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Iraq-Israel Pipeline May Be Canceled

Pet Project of Neo-Cons Faces Hurdle Now that Ahmed Chalabi No Longer Their Golden Boy

With the formerly U.S.-sponsored Iraqi National Congress and its discredited leader, former banker Ahmed Chalabi, now out of favor, there may no longer be a future for the Iraq- Israel pipeline Chalabi advocated. In fact, the whole thing may have been a pipe dream from the start.

Plans to build a pipeline to move oil from Iraq to Israel have been a topic of discussion among Washington, Tel Aviv and potential future government figures in Baghdad at least since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The plan revolves around the reactivation of an old pipeline, inactive since the end of British rule in Palestine in 1948. At that time, the flow from Iraq’s northern oilfields to Palestine was redirected to Syria.

The line from the oilfields of Kirkuk and Mosul to Haifa was built by the British in the late 1920s and was one of the main targets of the Palestinian Arab revolt in 1936-38. The eight-inch line was cut after Israel’s independence in 1948.

The old pipeline ran from northern Iraq to the Palestinian port of Jaffa (now, Israeli Haifa), on the Mediterranean coast.

The plan obviously would be of tremendous benefit for Israel, which would probably save 25 percent or more on the cost of oil.

Presently most of Israel’s oil is imported from Russia. Readers of American Free Press will recall it was Chalabi who provided crucial intelligence on Iraqi weaponry to justify the invasion, almost all of which turned out to be false. Chalabi laid out a rosy scenario about the country’s readiness for an American strike against Saddam that led Bush to predict they would be greeted as liberators.

It is a messy story of cronyism and corruption.

When Chalabi was initially angling for power, he quietly was promising both Israelis and their U.S. supporters that not only would the new Iraq trade with Israel, it would also resurrect the Iraq-Israel pipeline for oil export.

Israel, like the Bush administration, had backed Iraqi opposition leader Chalabi in the scramble for power in Baghdad because he was understood to be sympathetic to opening a relationship with the Jewish state and to resurrecting the pipeline, which would transform the region’s energy map.


Even though Chalabi himself is a Shiite, the Washington/ Tel Aviv game plan ran into stiff opposition from Iraq’s Shiite majority, which seeks to dominate the post-Saddam government and is increasingly hostile to the U.S. government and its Iraqi surrogates.

The old pipeline no longer exists, at least in Arab territory. It was cannibalized over the years, and there are built-up areas now where the line used to run. So any pipeline would have to be built from scratch. Instead of eight inches, the new one, built by Bechtel Corporation as part of a multibillion- dollar contract for the reconstruction of Iraq, would be 42 inches in diameter, sufficient to supply the oil refinery in Haifa.

The line, if it were ever built, likely would go through Jordan. Amman is heavily dependent on Iraq for oil and is tired of trucking the fuel.

According to a U.S. intelligence official, the pipeline “has long been a dream of a powerful section of the people now driving this administration and the war in Iraq to safeguard Israel’s energy supplies as well as that of the United States.”

Chalabi said he would end Iraq’s boycott of trade with Israel and would allow Israeli companies to do business there. But Chalabi has delivered on none of his promises, it seems. According to a former friend of Chalabi, “his moves were a deliberate bait and switch designed to win support for his designs to return to Iraq and run the country.”

Neo-cons in the Defense Department (DOD), such as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, were optimistic about the pipeline project.

The DOD neo-cons sent a telegram directly to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, violating protocol in bypassing the State Department, expressing interest and support for the pipeline project. But the State Department had been told by the Jordanians that there would be no pipeline unless the Israelis reached a settlement with the Palestinians.

Timing Is Everything
We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support

he military battle to destroy the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein has virtually ended. Now the political battle for the freedom of the Iraqi people ensues, and it may be over very quickly, to our surprise and shame.

We have a very narrow window in Iraq to win the support of the Shiite community, which constitutes a majority of the Iraqi people. If we do not manage that in the next month or two, the radical Iranian regime will almost certainly succeed in its ambitious and, thus far, brilliantly managed campaign to mobilize the Iraqi Shiites to discredit the Coalition victory, demand an immediate American withdrawal, and insist on “international” — that is, U.N. and European — supervision of the country. That would leave Iran with a free hand in Iraq, strengthen the regime in Tehran to our detriment, and give a second wind to the terror network. Our victory, as the old saying goes, would turn to ashes in our mouths.

Some of our leaders seemed surprised to discover that both Iran and Syria were sending thousands of terrorists into Iraq to attack Coalition forces, but there was no reason for surprise. Both Bashar Assad in Damascus and Ali Khamenei and his fanatical allies in Tehran had publicly announced that America would sink into a Vietnam-like quagmire in Iraq, and the long delay between the end of the Afghan campaign and the onset of the liberation of Iraq enabled the Iranians and Syrians to plan their moves to best assure this outcome. The Syrians have been caught red-handed, opening their border with Iraq to terrorists moving East and weapons and Baathist hierarchs fleeing West. As usual, the Iranians have taken pains to cover their tracks. Even so, there is plenty of reliable information about their operations. In the middle of the war, for example, many Iraqi leaders — reportedly more than a hundred in all — made it by bus across the border to Iran, were escorted onto a commercial aircraft, and were flown to a safe haven in the Sudan.

But the true audacity of Tehran lies in their political moves. The Iranians have infiltrated more than a hundred highly trained Arab mullahs from Qom and other Iranian religious centers into Iraq, especially to Najaf and Karbala, the holy cities of the Shiite faith. They are poisoning the minds of the (largely uneducated) Iraqi mobs with a simple slogan, repeated five times a day in the mosques: “America did it for the Jews and for the oil.” They are also distributing cash to the Iraqis.

Just as they did against the shah, the Iranian Shiite leaders intend to build a mass following, leading to an insurrection against us. Look carefully at the banners carried by the Shiite demonstrators. They are very clean and well produced, with slogans in both Arabic (for the Iraqis) and English (for Western media). That is the Iranian regime at work, one of the most brilliant and patient intelligence organizations in the region. The slogans chanted by the mobs in Baghdad are Iranian slogans, calls for an Islamic state. It may seem fanciful to suggest that our liberation of Iraq could be transformed into a pro-Iranian regime applying sharia law, but after all just last year our negotiators permitted the creation of an Islamic Republic in Afghanistan.

The Iranians will combine this political strategy with terrorist acts and assassinations, as in the case of the very charismatic Ayatollah Khoi in Najaf. He was a real threat to them, because of his personality and his solid pro-Western views. So they killed him, and they are planning to kill others of his ilk, along with as many Coalition soldiers as they can murder. Thousands of Iranian-backed terrorists have been sent to Iraq, from Hezbollah killers to the remnants of al Qaeda, from Islamic Jihadists to top Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighters.

We have not taken suitable precautions against the infiltration of suicide bombers and terrorists. The Associated Press reported on April 19th that — there wasn’t a single U.S. military checkpoint Friday along the length of the 50-mile road from the eastern city of Kut to the (Iranian) border — Iranian border guards roamed freely to the Iraqi side, acting as if they were in charge of the area and quickly asking reporters to leave.

We cannot defeat this strategy militarily without a level of violence against civilians that would redound against us; we have to use their methods to defeat them.

Our best strategy consists of two programs, one defensive and one offensive. The first is to support pro-Western, pro-democracy mullahs in Najaf and Karbala. They have sent a message to me (roughly two dozen of them), offering to help us in exchange for physical protection and money to give as charity to followers. Most Iraqi people do not like the Iranians, but only their own religious leaders can credibly expose the Iranian operation. They will not believe our radio or television broadcasts, or speeches from American generals, but they will listen to their own religious leaders. Similarly, it is next to impossible for us to identify the Iranian-backed terrorists, but the Iraqi Shiites can do it, once they are convinced that their real salvation lies with us. That is why the battle for the minds of the Iraqi Shiites is so crucial.

The second program is to support the anti-regime forces inside Iran. That insane regime is now very frightened, both of us and of their own people. The ayatollahs know that the Iranian people long to be free, and the regime has intensified its repression during the run-up to the war. There are several pro-democracy groups in Iran (student and teacher organizations, trade unions, workers? group, especially in the oil and textile sectors) that can organize an insurrection in Tehran and other major cities. They need money (a fraction of what was squandered in the CIA’s failed program to induce an insurrection in Basra), satellite phones, laptop computers, and the like. At the same time, we should support the pro-American Persian language radio and TV stations in Los Angeles, that are the principal source of information for most educated Iranians.

A thoughtful Turkish general once remarked that the trouble with allying with the United States is that “you never know when the Americans are going to turn around and stab themselves in the back.” We have won a dazzling military battle, but victory in the war against terrorism is suddenly in peril. We can certainly win, but we are up against a desperate enemy with great skill and cunning, and the cynical ruthlessness that comes from an ancient civilization that has survived countless invaders and occupiers over many millennia. We’d better take them seriously.

— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.

January 12, 2005

Shiite Groups and Factions

Iraq – Primary Threats to Reconstruction, Part 2

Yael Shahar
ICT Researcher


Shiite Muslims, who make up less than 15 percent of the world's 1 billion Muslims, formed their own sect shortly after the death of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, in 632. The Shiites of Iraq make up about 60 percent of the population. Their status has been that of a "minority" in the sense that it was the Sunnis that long dominated Iraqi political life. [1] The center of Shiite religious culture is in Iran, although the two holiest cities to Shiites, Karbala and Najaf, are in Iraq. The Shiites in Iraq are Arab, rather than Persian, and many reject the Iranian regime's doctrines.

The collapse of the Baathist regime has opened the way for Iraq's Shiite's to come into their own politically. However, while the secular Shiites are still in a majority numerically, it is the religious Shiite parties and militias that have stepped in to fill the power vacuum, especially in the sacred cities. [2] Almost immediately after the fall of the Baathist regime, Shiite militias took advantage of the lack of US military presence in Shiite-majority cities to take complete control in these areas.

The intensity of Shiite political aspirations came as something of a surprise to American officials, who are concerned that Shiite religious aspirations could translate into support for a Khomeini-style fundamentalist government. Previously, the fact that Iraq's highest Shiite authorities reject the Khomeinist doctrines had fostered hopes among U.S. officials that Iraqi Shiites will play a role in the reconstructed government of Iraq without becoming an arm of Iranian foreign policy.

Many of the Shiite parties and militias have had overt or covert help from Iran. Eastern cities like Baqubah and Sadra came under Shiite control soon after the fall of the Baathist regime, apparently with backing from Iran. The Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has amassed enough popular support in some cities, such as Kut, to be a force to be reckoned with. Nasiriyya appears to be virtually ruled by the SCIRI's parent organization, the al-Daawa Party. Iran is reportedly backing the return to Iraq of many Shiite Kurds, or Failis, who fled to Iran under Saddam Hussein's regime. A Faili militia from Iran is reported to have taken over the eastern city of Badra. [3]

In Baghdad's Sadr City, Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi militia has assumed the role of "morality police." The Sadr movement is also influential in Najaf and Kufa, and the Mahdi militia has repeatedly been involved in open hostilities with US forces..

Thus many Shiite-majority areas are now controlled by religiously-oriented factions. The secular Shiites have been increasingly marginalized in this process, due in part to the fact that, unlike the religious factions, they have not organized themselves into parties and militias. Among major Shiite population centers, only in Basra is the influence of the secular Shiite middle and working classes still felt. [4]

Shiite factions

Ideologically, Shiites in Iraq are divided into three main streams. The majority follow the traditional religious leadership, centered around the Hawza al-Ilmiya, a network of religious schools in Najaf, run by Iraq's highest ranking clerics (marjayya). The marjayya have traditionally been quietists, rejecting the Iranian ideology of rule by clerics. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the seen as the supreme religious authority of the Hawza and is widely respected. [6] The marjayya have supported the coalition occupation in Iraq to some extent, on condition that civil rule is turned over to the Iraqi people in an orderly fashion as soon as possible.

The second major faction is the Sadrists (sadriyyun), who follow the teachings of the late Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who killed by the Iraqi regime in 1999. Today, the Sadrists follow Ayatollah al-Sadr's son, Muqtada al-Sadr, who has used his fierce opposition to "all foreign occupiers" to build a militant movement. What the younger al-Sadr lacks in religious credentials he more than makes up for in charisma and the ability to galvanize Iraq's poorer Shiites against their perceived enemies-whether it be the coalition occupation or the "foreign clerics" currently in authority in the marjayya. Sadr offers his own solution to the political turmoil in Iraq, mobilizing his own militia as combination people's militia and "morality police" and extortion troops. In summer of 2004, he announced that he had set up his own "government" as a rival to the Iraqi Governing Council. He has publicly attacked both Sistani and the Al-Daawa Party for collaborating with coalition forces. [7]

The Daawa Party and its adherents form the third ideological stream in Shiite Iraq. The Party is currently led by Ibrahim Jaafari, who returned to Iraq from exile in London after the fall of the Baathists. Jaafari holds a seat on the Governing Council, and acted as its first president. Though influential, Jaafari's views do not necessarily reflect the full spectrum of ideologies and allegiances within the Daawa Party. According to some observers, the Party is still too fractured and secretive to play a decisive role in Iraqi politics. [8]

Support for the Khomeini doctrines

Iraqi Shiite religious belief is known as "Twelver" Shiism; which holds that "the Prophet Muhammad's successors or vicars were his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and the eleven lineal descendants of Ali and the Prophet's daughter, Fatima. The twelfth of these vicars or 'Imams' was held to have disappeared into a supernatural realm, from which he would one day return." [9]

For the most part, the Iraqi Shiites do not accept the Iranian version of Velayat-e-Faghih-"rule by clerics"-propounded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. [10] Instead, Shiite religious authority centers on the clerical establishment in Najaf, where the leading religious scholar is seen as "Object of Emulation" in matters of religious law but not necessarily as the best ruler of the country. Thus, while many traditional clerics in the Najaf tradition want a state governed by Islamic law, they rejected Khomeini's idea that clerics themselves should rule. [11]

At the same time, several of the Shiite factions do adhere to the Khomeini doctrines and propose to set up an Islamic theocracy along the lines of the Khomeini system in Iran. These groups include one branch of the al-Da'awa Party, SCIRI, and to a certain extent Muqtada al-Sadr's movement. In the case of SCIRI, the organization is heavily supported by the Iranian regime. [12]


The increasingly religious character of the Shiite ruling factions bodes ill for a smooth normalization in Iraq. Shiite religious demands for an Islamic state are bound to created conflict with Sunni Arabs and with the Kurds, who will not tolerate rule by ayatollahs or imposition of strict Shiite law. The situation is made all the more volatile by the fact that both of these population sectors have their own paramilitaries.

In any conflict pitting Shiites against Sunnis, secular Shiites may find themselves facing a dilemma. The Shiite religious political parties and movements tend to be authoritarian, stressing blind obedience to the appointed clerics, and brooking no dissent. Thus, secular-leaning Shiites, while not happy about living under strict Islamic law, may be forced to champion the religious parties against the Sunnis and Kurds.

Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya

During the reign of Saddam Hussein, the Al-Daawa Party was one of the most dangerous opponents of the regime. The organization's secretive, cell-based structure and tight discipline made it difficult to counter, despite the arrest and execution of hundreds of members and thousands of potential supporters. The organization made at least seven attempts to assassinate the former Iraqi president and nearly succeeded in killing his son, Uday. The Daawa Party also pioneered the use of suicide bombings and simultaneous terror attacks in the Middle East. More recently, it organized the first major anti-American demonstration in April 2003. [13]

Key people

The spiritual leader of al-Daawa was the legendary Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, although the party was also influenced by Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim and other senior clergymen. The operational leader of the party was Sheikh Arif al-Basri. Ayatollah Sayyid Kadhem al-Ha'iri was a leader of the Shiite Dawa Party in the 1970's and was close to Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. He fled to Iran around 1980 to escape Saddam's persecution and is currently based in Qom. Al-Ha'iri was until recently the mentor of Muqtada al-Sadr, the young would-be cleric who has made such trouble for the US-led coalition in some Shiite areas.

Muhammad Mahdi Asefi, Muhammad Ali Taskhiri and Sayyid Kadhem al-Ha'iri represent a pro-Iranian triumvirate within al-Daawa's spiritual leadership.

Several of Al Daawa's key people are also influential in various charity and social organizations in the Middle East. As of last year, Muhammad Ali Taskhiri, former head of the ABWA, headed the influential Organization of Islamic culture and Communication (OICC). Sayyid Kadhem al-Ha'iri is also affiliated to both the Ahlul Bayt World Assembly (ABWA) and OCIC. The ABWA is effectively a Shiite missionary organization tasked with propagating the Jaafari religion across the world.

Asefi resigned in 2000 but remains an influential figure in al-Daawa. However, it is unlikely that any of these men exert direct influence over the party's activists. [14]

After the fall of the Baathist regime, several key al-Daawa leaders have returned to Iraq, most notably Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Muhammad Bakr al-Nasiri, an influential ideologue previously based in Tehran. Al-Nasri, a prominent cleric, is said to be the party's "philosophical guide." [15]


Al Daawa's founding ideologue, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, envisioned the movement indoctrinating a generation of revolutionaries who would one day seize power and establish a state under Islamic law. At the same time, he did not sanction clerical control of the state. Rather, the Islamic religious establishment would oversee legislation and ensure their conformity with Islamic norms.

As many as 200,000 Iraqi Shiites ended up in political exile in Iran over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. Many of these exiles joined the Iran-based al-Daawa, which tended to accept Khomeini's idea of clerical rule. [16] The issue eventually led to a split in the Party. Some clerical members of the party's central committee, such as Muhammad Mahdi Asefi and Sayyid Kadhem al-Ha'iri, wanted the party to put itself under the direct authority of Khomeini and then his successor, Ali Khamenei. [17] Asefi was forced to resign in 2000 over the issue. [18]

There are reports that the Iraqi al-Daawa follows Lebanese Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, the ideological leader of the Lebanese Hizballah. Fadlallah was born and educated in Najaf, going to Lebanon only in 1965. Hizballah in Lebanon has threatened violence against US troops in Iraq. [19]

Al-Daawa's political ideology follows the theories of Islamic government developed by Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who was killed by Saddam Hussein's regime in 1980. [20]


Al-Daawa is believed to have been behind a number of assassinations and low-level attacks after the Baathists came to power. However, the organization began to carry out violent activity in earnest only after the 1979 Iranian revolution. The overthrow of the Shah demonstrated to Iraqi Shiites that even the most oppressive regime, backed by a powerful security apparatus, could be defeated if Islamic ideology was employed to mobilize the masses.

