women, he added.

The foundation has already paid the salaries of the staff of these hospitals
for the past month and will continue to do so until an Iraqi government is
formed and takes over the running of the country.

Bu Melha pointed out that they will buy the medicines from the UAE or from
countries neighbouring Iraq as transportation will be easier. The team that
went and stayed in Iraq for one week was led by Abdul Rahman bin Subeih,
Member of the Board of Trustees and Head of International Relief Committee
at the foundation.

"We toured Iraq from Basra in the south and trekked to Baghdad and Mosul and
the Kurdish areas in the north," he said.

Bin Subeih said that when they arrived there they found the hospitals in a
bad state and barely functioning. "All of them had been looted and the
hospital personnel, aided by the local mosques, had valiantly fought with
the looters to try and save the equipment. In some hospitals even needles
and threads had been stolen," he said.

Bin Subeih expressed his admiration for these brave individuals who put
their lives at risk to protect the hospitals. "They were working tirelessly
to save lives even though they hadn't been paid since the war broke out. The
foundation is rewarding their altruism by making sure that they get paid
every month so that they can feed their own families," he said.

When asked why the foundation has no relief operations in the southern areas
like Basra, Bin Subeih said: "When we toured the region we found that other
charity organisations from the Arabian Gulf, especially Kuwaiti
organisations, were concentrating on the south. That is why we concentrated
on areas like Baghdad and Mosul, which in our opinion were in greater need."

The foundation are also studying funding Mosul university and 20 schools in
Baghdad as part of their relief operation. "It is important for the Iraqi
educational institutes to get back to work as this is one of the
cornerstones of the rehabilitative process for the people," said Bu Melha.

He thanked Julfar Pharmaceu-tical company which has donated Dh300,000 worth
of medicines to the foundation. There are also plans to buy incubators to
refurbish the pillaged hospitals.              


NO URL

*  GCC FORCES WITHDRAW FROM KUWAIT
by Kathleen Ridolfo
RFE/RL Iraq report, Vol. 6, No. 21, 7 May 2003

The Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) Peninsula Shield Force withdrew from
Kuwait on 5 May, KUNA reported. The force, comprised of military forces from
GCC states had entered Kuwait to assist in the defense of the country prior
to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 March
2003). At a sendoff ceremony, Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Defense
Minister Shaykh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah thanked the force's troops and GCC
ambassadors for their participation in the defense of Kuwait, KUNA reported.


NO URL

*  OPEC PRESIDENT SAYS IRAQ WILL REMAIN IN ORGANIZATION
by Kathleen Ridolfo
RFE/RL Iraq report, Vol. 6, No. 21, 7 May 2003

Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, head of the Organization of the Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC), told reporters on 30 April that Iraq will remain
a key player in the organization, Doha-based "Al-Peninsula" reported on its
website on 1 May (http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/). Speaking from the
headquarters of Qatar Petroleum following a meeting with U.S. Energy
Secretary Spencer Abraham, al-Attiyah tried to dispel rumors that Iraq might
withdraw from the oil cartel. "Iraq is a key founding member of OPEC and has
the second-largest oil reserves in the world. It will continue to play a
role in OPEC," he said.

Al-Attiyah also called for the lifting of the oil embargo against Iraq.

Meanwhile, MENA reported on 30 April that valuable documents, including
geological survey maps of Iraq outlining oil-rich areas and reserves, were
stolen from the Iraqi Oil Ministry the same day.

Sources told MENA the documents were missing, but it was unclear whether
they were hidden by the Hussein regime or taken by someone else. The
ministry is now under tight U.S. security.


TURBULENT MULLAHS

http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/world/5799148.htm

*  SHIITE POLITICIAN PLANS RETURN TO NAJAF
by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
The State, 6th May

NAJAF, Iraq - For weeks, banners and graffiti have heralded the imminent
return of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al Hakim, a prominent opponent of Saddam
Hussein, to this holy city.

Hakim, unlike the leaders of other opposition groups, has still not returned
to his homeland, instead remaining in Iran where he has lived in exile for
23 years and inspiring rumors about whether the Americans might be
preventing his return.

