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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 _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk