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[casi] Ayatollah's killing: Winners and losers

1) Ayatollah's killing: Winners and losers
2) Baghdad Archbishop Says Fears Rising After Mosque Attack



Sep 2, 2003

Ayatollah's killing: Winners and losers
By Pepe Escobar

PARIS - Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, ripped to pieces by the
Volkswagen car bomb in front of the sacred Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf which
killed 125 and left more than 230 wounded after last Friday's prayers, was
the quintessential martyr of the current Iraqi jihad. All that was left of
him was a charred fragment of muscle which was sent to Baghdad for DNA
identification. A prominent cleric of a Shi'ite culture deeply imbued with
the concept of martyrdom, fate in the end dictated that al-Hakim would
tragically fall to a jihad conducted by Sunni Muslims against a foreign
invader just because he was kind of a pacifist: although he wanted the end
of the American occupation, he was against armed resistance under the
current circumstances.

No Shi'ite would dream of carrying out such blasphemous violence on the
doorstep of the Imam Ali Shrine, the third most sacred site for Shi'ites
after Mecca and Medina. Grand Ayatollah al-Hakim was the victim of an
assassination - as was the UN's special representative Sergio Vieira de
Mello. The hundreds of dead and wounded in the horrific Najaf massacre were
just - to borrow Pentagon terminology - "collateral damage". Al-Hakim may
have become another high-profile victim - like Vieira de Mello - of what
Iraqis are now calling "the Saddam network", which has already sabotaged oil
pipelines and bombed the Jordanian embassy and the UN compound in Baghdad.

But what if this was the work of somebody else? European intelligence
sources in Brussels tell Asia Times Online that ordinary Iraqis are becoming
increasingly convinced the bombings are part of a sinister American
conspiracy to plunge the country into total chaos and so force the UN to
take responsibility for mopping-up operations, thus saving American face.
Others blame Israel's Mossad, which infiltrated Iraq even before the
invasion. Israel - with a history of political assassinations - would be the
big loser in the event of an Islamic government coming to power in Iraq.
Al-Hakim, a key political player, wanted a moderate, Shi'ite-led, Islamic
regime for the country.

A few days before his death, he was still telling a Spanish newspaper he
hoped the American-appointed governing council would become representative,
"but for the moment nothing very real has come out of it". He believed the
Constitutional Assembly which will write the future Iraqi constitution
should be democratically elected, "otherwise the constitution would be
rejected". And he stressed that "the occupying troops are neither qualified
nor capable of resolving our problems, which are very serious and could
provoke a social explosion. In which case, they would be responsible." He
was a moderate, and he had a broad constituency, but he was a post-Saddam
leader-in-the-making who did not please either the Americans, the secular
"Saddam network" or Wahhabi jihadis.

The resistance against the US occupation has been carried out by myriad
groups, which call themselves names like Iraqi Resistance Brigade, Army of
Mohammed, Muslim Fighters of the Victorious Sects, General Command of the
Iraqi Armed Resistance and Liberation Forces, and Islamic Armed Group of
al-Qaeda (Fallujah branch). They have upgraded from attacking and ambushing
American soldiers to organizing complex operations like the UN and Imam Ali
Shrine bombings. The Americans at first thought they were fighting a hard
core of 600 former Republican Guards and Saddam fedayeen with up to 11,000
"reserves". But now the hard core is estimated at at least 7,000, all
responding to local command and self-sufficient in terms of funds, weapons
and military know-how.

It's wrong to view the resistance as "remnants of Saddam's regime", as the
Pentagon insists on doing. The Saddam remnants - former soldiers and
Ba'athists - are joined by any number of Iraqis angered by the occupation,
and of course by Saudi, Syrian, Egyptian, Yemeni and northern African
jihadis, many of them Arab-Afghans trained in the Afghan jihad. In this
particular sense, we are finally able to see something of the missing link
between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda that the White House and the Pentagon
were so desperate to announce in the run up to the war. But Saddam Hussein
seems to have been clever enough to prepare the conditions for the linkage
to emerge only after the war, as a time bomb designed to blow up in the
Pentagon's face.

It's the deadliest of combinations, says a European intelligence official
monitoring global terror: "The former Republican Guards, Ba'ath Party
officials and members of security services know the terrain, know everybody
and have loads of cash. And the jihadis not only focus on the special
incentive of fighting the American infidels on sacred Arab soil: they have
the necessary military knowhow." In the case of the Najaf bombing, there's
the added bonus of a meeting of minds. Saddam's secular regime and its
sycophants persecuted the Shi'ites, and the jihadis are essentially Wahhabis
or crypto-Wahhabis, for whom the Shi'ites are as perverse an enemy as the
Jews and the Christians.

Did Saddam plan all this? Of course he did - at least a great deal of it. He
knew he would lose the war, but he had enough time to conceive a
three-pronged form of resistance: nationalist, Ba'athist and Islamist.
European intelligence knows that months before the US invasion Saddam had
already distributed reserves of troops, weapons and cash around Iraq. He
himself recruited the key guerrilla chiefs, whose ages range from 18 to 35.
He conceived them as operating independently, but with himself as
commander-in-chief. The Saddam view of the resistance is not necessarily
shared by most of the resistance groups, which consider the Ba'athists a
bunch of losers. These groups - all of them tribal - are essentially
nationalist: they are defending Iraqi pride and Iraqi land. But in Saddam's
scenario they are also useful as added firepower and a nuisance factor
against the invaders.

After Baghdad fell without a fight on April 9, scores of Ba'ath Party cadres
took refuge in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Morocco and Mauritania.
The Ba'ath Party has operated cells in these countries since 1968. The
idea - brilliant in itself - was to have these cadres rally the Arab masses
in these countries to join a jihad against the superpower which dared to
occupy sacred Arab land. The masses may not be responding yet - but
certainly professional jihadis already have. With the Najaf bombing, the
"Saddam network" has scored another big hit: it has managed in one stroke to
simultaneously divide the Shi'ites (62 percent of the Iraqi population) and
hurl hundreds of thousands of them into the streets chanting anti-US
slogans. Ayatollah al-Hakim's brother is a member of the American-imposed
interim governing council, which has absolutely no power and is considered a
sham by the majority of Iraqis. Al-Hakim's Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has been vilified by other Shi'ite factions
because it is - at least for the moment - against armed resistance. And many
Shi'ites also remember very well that SCIRI backed Iran in the 1980-1988
Iran-Iraq war.

As Asia Times Online has reported, holy Najaf is at the dead center of what
happens next in Iraq. Immediately after the fall of Baghdad, first the imam
at Ali's Shrine, Dr Haider Alkelydar, and then Shi'ite cleric Abdul Majid
al-Khoei, who returned from exile in London, were assassinated. As chaos
takes over, Shi'ites are increasingly in favor of armed resistance against
the Americans. But the top de facto religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali
al-Sistani, does not want to get drawn into any political wrestling match:
he is still adopting a "wait and see" attitude. The one character who has
everything to gain from al-Hakim's murder is young Moqtada al-Sadr,
extremely respected because he is the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq
al-Sadr. Moqtada al-Sadr favors armed struggle - right now - and that's
exactly why he would be a useful ally to both the "Saddam network" and the
jihadis. Their objective is total confrontation with the Americans - with no
space for appeasers like the UN's Vieira de Mello or SCIRI's al-Hakim.

European diplomats are very cynical about the possibility of the
neo-conservatives controlling the Bush administration swallowing their pride
and turning to the UN for help. Even the UN is facing a no-win situation,
and the diplomats in New York and Geneva know it. In the unlikely event blue
helmets were deployed in Iraq, it's practically certain they would be
regarded by most of the population as the tail end of the US occupying
serpent. Especially if Washington insists on not relinquishing one inch of
control of the whole, disastrous operation. So this is the gift of
Washington's neo-conservatives to the world: instead of a democratic Iraq, a
putrid state infected by a guerrilla virus and on the verge of a devastating
civil and ethnic war.



Baghdad Archbishop Says Fears Rising After Mosque Attack

BAGHDAD, Iraq, SEPT. 1, 2003 ( Friday's attack in the Iraqi city
of Najaf raises "fears of an even more violent future," warns Latin-rite
Archbishop Benjamin Sleiman of Baghdad.

The incident shows the "political and security" void that exists, the
archbishop told the Misna missionary agency the day after the massacre.

Two car bombs exploded in front of the Imam Ali mosque, one of the Shiites'
most venerated places. Among the 125 people killed was Ayatollah Mohammad
Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in
Iraq. For the past 23 years, he had led the opposition to Saddam Hussein's
regime from his exile in Iran. He returned to his country in May.

On Sunday, the highest religious authority of Shiite Islam in Iraq issued a
statement warning about "terrible consequences" if the real religious
motives behind the attack are discovered, the Ansa agency reported.

That same day, the council of the Iraqi transitional government requested
the British military authorities to close the border with Iran, for fear
that Shiite faithful would enter the country to avenge the death of their
leader, and thus trigger a civil war.

After a "slaughter of this kind" the people "live in anguish and fear for
their lives," said Archbishop Sleiman. Tension "remains high, given that
violence could strike anyone anytime."

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