The delay, it turns out, likely stems from Hakim's own strategizing about
how to extend his influence over Iraq's Shiite majority. Two major Iranian
newspapers reported Tuesday that he is considering stepping down as head of
the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shiite
opposition group, and returning to his hometown of Najaf as a spiritual
leader.

A Hakim associate in Tehran, where SCIRI is based, confirmed the Iranian
reports.

By relinquishing a public role in governing, Hakim, the son of a former top
Iraqi Shiite, is positioning himself to become a major religious figure, a
key to winning the hearts of the long oppressed Shiites for whom spiritual
guidance is more important than any government.

At the same time, his organization is already a major political voice in
Iraq. Hakim's younger brother, Abdul Aziz al Hakim, is poised to take over
the organization and is in Baghdad working with other opposition leaders to
help set up an interim government.

Hakim also has the support of a crucial Kurdish organization, which controls
part of northern Iraq. "We prefer to work with SCIRI," said Heshiar Zibary,
head of foreign relations for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who was
interviewed in Baghdad on Sunday. Zibary called SCIRI more "broad-minded"
than Iraq's top Shiite authorities, who are based in Najaf.

Zibary added that he and others have pushed Bush administration officials to
be more receptive to Hakim, whom they are lukewarm about because of his ties
to Iran.

Last month in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, the younger Hakim alluded to
his brother's planned departure from politics, saying a single Iraqi
spiritual leader would soon emerge. Computer-generated black-and-white
posters appearing on posts and walls around Najaf this week left little
doubt about that leader's identity. The pictures show the elder Hakim with
his hands raised in prayer and refer to him as "mujtahed," or learned
religious man.

So far, Iraq's Shiite hierarchy, which includes relatives of Hakim who did
not leave Iraq, isn't publicly objecting to the exiled SCIRI leader
encroaching on their realm.

"As long as he serves Shiites, why not?" asked Mohammed Hossein al Hakim. "A
united opinion is better than a scattered opinion. It gives stronger power
to the Shiites."

His nonchalance is somewhat surprising, given the rift in the Hakim family
caused by Mohammed Baqr Hakim's active opposition to Saddam, which led to
the arrest of 110 family members and the execution of 43, according to a
relative.

Other Najaf clerics also vying to be the voice for Shiites are not so blase
about Hakim's return. Moqtada al Sadr, also the son of a former top Shiite
cleric, dismisses Hakim's appeal.

"The people don't want him," Sadr said Friday.

Hakim controls a group of Iranian-trained guerilla fighters, known as the
Badr Brigade, but Sadr said, "Ten thousand or even 30,000 is nothing
compared to our followers."

Many Iraqi Shiites are nervous about Hakim's close ties to Iran and worry
the leaders of that Islamic Republic might use Hakim to wield control over
them. On Tuesday, seven trucks with Iranian license plates were parked at
Hakim's headquarters in Najaf, part of a convoy that Hakim aides said
brought medical supplies.

"It's normal that Iran would help us, but that doesn't mean they control
us," said Mohammed Baqr al Mousawi, the political spokesman for Hakim in
Najaf. "They have an interest in what happens here, and don't want to end up
with a neighbor that has a Taliban-like government or an unbeliever in
power."

Hakim's staunchest supporters say they expect concerns about Hakim will be
laid to rest once he returns home. A throng of Hakim fans presses against
the gates of his new headquarters each day, hoping to be the first to
witness the most anticipated return of an exiled Shiite leader to his native
land since the return of Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Tehran in
1979.

"We really need him to come home soon," Sheikh Jawad al Mamouri, patriarch
of a major Najaf family. "Once he does, all Najaf will welcome him and all
his enemies will all melt away."


NO URL

*  IRAQI SHI'ITE LEADER CLAIMS REGIME EXECUTED 750,000
by Kathleen Ridolfo
RFE/RL Iraq report, Vol. 6, No. 21, 7 May 2003

Dr. Hadi Ansari, son of executed Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ahmad
Ansari, told a Tehran press conference on 5 May that the Hussein regime has
executed as many as 750,000 people since 1980, IRNA reported on 6 May.
"According to reports from inside Iraq, some documents retrieved confirm
this figure," Ansari said, adding, "Resistance Iraqi groups are collecting
and classifying documents relating to these martyrs, which will be made
public once they are complete." Ansari said that the final calculation could
be twice the current estimate.