The organization's activities were aided by Iranian financial and military assistance, which translated into more numerous and more lethal attacks. In April, 1980, after the organization attempted to assassinate Tariq Aziz, the regime executed Muhammad Baqir Sadr, along with and his sister. After the murder of the movement's founder, Al-Daawa's military wing was renamed Shahid al-Sadr (The Martyr al-Sadr).

While the Daawa Party originated as an ideological movement, it was the movement's military and terrorist operations that typified the organization in later years. As al-Daawa employed increasingly violent methods against the Baath and its supporters, the distinction between the movement's ideological and operational activities was eroded.

Al-Daawa secretly formed branches in the Persian Gulf states and Lebanon; where Shiite minorities (and majorities in the case of Bahrain and Lebanon) endured varying degrees of oppression. The Lebanese branch of the movement carried out a suicide bomb attack against the Iraqi embassy in Beirut in December 1981 that killed 27 people, and is considered the first major modern suicide bombing in the Middle East. The Lebanese Al-Daawa merged with other radical Shiite groups in June 1982 to form the Hizb'allah movement. [21]

Al-Daawa's operations outside of Iraq include a number of attacks against Iraq's Western and Arab allies in the war against Iran. In December 1983, al-Daawa bombed the French and US embassies in Kuwait.

The party later made attempts to distance itself from these attacks, saying that they were the work of rouge agents working for the intelligence directorate of Iran's revolutionary guards.

In the late 1980's, Al-Daawa made some efforts to switch part of its energies from military activity to political activity. Apart from its modest Tehran office, the party maintained offices and personnel in some European capitals. The party is not known to have initiated any serious lobbying activities in the West, and its offices performed primarily logistical and spiritual tasks. [22]


Throughout the 1980's and 90's, Al-Daawa's main bases were in Iran and in London. Al-Daawa also maintained an office and an extensive support network in Syria, led by Jawad al-Maliki.

Inside Iraq, the organization had maintained a strong presence in the Middle Euphrates region (in southern Iraq), especially around Nasiriya. Another branch, called Tanzim al-Daawa, was in Basra. Due to the oppression of the Baathist regime, these branches were not in good contact with one another and developed quite differently with regard to ideology. [23] The Iraq branch has remained secretive and mostly isolated from external influences. [24] The fall of the Baathist regime enabled al-Daawa to establish itself openly in the southern and central regions of the country.

The UK branch, headed by Ibrahim al-Jaafari (until his recent return to Iraq) is viewed as the most pragmatic, having maintained contacts with secular opposition forces and (unofficially) with Western governments. [25] It also had the greatest freedom of movement, and so the center of gravity of the party moved away from Iran. [26]

The Tehran branch, led by the head of the party's political bureau, Abu Bilal al-Adib, is naturally the most pro-Iranian and its elements are more sympathetic to the doctrine of Velayat-e-Faghih (rule by the clegy). Nevertheless, al-Daawa remained largely independent of the Iranian clerical establishment.

In post-war Iraq, the London-based branch of al-Daawa has emerged as the most prominent, hooking back up with cell members in Nasiriya and Basra. [27]

Attitudes toward Iraq reconstruction & government

Al-Daawa was officially opposed to the invasion of Iraq by American led coalition forces. It joined the Coalition of Iraqi National Forces (CINF) upon its launch in June 2002. The CINF effectively obligated its member organizations to support the overthrow of the Baathist regime without "foreign interference". The party did not participate in the December 2002 London conference, though a leader of the Ahlul Bayt World Assembly (ABWA) considered to be sympathetic to al-Daawa was appointed to the 65 member Follow up and Arrangement Committee. [28]

In the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, Al Daawa established contact with US officials for the first time in its history; Ibrahim al-Jaafari traveled to the United States and met with US National Security Adviser Zalmay Khalilzad in January 2003. Khalilzad is alleged to have offered the party 5 seats on the follow up and arrangement committee, but this was flatly rejected. [29]

During the early 1980's, when the United States backed Iraq's Baathist regime, the Daawa party was fiercely anti-American, carrying out deadly terror attacks on American targets overseas.

Al-Daawa was behind the demonstration held on April 15 at Nasiriyya to protest the conference being presided over by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, head of the Office of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction charged by Washington with administering post-war Iraq. [30] A moderate al-Daawa leader, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, refused to attend the US-sponsored leadership meeting near Nasiriyya on April 16, saying he objected to cooperating with a US military administration. Al-Daawa Party officials fear that they will be locked out of political competition by the superior paramilitary capabilities of SCIRI and the Sadr movement.

Although Al Daawa is pro-Iran, it rejects Khomeini's doctrine of direct clerical control of the state along the lines of the Khomeinist doctrine. Ostensibly, the Party advocates a pluralist democratic system. On April 19, Ibrahim al-Jaafari signed a letter to a meeting of countries neighboring Iraq, calling for the immediate establishment of a technocratic provisional government, suggesting that al-Daawa remains less clerically oriented than other Shiite factions. [31]

Thus, while Al Daawa has refused to endorse American intervention in Iraq, it has also refused to subordinate itself to Iran. [32]

While Al Daawa does not officially cooperate with coalition forces, it is pragmatic and its leaders have been careful to avoid actions that might sabotage the delicate transition to some form of representative government in Iraq. There are even rumors that the Party may be cooperating with the United States in rooting out armed resistance.

Al-Daawa accepted posts on the Interim Governing Council appointed by U.S. civil administrator Paul Bremer on July 13, gaining four of the 25 seats.

Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)

SCIRI (also called SAIRI) is in essence an offshoot of the al-Daawa al-Islamiyya Party. The organization was founded in 1982 in Tehran as an umbrella group opposed to the Baathist regime in Iraq. Its first head was Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim. Al-Hakim had fled to Iran after being imprisoned for some years by Saddam Hussein. In Iran he established an organization called Mojahedin fil Iraq, comprised mainly of former al-Daawa cadres. In 1981, the Mojahedin fil Iraq metamorphosed into the Office for the Islamic revolution in Iraq, which in turn became the SCIRI in November 1982.

SCIRI set out to be an umbrella organization comprising several groups, including the Daawa party. However, Daawa broke with SCIRI in 1984, largely because Daawa qualified its support for the Iranian revolution and viewed the rigid theocratic state that arose from it as unsuitable for Iraq. While SCIRI officials claim that Daawa is still part of its organization, this is true only of one faction of the party. [33]

Politically, SCIRI is governed by a General Assembly of 70-100 key personalities, including clerics belonging to Hakim's inner circle, military commanders of the Badr Corps, and representatives of smaller Iraqi Shiite groups. The General Assembly elects a 12-member Central Committee, SCIRI's highest decision-making body. [34]

Key People

Ayatollah Baqir Hakim, born in Najaf in 1939, was a son of the late Grand Ayatollah Mohsen al-Hakim, an Iraqi cleric regarded as the leading marja' taqlid (source of emulation) in the Shiite world from 1955-1970.

Hakim was imprisoned and tortured by the Baathist regime for his clandestine activities on behalf of Al Daawa in 1972, 1977 and 1979. Upon his release from prison in 1980, he fled to Iran and established an organization called Mojahedin fil Iraq, comprised mainly of former al-Daawa cadres.

Hakim became head of SCIRI in 1984. The same year, al-Daawa broke with SCIRI in order to maintain its independence.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the younger brother of Ayatollah Baqir Hakim, and deputy head of SCIRI until his brother's death, returned to Iraq on April 16, 2003. [35] Upon his return to Iraq, the younger al-Hakim became a member of Iraq's new Governing Council.

In May 2003, Ayatollah al-Hakim returned to Iraq, and began leading Friday prayers in the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. Shortly after returning from exile, he said that he would work toward democracy in Iraq. "We Muslims have to live together. We have to build security for our new society," he said in May. "We want a democratic government, representing the Iraqi nation, the Iraqi people, the Muslims, Christians and all the minorities."

He initially opposed the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and boycotted the first U.S.-backed meeting of Iraqi groups in April. However, he later got a name as a pragmatist, and supported the new government in Iraq.

On 29 August 2003, a powerful carbomb exploded near the Imam Ali Mosque killing Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and more than 100 others. The bomb was apparently set off just as the Ayatollah's car pulled out from the mosque. Although it is not known who was behind the attack, the two primary suspects are followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Baathist loyalists. It is clear that the attack falls into an evolving pattern of attempts by Arab Nationalists and loyalists of the deposed regime to radicalize the Shiite community and destroy the uneasy détente between Shiite leaders and the American-led coalition. [36]

After the assassination of Ayatollah Hakim, his brother Adel Aziz Hakim became the new leader of SCIRI.

The Ayatollah's nephew, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, is one of four top leaders of the Hawza, the clerics that direct much of Shiite life around the world. He too has been targeted by assassination attempts in Iraq. Suspicion fell on Moqtada Sadr, the son of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, the former grand ayatollah in Najaf.