Ansari also claimed to have information that documents the regime's
execution of 182 senior Shi'ite clerics in the holy city of Al-Najaf, 138 of
whom were Iranians. He also claimed to have a document from Karbala --
another holy city in southern Iraq -- taken from the Ba'ath security
offices, which documents the regime's killing of Ayatollah Bahr al-Ulum.

"The Iraqi Ba'ath regime's aim in killing ulama was to create disunity in
Al-Najaf and Qom hawzahs," Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim, a relative of Ayatollah
Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, told reporters at the same press conference.
Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim has long claimed that the Hussein regime killed 18
of his family members.

Mehdi Ansari, brother of Hadi, told the press that the regime killed all
[Shi'ite] prisoners after the Shi'ite uprising in 1991.

The family members of other martyred ayatollahs attended the press
conference, IRNA reported.


NO URL

*  TWO SUSPECTS DETAINED IN KILLING OF SHI'ITE CLERIC [Khoei] IN IRAQ
by Kathleen Ridolfo
RFE/RL Iraq report, Vol. 6, No. 21, 7 May 2003

Two men were arrested in connection with the slaying of Shi'ite cleric Abd
al-Majid al-Khoi in Al-Najaf, Reuters reported on 2 May.

Al-Khoi was gunned down during a 10 April visit to the Imam Ali Mosque after
returning to the holy city of Al-Najaf following several years of exile in
London (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). Abd al-Khaliq al-Ka'bi, head
of Al-Najaf's volunteer civilian police, told reporters that Mehr
al-Baghdadi and a man he identified as "Ihsan" were arrested in the early
morning hours of 2 May. The men were reportedly members of a group of around
10 men who fired AK-47s and exploded a hand grenade in the streets around
the Imam Ali shrine in a 2 May incident in which two people were killed. The
men were detained and taken to the Al-Najaf police station, when seven
others stormed the building with AK-47s in an attempt to free them. The
gunmen were chased into a nearby cemetery, according to al Ka'bi.

The two men were listed as suspects at the time of the al-Khoi killing,
al-Ka'bi told Reuters.


http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/05/02/1051382096962.html

*  IRAQ'S SHIITES CONTEMPLATE A POWER VACUUM
by Ed O'Loughlin.
Sydney Morning Herald, 3rd May

Fellah al-Hassan had a story he wanted to tell. Standing on a street corner
in Najaf, central Iraq, he pointed down a narrow, teeming street towards a
high golden dome flanked by two golden minarets.

"When the Americans captured Najaf they wanted to go in their tanks to the
shrine of Imam Ali," he said.

"We came here and we lay on the street to block their tanks, about 30 of us,
and finally they retreated. Until now the Americans have not gone to the
shrine. The whole world saw that they cannot touch the imam."

A teacher of electrical engineering, Fellah al-Hassan is a voluntary
attendant at Najaf's Shrine of Imam Ali, revered by Shiites as the founder
of their branch of the Muslim faith.

This week hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites flocked to Najaf to mark
Thursday's anniversary of the 40th day after the death of the prophet
Muhammad, Ali's cousin and father-in-law. Forbidden to non-Muslims, the
breathtaking inner sanctum of Ali's tomb is lined with a mosaic of painted
tiles and mirrors, gleaming in the light. The tomb itself is clad in panels
of heavy gold and delicate silver filigree, spelling out prayers from the
Koran.

At the festival's peak on Thursday large groups of men and youths squeezed
their way through the throng to pass three times around the inner sanctum,
dancing, singing and beating their chests in violent ecstasy.

Women were there too, but silent and shy, shrouded in the shapeless black
gowns compulsory for Shiite females here, as in neighbouring Iran.

Once inside the shrine, though, many of the women dissolved into tears,
hurling themselves at the tomb to kiss it, throwing green cloths up onto the
bier in token of their most desperate wishes.

Many of the pilgrims had walked 80 kilometres from Karbala. Some marched 170
kilometres from Baghdad, waving green banners in token of Ali's son Hussein,
whose death in the one sided battle of Karbala in AD680 was commemorated by
a similar mass pilgrimage last week.

All along the route local people manned hundreds of mudhifs, or roadside
rest stations, where passers by - even infidel journalists - were provided
free with the best food their villages could offer.

Ali Hussein Ali was one of the satisfied guests at the mudhif of Sherif
Ghanam Khalil, from the village of Khafaja.

"We used to do the pilgrimages every year but it was stopped from 1968, step
by step, by Saddam Hussein, and for a long time we used to make the
pilgrimage in secret," he said. "We had to walk through the fields. Now that
we can do it openly again we are very pleased."

Saddam severely restricted the annual Shiite festivals at Karbala and Najaf
because he feared that mass outpourings of religious fervour could turn into
mass demonstrations of dissent.

Stunned by the sight of hundreds of thousands of people swarming into
Karbala and Najaf in recent days, officials in Washington are already
briefing journalists that the administration badly underestimated the risk
that a Shiite revival could pose for US plans for Iraq.

About 60 per cent of Iraq's estimated 24 million people are Shiite Arabs,
but under Saddam's minority Sunni regime they were violently suppressed - at
least 250,000 are still "missing" after an abortive rising in 1991, spurred
on and then abandoned by the US.

Now, after centuries of Turkish, British and Sunni overlordship, Iraq's
Shiites are suddenly free to contemplate the power vacuum left by Saddam's
departure.

For the occupying US forces, the new fear is that they will try to follow
the example of their bitterly anti-US fellow Shiites in neighbouring Iran.
This week the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, reacted sharply to
questions on this possibility.

"If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government
with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: that
isn't going to happen," he said.

Iraq's Shiites may have different ideas about this - if they can make up
their minds at all.

Although senior Islamic clergy are at the heart of the present unrest, it is
not certain that all or even most of the Shiite hierarchy want to impose an
Iranian-style ultra-conservative Islamic state on Iraq's mixed population.

There are signs of debate among the followers of Iraq's Shiite hierarchy,
represented by al Hawsa al-Almia, the fraternity of Shiite Islamic scholars
and clergy.

Excluded by the US from conferences to create an interim government,
al-Hawsa - or at least its name - has brought tens of thousands onto the
streets of Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala.

What they all want, however, is unclear. This week Said Mohammed Hussein
al-Hakiem, son of and spokesman for one of al-Hawsa's four leaders, Mohammed
Said al-Hakiem, said al-Hawsa was not interested in attending US-brokered
meetings.

"These conferences are being held for people who want power, and we are not
looking for power," he said. "We want to lead the people by religious
example."

In Baghdad, meanwhile, another man describing himself as an al-Hawsa
spokesman, Jaleel Chammari, said that al-Hawsa's representatives would be
prepared to talk with the US authorities.

Both Dr Chammari and Said Mohammed Hussein al-Hakiem said that al-Hawsa
wanted not an Islamic state but a "government of all Iraqis", including
non-Arab Kurds and Christians.

On the other hand, elements of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq have returned from exile to campaign for a
Tehran-style Shiite theocracy, complete with compulsory veiling of women,
regardless of creed. But the group's leader, Ayatollah Mohamad Baqir
al-Hakim, has said he wants no such thing.

If the Shiites are unsure what they are in favour of, few have any doubt
about what they are against.

"We want to thank the Americans and we want them to leave," shouted Shukri
Ashemeni, one of an excited crowd gathered outside Baghdad's Shrine of
el-Khadhim, named after Hussein's grandson.