Unlike Sadr and most al-Daawa leaders, Ayatollah Baqir Hakim explicitly endorsed the Khomeinist concept of Velayat-e-Faghih (Guardianship of the Jurisprudent). Traditionally, the al-Hakims have been close to Iranian hardliners like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini's successor as Supreme Leader in Iran. [37]

Like other Shiite religious factions, SCIRI seeks a clerically dominated Islamic republic in Iraq. Badr Corps commander Abdul Aziz al-Hakim articulated the process in a television interview, saying that Iraqis would first choose a pluralistic government, but in the long term the Shiite majority would opt for an Islamic republic. [38]


During the Saddam years, SCIRI opened offices in three Arab states neighboring Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria, as well as in London, Paris, Vienna and Geneva. The Damascus office, headed by SCIRI's foreign and Arab affairs chief Bayan Jabr, coordinated relations with other Iraqi opposition groups, while the London office, run by Hamid al-Bayati, served as a liaison with Western governments and media. [39]

After the fall of the Baathist regime, SCIRI opened offices in British-occupied Basra (the group's historically good relations with the United Kingdom may have facilitated this) and used it to extend its political influence in nearby town and villages. The extent of SCIRI's influence in the sacred Shiite towns of Najaf and Karbala is difficult to assess, but is believed to be significant. [40]

Armed Wing

Under the tutelage of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), SCIRI established a military wing in 1983, called the Badr Brigade. This force is believed to have between 10,000-15,000 fighters, though only around 3,000 are professionally trained (many of these being Iraqi army defectors and former POWs). [41]

Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, Badr forces began filtering across the border from Iran and taking control of key Shiite cities. The also established a heavy security presence in Najaf. [42]

The Badr Brigade has been officially renamed, and is now the "Badr Organization for Development and Reconstruction." Many of its cadres have been put to work rebuilding infrastructure and other humanitarian projects. SCIRI hopes that its fighters will eventually be absorbed into military and police units under the control of the Governing Council, but has complained that candidates from the Badr Corps are being rejected unfairly. [43]


SCIRI took credit for bombings and assassination plots against the Baath in Baghdad throughout the 1980's and 1990's. However, the Badr Corps never posed a serious threat to the Baathist regime. According the Iraq experts, this was mainly because the Brigades "strove to be a conventional military organization, equipped with heavy weaponry, rather than a guerilla force capable of easily infiltrating Iraq and operating clandestinely." According to Mahan Abedin, "The military failure of SCIRI contrasted sharply with the accomplishments of the Daawa party, which developed a secretive, cell-based network of bombers and assassins that earned a reputation as Saddam Hussein's most fearsome enemy." [44]

SCIRI leaders returned to Iraq in April and May, and their Badr Corps fighters slipped back into the country from Iran, establishing themselves in eastern cities, such as Baquba and Kut, near the Iranian border. They failed to get much purchase in East Baghdad or other Sadrist areas, however. Although SCIRI proved willing to work with the Americans, the Badr Corps often clashed with U.S. troops in Baquba and elsewhere. [45]

Attitudes toward Iraq reconstruction & government

U.S. officials have made attempts to win over SCIRI, starting with contacts in Kuwait in the late 1990's. In August 2002, a senior representative of SCIRI met with Vice President Cheney in Washington, together with other leaders of the Iraqi opposition groups. However, SCIRI boycotted the first U.S.-sponsored meeting of Iraqi political and religious leaders in the town of Ur to discuss the country's political future. [46]

In early 2001, Muhammad Hadi, a senior SCIRI leader in Iran, said that the group would welcome US efforts to oust Saddam Hussein. [47]

In December 2002, SCIRI formed part of the Iraqi National Congress and was given 15 out of 65 seats on the provisional governing council formed at the Iraqi opposition meeting in London. SCIRI figures attended State Department meetings about overthrowing Saddam, and there were rumors that the Badr Brigade could fight alongside US troops during an invasion. [48]

However, in the months prior to the war, relations between the United States and SCIRI cooled. In January 2003, the Bush administration broke with SCIRI and made efforts to dilute its influence within the INC. This was likely a response to fears that SCIRI was too close to Tehran for comfort.

When US National Security Adviser Zalmay Khalilzad made it known that the US intended to administer Iraq itself for some time, rather than working through an Iraqi provisional government, Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim denounced the plan as equivalent to a US colonial occupation. He threatened that the Badr Brigade would attack US troops if they overstayed their welcome. [49]

Upon his return to Iraq in May 2003, Ayatolla Baqir Hakim called on the US to "leave Iraq to its own people," saying, "the Iraqis are capable of providing security and protecting Iraq." [50]

At the same time, SCIRI officials did not wish to be left out of a post-war government, and negotiated with the coalition authorities to secure a role for SCIRI in shaping the postwar political order. One of the main sticking points in these negotiations was the American demand that the Badr Corps be disarmed. For awhile it looked like negotiations would fail over the issue, however, in the end, pragmatism prevailed and SCIRI began disarming. [51]

However, Badr cadres continued to fall afoul of the coalition forces. At one point around 20 Badr fighters were arrested by coalition forces for "planning, supporting, financing and executing at least one RPG [rocket propelled grenade] attack on US forces and are suspected in several others," but they were apparently released.

While coalition forces have found arms caches and continued evidence that SCIRI does not wish to relinquish its military option, it would appear that SCIRI is not planning for hostilities against coalition forces, but for adapting to the deterioration in security conditions that led to Hakim's assassination in August. [52]

Abdel Aziz Hakim, the new leader of SCIRI appears intent on cooperating with the coalition authorities. However, he does not yet have the authority wielded by his late brother, and it is not certain that he will succeed in keeping the organization behind him.

For the first three months after the fall of Baghdad, SCIRI leaders adamantly refused to join any provisional Iraqi authority appointed by the coalition. However, the group abruptly dropped its objections on July 7, and SCIRI accepted posts on the Interim Governing Council. Later that month, Abdelaziz al-Hakim took his seat on the Council. A SCIRI also took the post of Reconstruction and Housing Minister in the newly unveiled Iraqi cabinet, as well as the Ministry of Sports and Youth. [53]

However, there are still major political disputes between SCIRI and the Coalition Provisional Authority-most notably SCIRI's demand that Iraq's permanent constitution be drafted by "a panel elected by the Iraqi people," rather than a committee appointed by the Governing Council. [54]

Clashes with US forces

Despite SCIRI's agreement not to interfere with the US-led invasion of Iraq, there have been sporadic low-level confrontations between US forces and SCIRI's Badr Brigade.

After the collapse of the Baath regime, large numbers of Badr fighters crossed from Iran into the province of Diyala. Taking advantage of the absence of US forces in the area, Badr fighters took control of several strategic towns, including Khanegheyn, Mandali, Moghdadiyeh, Shahraban and Khalis. [55]

In mid-February 2002, a detachment of 1,000-1,500 Badr fighters crossed the border into northern Iraq and set up a base near Darbandikhan, an area under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). About a week before the war, this force staged a provocative military parade, prompting American officials to warn that any armed Badr fighters encountered by coalition forces would be considered enemy combatants. [56]

Although the U.S. reportedly warned Iran not to allow Badr Brigade forces into Iraq during the U.S. invasion, Badr fighters continued to slip across the border. By April 2003 Badr Brigade gunmen controlled the town of Baquba near the Iranian border. Later that month, a force of 3,000 US marines arrived in Baqubah and set about dismantling the Badr presence, reportedly seizing significant amounts of arms and killing a Badr fighter in a skirmish on the town's outskirts.

In Kut, Badr Brigade forces allowed SCIRI cleric Sayyid Abbas to set himself up as mayor. When Marines attempted to intervene, a crowd of 1,200 townspeople gathered, chanting slogans against INC leader Ahmad Chalabi, and the soldiers decided to back off. [57]It was to Kut that Abdelaziz al-Hakim returned from Iran on April 16, where he was welcomed by Fadhil and a crowd of 20,000 cheering residents. Although Fadhil was later forced to back down, Kut remains a solidly pro-SCIRI town. [58] SCIRI also remains strong in Diyala as is evidenced by the de facto political control it exercises over the towns of Shahraban and Khalis. [59]

Ties to Iran

Not only is SCIRI sponsored by Iran, its leaders are ideological compatriots of the Iranian clerical establishment and many of them are of Iranian origin.

SCIRI's association with Iran damaged its credibility among non-Shiites in Iraq and undermined its legitimacy within the Shiite community. Many SCIRI leaders are of Iranian origin and some became so influential within the Islamic Republic that they assumed positions in its government. For example, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, who briefly preceded Hakim as chairman of SCIRI, is now the head of Iran's judiciary. [60]

Prior to the fall of Saddam's regime, SCIRI operated out of a large headquarters in the Manoochehri district of Tehran and concentrated most of its resources in Iran.

SCIRI's armed wing, the Badr Brigade, remains under the tutelage of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and it's training bases are IRGC property. The Badr Brigade even fought alongside regular IRGC forces on the front lines during the Iran-Iraq war. The relationship with the IRCG has persisted and deepened over the past two decades. Although American officials worried aloud about IRGC personnel crossing into Iraq with Badr forces, there was little evidence of this. [61]

Relations with other Iraqi groups

SCIRI has enjoyed good relations with both main Iraqi Kurdish factions, such as the PUK and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). This has been primarily due to its ties with Iran, which has been a key supporter of the Kurds.

Although SCIRI's relations with the Daawa party and with the marjaiyya remain good, its relationship with the Sadrists has been marked by tensions. Nevertheless, this rivalry is not yet as explosive as some have suggested. Since the assassination of Al-Hakim SCIRI's relations with the Sadrists have improved. [62]

SCIRI's relationship with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) has also been relatively free of tensions for the past decade, but the overtly secular orientation of the INC and its close relationship with the US is likely to make future cooperation more problematic. [63]

Relations with Sunni factions have been less easy and often openly hostile. SCIRI's support of the Khomeinist doctrine of the rule of clerics has brought it into conflict with both Sunni dogma and secular ideologies. Many mainstream Iraqis-both Sunni and secular-are deeply suspicious of Tehran, and fear Iranian domination.

The increased religious freedom of Iraq's majority Shiite population is also viewed as a threat to some Sunni Islamists. A gathering of Sunni clerics established less than a week of the fall of the Baathist regime accused Shiite clerics of seizing control over Sunni mosques around the country, calling it "a grave phenomenon akin to ethnic cleansing and the Balkanization of Iraq." [64]

Political Potential

Ultimately, SCIRI's long-term political future will be determined mostly by its appeal within the Shiite community. SCIRI is by far the best organized of the former Iraqi opposition forces. It is also quite influential in some areas and enjoys a good deal of popular support.

SCIRI is the protégé of Iran's Khomeinist regime, and its leaders continue to look to Iran for guidance on crucial topics. At the same time, it is believed that the organization's pragmatism will work to ensure that it's ties with Iran due not put it on a collision course with the US-led coalition. For the most part, its leaders believe that the movement's future now depends in the short term on cooperation with the United States and in the long-term on mobilizing support among Iraqi Shiites and maintaining good relations with Sunni and Kurdish groups. As long as SCIRI remains confident that American forces will leave Iraq on terms broadly suitable to the pursuit of its long-term interests, a confrontation is unlikely. [65]

Key Shiite Individuals

Grand Ayatollah Ali Muhammad Sistani

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the leading cleric in the city of Najaf, the center of Shiite religious study. He currently holds the title of marja, or source of religious authority, the most revered of the grand ayatollahs. This position depends both on the esteem of other clerics and on popular acclaim. Sistani's rulings on matters of religious law have enormous moral authority for Shiites.

Sistani, now 75 years-old, was born in Mashhad, Iran, and settled in Najaf in 1952. He emerged as the most senior ayatollah in Najaf after the 1999 assassination of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, killed on the orders of Saddam Hussein's elder son Uday for defying the deposed Iraqi dictator. He also has large followings in Lebanon, Pakistan and elsewhere. [66]


Sistani is known as a "quietist," the belief that Shi'i clerics should make a conscious effort to distance themselves from politics. This quietist tradition, which historically represents the mainstream Shi'i approach to politics, markedly differs from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's concept of wilayet al-faqih, which states that the clergy is obligated to dominate all facets of a nation's political and judiciary system.

Following the entry of US troops into Najaf on April 8, 2003, Ayatollah Sistani reportedly urged Shiites not to interfere with the soldiers, a statement eagerly cited by Paul Wolfowitz as the "first pro-American fatwa." (The statement was not actually a fatwa.) [67] At the same time, Sistani is adamant about the need for elections and the right of Iraqi's to run their own affairs. He feels that, due to simple demographics, a democratically elected government will be largely dominated by Shiites, and that Iraq will eventually be ruled under Islamic law. Sistani, is committed to a form of parliamentary democracy, and has intervened in key ways to shape Iraq since the fall of Saddam. [68] He has come out in support of SCIRI's call for an elected panel to draft Iraq's constitution. [69]

Relations with Iran

Ayatollah Sistani has been critical of human rights abuses in post-revolutionary Iran, and is a favorite with many of Iran's reformers. At the same time, Sistani is respected by Iran's clergy, who see him as "one of their own." Sistani has asked Iran to keep out of Iraqi domestic affairs. [70]

Muqtada Al Sadr

Muqtada al-Sadr, in his early thirties, is a Shiite leader with a large following among the poorer Shiites. Muqtada is the fourth son of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was, between 1992 and 1999, one of the most renowned leaders in the Hawza, the center of Shi'ite religious seminaries and scholarship. [71] The elder al-Sadr, along with two of his sons, was gunned down by agents of the Baathist regime in February 1999. Muqtada's Sadr's, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, also a leading Shiite activist, was executed by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1980.

Muqtada al-Sadr inherited a network of schools and charities built by his father, along with the allegiance of many of the elder Sadr's followers. Because the younger al-Sadr lacks the extensive religious training required reached the rank of Ayatollah, let alone Grand Ayatollah, he cannot be a marja'. Instead, he bases his claim to authority on his lineage, his leadership of the rebellion, and popular support. A personality cult has developed with Muqtada pictures adorning shops, stores, mosques, and public buses. [72] Sadr claims the title of Hujjat al-Islam, (proof of Islam), the first step on the road to becoming a religious authority, however most observers doubt he has even finished his formal studies.


Moqtada al-Sadr's followers are primarily young, unemployed and often impoverished men from the Shiite urban areas and slums in Baghdad and the southern Shiite cities. He is believed to have some 3 million to 5 million followers, who see in him a symbol of resistance to foreign occupation.

His popularity is especially high in Sadr City, a vast Baghdad slum which is home to 2-3 million inhabitants. The neighborhood, previously called Saddam City, was renamed after the elder Ayatollah al-Sadr after the fall of Saddam's regime. [73] Muqtada al-Sadr's popularity is based in part on the ability of his supporters to provide basic services and security to parts of Sadr city immediately after the fall of Saddam's regime. The network of Shia charitable institutions founded by his father distributed food in poor Shia areas, and this helped to build popular support for Sadr.

In fact, not long after Saddam's fall, Muqtada's supporters had already developed their own municipal, educational, medical, and social services in Sadr City.

Judges appointed by followers of Muqtada adjudicate conflicts between city residents. "Security committees" enforce verdicts. While the Shari'a (Islamic law) courts are ostensibly voluntary, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. As part of the Islamization of life in Sadr City, Muqtada al-Sadr has issued orders forbidding the sale of videos or liquor. Individuals who violate the order receive public lashings. Some observers compare Muqtada's young judges to the students of the religious schools in Pakistan who would later become the nucleus of the Taliban. [74]

Sadr also has strong support in Basra and other majority Shiite towns, including Kut, Nasiriya, Karbala, and Kufa, where he regularly preaches. In some Shiite areas, such as Najaf, his popularity declined after his stand against the coalition provoked clashes with US forces in the city. [75] His popularity in the wider Shiite community is more limited, as mainstream Shiites see him as a young upstart who has endangered holy places for his own gain.


Muqtada al-Sadr's father, Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr attempted to promote a modern brand of Shi'ism, and argued against the domination of Western philosophy, particularly communism, in the Islamic world. Among his more influential writings regarding modern Shi'ism were "Our Philosophy" (Falsafatuna) and "Our Economics" (Iqtisaduna). [76] Al Sadr's movement is sectarian and based on charisma, appealing predominantly to the young and poor. The Sadr movement deems that only the rulings of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr may be followed. Its adherents deny the right of immigrant Iranian clerics like Sistani to wield religious authority in Iraq. These views have brought the Sadrists into conflict with mainstream Shiite orthodoxy, according to which it is forbidden to follow the rulings of a deceased cleric to the exclusion of the living. [77] Shiites generally follow the leading scholar of Najaf-a post currently held by Ayatollah Sistani-in matters of religious law.

Sadr's aggressively anti-U.S. stance taps a vein of anger and frustration among the poorer Shiites, who are driven by a variety of grievances. These people see the members of the coalition as foreign occupiers and oppressors, and believe that Islamic law must be established in Iraq. Sadr's movement also opposes any breakup of Iraq according to ethnic, religious, or other lines. [78]

The Sadr movement also taps into a Messianic mood among many of the poorer Shiites, who believe they are living in the last days, and that the advent of the Muslim messiah, or Mahdi, is at hand. [79] Some claim that Muqtada al-Sadr is the Mahdi and that the US invaded Iraq in order to stave off his ascendancy.

Muqtada al-Sadr is-or was-ideologically backed by the influential Sayyid Kadhem al-Husseini al-Ha'iri, who is now based in the holy Iranian city of Qom. On 7 April 2003, Ha'iri reportedly wrote a letter naming al-Sadr as his representative in Iraq. The following day al-Ha'iri issued a fatwa calling on followers in Iraq to "kill all Saddamists who try to take charge." It also instructed the cleric's followers to "raise people's awareness of the Great Satan's plans and of the means to abort them." [80] Since then, there have been reports that al-Ha'iri had broken with the young cleric. [81]

In an interview given to the al-Hayat newspaper and to the BBC network on 11 September 2003, Sadr attempted to soften his radical image. In the interview, Sadr rejected any comparison between him and the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. According to Sadr, "Nasrallah acts through his military force while I act through my political and religious influence". Al-Sadr also noted he intends to improve relations with al-Hakim, chairman of the Supreme Shiite Council, as well as with the Sunnis and with Iraq's neighbors. However, he bluntly dismissed any intention of talking or coordinating with the Americans.