"Believe me that if they stay one month or two months all the world will see
how the Iraqi people can really fight."


http://www.dailystar.com.lb/opinion/05_05_03_b.asp

*  SHIITE RADICALISM AND THE FUTURE OF IRAQ
by Juan Cole
Lebanon Daily Star, 5th May

Shiite religious parties and militias have stepped into the vacuum caused by
the sudden fall of the Baath Party in Iraq. Entire cities are not being
patrolled by US troops, but rather by Shiite militiamen. Although many
middle and working class Iraqi Shiites are secular-minded, they have no
political parties or militias. The radicals are by no means the majority,
but they are significant, and they have other kinds of power. They demand
that Shiite law be the law of the land, and some want rule by Shiite
clerics.

The militias are loyal to Shiite clerics such as Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim of
the Tehran based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and
Muqtada al-Sadr of Najaf. US troops have begun attempting to block SCIRI
fighters of the 10,000-strong Badr Brigade from coming back from Iran with
their arms. Sadr gave a Friday sermon recently in which he is alleged to
have said that only his followers are true believers. He has given his
allegiance to Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, an Iraqi exile in Qom, who is one of
the few Iraqi scholars to accept the Iranian notion that the clergy should
rule.

The Sadr Movement and the SCIRI militias are important in cities like
Baqubah, Kufa, Najaf, Karbala, to some extent in Kut, and in the slums of
east Baghdad. Since these towns and cities have a combined population of
several million, they are not insignificant. There are reportedly no Marines
in Baqubah, a city of some 300,000. Residents of the poor Shiite quarters of
east Baghdad say they have not seen a US Army patrol for several days.
Instead, some 6,000 Shiite militiamen loyal to Sadr patrol the
neighborhoods.

The dangers for Iraq of the rise of the Shiite radicals are manifold.

Sunni Arabs and Kurds will resist the imposition on Iraq of Shiite law. But
in "town hall" meetings to choose local leaders and national
representatives, radical Shiite militia control may dictate the outcome. It
is also possible that the Iraqi population will get tired of and annoyed
with the American presence, and the radicals will be able to exploit that
sentiment to catapult themselves to political leadership of the south.

The tribal chieftains and the villagers in the south are reportedly
uninterested in radical clerical Shiism. But the radicals' popularity could
well spread to the countryside if they gather enough momentum.

The paramilitaries of more radical groups have reportedly raided Baath arms
depots and are storing arms in mosques. It may be possible to roll these
militias back, but there could be trouble about attempts to do so. The
danger for the Americans is that Shiites do have a certain amount of
solidarity. If US troops shot a number of Sayyids or descendants of the
Prophet Mohammed in the course of putting down a riot, resentments could
spread rapidly.

The rivals of Muqtada al-Sadr have suggested that his popularity will fade
when security is restored, since he is young and does not have the standing
to be a source of authoritative legal rulings. This view may underestimate
this young cleric, who is reportedly in his 20s. When his highly respected
father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was assassinated by the
Baath Party in 1999, Muqtada went underground and organized poor Shiites in
Najaf, Kufa and the slums of east Baghdad. His popularity among the poor
does not seem impeded by his youth, and they do not care how many books he
has written. For more formal religious authority, he now has the backing of
Haeri.

The team of Sadr and Haeri has managed to place their men in key positions.
Sheikh Mohammed al-Fartousi suddenly came from Najaf to east Baghdad in
mid-April and began preaching at one of the largest mosque congregations,
Hikmah, attended by some 50,000 worshipers. He now says that he was sent by
Haeri to take over that mosque. How many other large mosque congregations
are being essentially usurped by Sadr emissaries? Note that Fartousi is
supported by a neighborhood militia of Sadr followers, and was briefly
arrested by US troops for traveling with a firearm.

Many in the Bush administration seem to be counting on the greater moral
authority of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf to keep the Shiites in
check. Sistani does not like the idea of clerics getting directly involved
with government. But Sistani is just as committed to the imposition of
Shiite law on Iraq as the others. He has also given interviews suggesting
that his patience with an American occupation force in Iraq could run out
within the year. The ability of the Shiite radicals to set an agenda for the
south is not dependent merely on their numbers, and they should not be
underestimated as a political force.

Juan Cole is a professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University
of Michigan and author of Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture
and History of Shiite Islam. He wrote this commentary for the daily star.
His weblog is www.juancole.com




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