Al-Mahdi Militia

The armed wing of the Sadr movement, and Sadr's personal militia, is known as Jaish-i-Mahdi or the Mahdi Army. As of early 2004, the militia was estimated to consist of about 500-1000 trained combatants and another 5,000-6,000 active participants. The US Department of Defense in April 2004 estimated that the Mahdi Army had roughly 3,000 lightly armed recruits. [82] However, on 04 June 2004, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that the Al-Mahdi Army consisted of 6,000 to 10,000 combatants. The militia has access to light weapons and explosives, most of which are smuggled across the porous borders from Iran. [83]

From among Sadr City's young and disaffected, Muqtada was able to channel recruits into the Jaysh al-Mahdi, or Army of the Mahdi (the Mahdi is a messianic figure in Islam). As early as July 2003, when most Iraqis were still celebrating the fall of the Saddam regime, Muqtada al-Sadr was delivering sermons calling on his followers to join his new army. Initially, the Jaysh al-Mahdi modeled itself on Saudi Arabia's religious police to enforce Islamic law in Sadr City and elsewhere. At the same time, the Mahdi Army has strengthened Muqtada in his increasingly fierce confrontations with the Hawza. [84] Muqtada has at times claimed that his army is an "unarmed civilian force for the reconstruction of Iraq. [85] At other times, he has called the army "the striking arm of Hamas" in Iraq with "suicide units, keeping all options open." [86]

The militia claims to operate in Basra and in Sadr City in Baghdad, as well as in Shiite minority cities Baquba and Kirkuk. Although the Mahdi Army had little local support in the holy city of Najaf, it took over the city in April 2004, after the Americans attempted to arrest or kill Sadr. The American onslaught apparently was so unpopular that other paramilitary and Iraqi police forces in the city yielded to them. Sadr militants streamed into the city from elsewhere, and most local Iraqi police defected to them. [87]

The Mahdi Army has increasingly become a well-armed, well-trained force of insurgents, largely due to assistance from Iran's Revolutionary Guards. [88] The London-based Arabic-language paper Asharq al-Awsat reported in August that the Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force had established three military training camps in Qasr-i Shirin, 'Ilam, and Hamid, on the Iranian side of the Iran-Iraq border to train Jaysh al-Mahdi elements. The paper cited a former Quds Force official as saying that the Iranians have trained between 800 and 1,200 Muqtada supporters in espionage and reconnaissance, in addition to standard military arts. [89]


Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to have ordered the killing of Abd al-Majid al-Khoei, a Shiite leader who had returned to Najaf under U.S. military protection. Al-Khoei was a key figure in U.S. efforts to nurture moderate leaders in post-Saddam Iraq-and a counterweight to radical clerics backed by Iran. [90]

Al Sadr was said to be jealous of Khoei and worried that the cleric's scholarly reputation would guarantee him a leading role in Najaf. When Khoei requested a meeting with Sadr, the later demanded that al-Khoei first surrend to him the keys to the Imam Ali Mosque. Al-Khoei refused, and instead escorted the custodian of the shrine, an extremely unpopular Baath loyalist named Haidar Raifee, from hiding back to his post at the mosque. At the mosque the two were surrounded by an angry mob, armed with knives, hand grenades, and AK-47's. Khoei and Raifee were bound and taken outside of the building, where they were killed with knives and bayonets. [91]

Some members of the mob later claimed to have received their orders directly from al-Sadr, who told them that Khoei was not to be killed inside the mosque. [92]

Muqtada Sadr's forces began exerting control in Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad even before the city fell to American forces on April 9, 2003. His supporters reopened mosques and other Shiite institutions that had been closed by the Baathists, established neighborhood militias, captured arms and ammunitions from Baath depots, and took over hospitals. [93]

Forces loyal to Sadr also took control in Kufa, and some neighborhoods of Najaf, Karbala, and Basra. By enflaming the passions of the crowd, they sparked angry demonstrations against the Anglo-American occupation in Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf. [94] At the same time, the Jaysh al-Mahdi instituted a rule of Sharia by force in the areas under their control:

There were arbitrary arrests and sentencing by unofficial Shar`ia courts he established; forced veiling of women; acts of violence against liquor stores and merchants, many of whom were either killed or received public lashings; closure of cinemas; and confiscation of money and property under the guise of religion. His excesses have led people in Karbala to declare Muqtada's people "worse than Saddam." [95]

On 4 April 2004, Sadr's forces launched an uprising in Najaf and Karbala, after U.S. forces closed Sadr's newspaper Al Hawza and detained one of his top aides over Khoei's murder. The CPA had on several occasions threatened to arrest Sadr for the murder, and in early April announced a criminal warrant for his arrest. Fierce clashes between the Mahdi Army and U.S. forces continued until 16 June, when Sadr declared a cease-fire. The agreement called for his followers to lay down their arms while he formed a political party; the hope was that he would enter the national political system and stand for election in Iraq's parliamentary elections. [96]

However, tensions rose again in August, and US and Iraqi forces once more moved against al-Sadr and his militia. The crisis was settled when the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani returned from London, where he had sought medical treatment, and brokered a peace deal that ensured the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Najaf, but left the Mahdi Army intact. [97] The cease-fire agreement left Sistani's supporters in charge of the Imam Ali mosque.

In late summer 2004, Muqtada al-Sadr declared holy war on British forces in Basra. The leadership of the town reportedly pledged allegiance to Sadr. [98]

Attempts to take over Shiite holy sites

Muqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly attempted to lay claim to Shiite holy places, including the Imam Ali mosque and the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law. However controls these sites controls access to millions of dollars in cash donations left by pilgrims from around the world. [99] He has also attempted to charge visitors to those holy sites.

In the aftermath of the ceasefire between American forces and Sadr's men, a weapons-for-cash program was instituted. The program was designed to disarm Shiite militiamen, but has is proving to be an economic bonanza for residents of Sadr city. Some of the gunmen reportedly handed over non-functioning or surplus weapons. In some cases, they threw in one or two pieces in pristine condition to make the process look genuine. [100] The cash obtained was used to buy new weapons. The process also doesn't require those surrendering weapons to prove al-Mahdi Army membership, meaning ordinary Iraqis were able to trade guns for cash. [101]

Actions by Coalition

One of the expressions of US weakness in its handling of Muqtada Sadr was the silent agreement to the presence of armed Sadr loyalists in Sadr City at the outskirts of Baghdad, as well as the American consent to allow Sadr's people to secure holy Shiite sites in Najaf and elsewhere. It is possible that the US initially believed that Sadr's armed forces constitute a part of an Iraqi militia tasked with maintaining law and order in Iraqi cities. [102]

On March 29, 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority shut down Sadr's daily newspaper, al-Hawza, claiming it incited followers to violence. On April 5, 2004, the Coalition issued a warrant for al-Sadr's arrest in connection with al-Khoei's murder. These acts, along with the arrest of one Sadr's top aides and other motions to suppress the movement, resulted in thousands of people turning out to protest. The ensuing riots soon escalated into organized armed attacks by the Mahdi Army that initially led to the deaths of one Salvadoran and several American soldiers, as well as scores of insurgents and civilians. [103]

In August 2004, the U.S Marines, having taken control from the U.S Army of the area around Najaf, began to adopt a more aggressive posture with the Mahdi Army and began patrolling zones previously considered off-limits. Soon, the Mahdi Army declared that the truce had been broken and militiamen launched an assault on a police station. U.S forces responded, and in the first week of August, a prolonged conflict broke out in Najaf over control of the Imam Ali shrine. Although much of the coalition fighting was done by US forces, it was anticipated that only Iraqi forces would enter the shrine. [104]

British troops in Basra also moved against al-Sadr followers, arresting four on 3 August 2004. After the expiry of a deadline to release them on 5 August, the Basra militia men declared holy war on British forces. [105] This was followed by the kidnapping of a British journalist in Basra by unidentified militants. A video tape was released, featuring Brandon and a hooded militant, threatening to kill him unless US forces withdrew from Najaf within 24 hours. He was released after intervention by al-Sadr.

Relations with Kurds

Al-Sadr has incited Iraqis against the country's Kurdish population, who he claims "are not Muslims even if they pretend to be." He accuses them of stealing "the Iraqi wealth." He rejects the idea of a federal government, which would grant the Kurds a measure of autonomy. He has organized demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala, and Najaf to condemn the idea of federalism demanded by the Kurds. Al-Sadr also sent one of his assistants, Abd Al-Fattah Al-Mousawi, to Kirkuk to incite the Arabs and Turkemans against the Kurdish population. [106]

Relations with other Shiite groups

The young would-be cleric has also set himself up in opposition to senior Iraqi Shiite clerics, led by Ayatollah Sistani. Experts say Sistani retains the allegiance of most of Iraq's 14 million Shiites, but support for al-Sadr's is growing among the younger and poorer Shiites. Muqtada views Sistani as a coward for his quietist stance and his refusal to oppose Saddam Hussein openly. He has denounced those clerics who fled to Iran during the Baathist regime as cowardly and unworthy of wielding religious authority in Iraq.

The conflict between Al-Sadr and Al-Sistani is not merely a conflict over leadership of Iraq's Shiites, but also a quarrel over who controls the Shiite holy places. These sites collect large sums of money in charitable contributions from pilgrims and rich Shi'a donors. These contributions are controlled by Ayatollah Sistani. The situation turned into an armed confrontation between the two sides when Al-Sadr's supporters attempted to take over the holy sites in Karbala, an incident in which tens of people were killed and many more injured. [107]

Similar actions have brought al-Sadr into conflict with Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its supporters. Al-Sadr's attempt to take over the gravesite of Ali bin Abi-Taleb, the fourth Caliph, lead to clashes between Al-Sadr's supporters and SCIRI's Badr army. [108]

Following the mob killing of Abd al-Majid al-Khoei, Sadr's followers surrounded the houses of Ayatollah Sistani and Ayatollah Said al-Hakim, nephew of Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of SCIRI. The mob called for the two clerics to leave Najaf immediately. The attempted coup in the clerical leadership of the shrine city was thwarted when 1,500 Shiite tribesmen came in from the countryside to protect Sistani and al-Hakim. [109]

The takeover by al-Sadr's armed supporters of security and guard duties at Shiite institutions in Najaf and the attempt to charge visitors to those holy sites only increased the friction between al-Sadr's camp and Sistani's moderate Shiite camp. On more than one occasion, al-Sadr's men have attacked figures associated with Sistani, such as Khijat al-Islam Safa'a al-Musfar, one of Sistani's senior advisors. [110] One of Muhammad Said al-Hakim's assistants was also attacked. Moreover, Sadr's supporters issued provocative calls against Sistani and al-Hakim and in favor of al-Sadr's leadership. [111]

US consent to the presence of armed Sadr supporters at important Shiite centers boosted Sadr's position vis-à-vis Sistani's leadership.

In the framework of this internal Shiite power struggle, there are some who attribute the murder of Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim, chairman of SCIRI, in a carbomb attack in Najaf to Muktada al-Sadr. [112] According to these sources, this was part of an old dispute between the al-Hakim and al-Sadr families over religious Shiite leadership in Iraq (al-Marjaiyya). Moreover, the sources claim that the murder was carried out following al-Hakim's attempts to cut ties with Teheran and cooperate with the Americans. Both sides have downplayed this possibility, in an attempt to present a united front among Shiites.

Many see the contest over the loyalty of Iraqi Shiites as eventually coming down to a choice between Al-Sadr, young and inexperienced as he is, and Ayatollah Sistani. Amatzia Baram, an authority on Iraq, notes that, "Sadr has fewer supporters than Sistani, but they're far more fanatical. Sadr's followers are willing to die for him, and Sistani's are not." [113]

Relations with Sunnis

Among the actions that made Muqtada Sadr popular within the Shiite camp were his efforts to recover "religious assets", which Sadr claimed were expropriated from the Shiites during Saddam's reign. Sadr's struggle against supporters of the ousted dictator has also been well received among Shiites and these actions were often met with American "understanding" and acceptance. This served to boost Sadr's position and increased his popularity within the Iraqi Shiite camp.

The losers in these activities have usually been Sunni groups and leaders. For example, in July 2003, hundreds of al-Sadr's followers took over the Sunni religious affairs offices in Basra, kicked out all the employees and appointed Hammed al-Sadi to replace the ousted director. Sadr's men also seized the thousands of files and lists found in the offices. Subsequent Sunni requests for intervention, directed to the Iraqi police, British forces stationed in Basra and even to the provisional governing council were ignored. [114] Sadr's followers even took over the city hall building in Sadr City, kicked out all the employees on charges of accepting bribery, and appointed new representatives. [115]

Meanwhile, one of the Sunni leaders in Iraq, Dr. Abd al-Salam al-Kubisi, accused Muqtada Sadr of taking over 18 Sunni mosques in the country, including 12 in Baghdad. [116] This charge came after of Sadr's takeover of the only Sunni mosques in the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala. Al-Kubisi also claimed that al-Sadr is being incited by the radical Shiite camp in Iran headed by supreme leader Khamenei, suggesting that Sadr's positions have radicalized following his visit to Iran and meeting with Khamenei.

Sadr's ties with Iran

In addition to reports that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are training Muqtada's Mahdi Army, there are also reports that the Iranian embassy in Baghdad has distributed 400 international cell phones to supporters of Muqtada as well as to clerics in Sadr City and Najaf. According to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, in addition to communications and logistical support, Iran provides $80 million a month in direct aid to Muqtada's movement. [117]

This support is does not play well with most Iraqis, who a wary of the dangers of Iranian influence deciding Iraq's fate. One critic told the liberal Arabic-language newspaper Elaph, "Behind al-Sadr's phenomenon and money are the most extremist and anti-democratic governing bodies in Iran which seek to settle its account with the international community with the blood of the Iraqis." [118]

For his part, Muqtada has denied any political coordination between himself and Iran, saying that such allegations are merely an attempt to label his movement as a terrorist organization similar to Hizballah in Lebanon in order to provide an excuse to target his supporters. In fact, according to one Iraq scholar, "Muqtada has played an interesting game," accepting money and assistance from Tehran, while being careful not to be seen as a tool of Iranian foreign policy.

In July 2003, Muktada al-Sadr visited Iran to take part in memorial services for the Imam Khomeini. While there, he reportedly he received guarantees of financial and moral support in exchange for his recognition of the Iranian Shiite leadership as a source of Shiite religious and political authority. Sadr was purportedly also urged to accept the revolutionary Iranian Islamic doctrine and face off against the traditional Iraqi Shiite leadership headed by Ayatollah Sistani.

The basis for the rivalry between the Khomeinists and Ayatollah Sistani goes beyond Sistani's rejection of the Velayat-e-Faghih, and has a solid political basis. Put simply, Saddam's repression of the Shiite centers of learning in Najaf caused the center of Shiite religious authority to shift to Iran. The Iranian religious leadership is not especially keen to see the mantle of authority shifting back from Qom to Najaf. Such a development would, to some extent, diminish the authority of Tehran's clerical regime, which derives its authority from the rulings of the Shiite authorities in Qom. Iraq scholar Nimrod Raphaeli put it in a nutshell: "By empowering Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iranian leadership can keep Iraqi politicians and religious figures occupied with sorting out their own house. The threat to the Islamic Republic's religious legitimacy is delayed." [119]

The Arabic paper Asharq al-Awsat reported that Sadr met with several Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Muhammad Kadhem Ha'iri, described as the spiritual leader of radical Shiites in Iraq. Ha'iri reportedly serves as an advisor to Khamenei. The two discussed ways to undermine the leadership of Ayatollah Sistani following the latter's refusal to accept Iranian spiritual authority. [120]

According to the same sources, Iran's decision to continue supporting Muqtada Sadr was also linked to the refusal of Shiite leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baker al-Hakim (who was since murdered in the Najaf car bombing attack) to declare his loyalty (Bi'a) to Iran. A source in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard also confirmed that al-Sadr met with Brig. Gen. Kassam Salimani, commander of the al-Quds forces and the man in charge of the Revolutionary Guard's intelligence apparatus. According to the source, this meeting points to long-term plans for cooperation between Sadr and Iranian intelligence elements. [121]

In an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Ha'iri confirmed that he met with Sadr during the latter's visit to Iran. [122] Ha'iri also noted that Sadr expressed his "willingness to accept my authority unconditionally and follow the orders of my representative, al-Ashkuri, who was dispatched to Najaf." However, several months later, al-Ha'iri reportedly rebuked Muqtada for not coordinating his activities with Ha'iri's office in Najaf. [123]

Al-Sadr's visit to Iran did not sit well with the traditional Shiite establishment in Iraq, nor with the reformist camp in Iran. Both camps accused Sadr of being the involved in the murder of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid Khoei. An Iranian web site affiliated with the reformist camp in Iran warned of the implications of Sadr's visit for the reformist camp and on American-Iranian relations.

Muqtada has been careful not to give unqualified support to the Khomeinist doctrine, which is not particularly popular in Iraq. He has acknowledged that the situation in Iraq differs from that which prevailed in Iran during the Islamic revolution in 1979. He appears to recognize that he political and social (and, perhaps, ethnic) nature of Iraq will not permit an exact replica of an Iranian-style Islamic Republic. [124]

Political Potential

Muqtada Al-Sadr was not included among the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The young cleric questioned the legitimacy of the IGC from its inception, and referred to its members as lackeys of the occupation forces. [125] He stated that he had more legitimacy than the Coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, and in September 2003, he declared a shadow government in opposition to the IGC officials chosen by the US currently governing Iraq. This initiative petered out, as it was opposed by both the CPA and al-Sistani's faction. [126]

In direct challenge to Al-Sistani and the CPA, Al-Sadr said that he opposed holding elections in Iraq under the supervision of the United Nations. [127]

In August 2004, a Sadr spokesman, Ali Smeisim, told Al Jazeera that al-Sadr was calling on his forces to stop fighting and wait for an upcoming "political project." Sadr supporters have said they will field candidates for the January elections and campaign on a platform calling for U.S. forces to withdraw. Many are skeptical that al-Sadr will actually follow through with this initiative, noting that he has promised to stop fighting and join the political process more than once in the past, only to resort to violence.

If al-Sadr does take part in the elections, it is highly probable that he will do well. A poll conducted by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies in May 2004 reported that 67% of respondents support him (with 32 percent offering "strongly support", and 36 percent saying they "somewhat support" him). The poll shows him as the second most popular political figure, behind Ali Sistani but far ahead of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Ibrahim Jaafari, head of the Shia Islamist Daawa party and a member of the governing council, was seen as the third most popular leader. Yet, despite al-Sadr's popularity, only two percent of respondents selected him as their first choice for President of Iraq. [128]


Muqtada Sadr is at the forefront of the radical Shiite opposition to the allied presence in the country and to the establishment of the provisional Governing Council. Al-Sadr has taken advantage of a political vacuum within the Shiite camp created in the wake of Saddam Hussein's removal and the elimination of Ayatollah Khoei and Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim to boost his position vis-à-vis the traditional moderate Shiite leadership headed by Sistani.

Despite his scathing attacks against the Americans, who he refers to as the "bigger Satan," Sadr continues to stress that he does not encourage violence against the US or coalition forces. Rather, he claims to be merely expressing his opposition to the occupation through "peaceful and political means."

Sadr's contacts with Iran, supreme leader, Khamenei, and Iranian intelligence points to an increased Iranian meddling in Iraq's internal affairs and the utilization of Sadr to encourage Iraqi Shiites to accept Iran's religious authority. In this context, the clashes between the US and Sadr's followers are perceived as the opening of another American front against Iraqi Shiites, at a time when coalition forces are still engaged in fighting against powerful opposition elements, particularly in the Sunni triangle area.

Thus, undermining support for Muqtada Sadr should be viewed as an essential requirement in preventing the further radicalization of Iraqi Shiites at the expanse of Sistani's more moderate leadership. Defeating Sadr would also help in preventing Iraqis from adopting Iranian-style radical Islamic doctrine.

The initial American lack of resolve in standing up to Sadr, as well as the decision to allow his armed followers to openly operate throughout Shiite areas in Iraq, was perceived by al-Sadr as a sign of American weakness. It is this perception that has likely pushed Sadr to continue his provocative conduct vis-à-vis coalition forces and the traditional Shiite leadership, a move that boosted his standing and further encouraged him to greater audacity.

However, it is notable that the Shiite camp in Iraq is at this point still largely under the influence of Sistani's moderate leadership. Hence, a firm American response to Sadr's antics is unlikely to bring in its wake a massive Shiite resistance to the US presence in Iraq. However, any moves directed against Sadr should be coordinated with and backed by the Sistani's moderate Shiite leadership, in order to avoid the impression that the US is opening another front against all Iraqi Shiites.

Shiite Political Aspirations

But both SCIRI and al-Daawa, despite their own deep differences, accepted posts on the Interim Governing Council appointed by U.S. civil administrator Paul Bremer on July 13. Indeed, persons with al-Daawa ties gained four of the 25 seats, and SCIRI was given a seat as well. When Iraqis go to the polls, if the Sadrists are willing to field candidates they are likely to do very well. SCIRI and al-Daawa seem to have fewer enthusiasts and may be challenged in translating their tactical alliance with the United States into parliamentary clout. [129]

In the months after the Anglo-American invasion, however, the religious Shiite parties demonstrated the clearest organizational skills and established political momentum. [130] While "secular" Iraqi Shiites do exist, and in fair numbers, the years of Saddam's terror have helped to generate a powerful Khomeinist current in Iraqi Shiism. Al-Daawa, SCIRI, and the Sadrists all want an Islamic republic, and two of the three endorse Khomeini's "rule of the jurisprudent." [131] An Islamic government in Iraq is thus a likely scenario.

[1] Glenn Kessler and Dana Priest, "U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites." Washington Post, 23 April 2003; Page A01.

[2] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[3] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[4] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[5] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[6] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[7] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[8] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[9] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[10] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[11] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[12] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[13] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[14] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[15] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[16] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[17] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[18] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[19] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[20] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[21] M. Zonis and D. Brumberg, "Khomeini, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Arab world," Harvard Middle East Papers, 5 (1987) p- 39.

[22] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[23] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[24] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[25] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[26] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[27] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[28] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[29] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[30] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[31] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[32] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[33] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[34] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[35] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[36] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[37] Mahan Abedin, "Hezb al-Daawa al-Islamiyya - the Islamic Call Party." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. Vol. 5 No. 6 June 2003.

[38] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[39] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[40] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[41] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[42] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[43] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[44] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[45] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[46] Glenn Kessler and Dana Priest, "U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites." Washington Post, 23 April 2003; Page A01.

[47] The Associated Press, 7 April 2001.

[48] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[49] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[50] Al-Ahram Weekly, 15-21 May 2003 (Issue No. 638).

[51] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[52] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[53] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[54] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[55] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[56] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[57] Jonathan Steele. "Keep out of town hall, Kut tells US troops - Self-appointed Shia ruler issues decrees from barricaded building." The Guardian, 25 April 2003.

[58] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[59] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[60] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[61] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[62] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[63] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[64] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[65] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[66] Juan Cole, "It takes a Following to make an Ayatollah." Washington Post. August 15, 2004; Page B04.

[67] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[68] Juan Cole, "It takes a Following to make an Ayatollah." Washington Post. August 15, 2004; Page B04.

[69] Mahan Abedin. "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)." Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 5 No. 10 October 2003.

[70] Juan Cole, "It takes a Following to make an Ayatollah." Washington Post. August 15, 2004; Page B04.

[71] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[72] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[73] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[74] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[75] Wikepedia entry: "Muqtada al Sadr" (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=Moqtada_al-Sadr&redirect=no).

[76] "Ahmad al-Rahim, former advisor to Jay Garner, speaks on Shiism in Iraq." Kurdish Media. 19 October 2004.

[77] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[78] Wikepedia entry "Iraqi Resistance" (www.en.wapedia.org/Iraqi_resistance)

[79] Juan Cole, "It takes a Following to make an Ayatollah." Washington Post. August 15, 2004; Page B04.

[80] Joshua Hammer. "Murder at the Mosque." Newsweek. 19 May 2003.

[81] "Ahmad al-Rahim, former advisor to Jay Garner, speaks on Shiism in Iraq." Kurdish Media. 19 October 2004.

[82] "Al-Mahdi Army / Active Religious Seminary / Al-Sadr's Group" GlobalSecurity.org (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/al-sadr.htm)

[83] Audrey Gillan,"In Iraq, the Peaceful South Gets Deadlier with Every Day," The Guardian. 18 October 2004

[84] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[85] As-Siyasa (Kuwait), Nov. 9, 2003, quoted in Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr."

[86] Al-Hayat, Apr. 4, 2004, quoted in Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr."

[87] Juan Cole, "It takes a Following to make an Ayatollah." Washington Post. August 15, 2004; Page B04.

[88] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[89] Asharq al-Awsat, Aug. 22, 2004, quoted in Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[90] Joshua Hammer. "Murder at the Mosque." Newsweek. 19 May 2003.

[91] Joshua Hammer. "Murder at the Mosque." Newsweek. 19 May 2003.

[92] Joshua Hammer. "Murder at the Mosque." Newsweek. 19 May 2003.

[93] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[94] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[95] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[96] US Council on Foreign Relations. "Muqtada al-Sadr." http://www.cfr.org/background/background_iraq_alsadr.php

[97] Wikepedia entry: "Muqtada al Sadr" (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=Moqtada_al-Sadr&redirect=no).

[98] Audrey Gillan,"In Iraq, the Peaceful South Gets Deadlier with Every Day," The Guardian. 18 October 2004

[99] Joshua Hammer. "Murder at the Mosque." Newsweek. 19 May 2003.

[100] Hamza Hendawi,"Disarmament is 'mirage'." Associated Press. 13 October 2004

[101] Hamza Hendawi,"Disarmament is 'mirage'." Associated Press. 13 October 2004

[102] www.daralhayat.com August 3. 2003

[103] Wikepedia entry "Iraqi Resistance" (www.en.wapedia.org/Iraqi_resistance)

[104] Wikepedia entry "Iraqi Resistance" (www.en.wapedia.org/Iraqi_resistance)

[105] Daily Telegraph. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/08/06/wirq06.xml)

[106] Nimrod Raphaeli. Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 161. MEMRI. February 11, 2004 No.161

[107] Nimrod Raphaeli. Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 161. MEMRI. February 11, 2004 No.161

[108] Nimrod Raphaeli. Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 161. MEMRI. February 11, 2004 No.161

[109] Juan Cole. "Shiite Religious Parties Fill Vacuum in Southern Iraq." MERIP. 22 April 2003.

[110] www.daralhayat.com Aug 01, 2003

[111] http://islammemo.cc/ Oct 23, 2003

[112] http://islammemo.cc/ Aug 31, 2003. According to Turkish newspaper "Houreieth".

[113] US Council on Foreign Relations. "Muqtada al-Sadr." http://www.cfr.org/background/background_iraq_alsadr.php

[114] www.daralhayat.com/ July 18, 2003

[115] http://www.alqabas.com.kw/, October 10, 2003

[116] As quoted on Islamic web site al-Saha, September 13, 2003

[117] Asharq al-Awsat, Aug. 22, 2004, quoted in Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[118] Elaph (London) Oct. 23, 2003, at http://www.elaph.com, quoted in Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[119] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655 )

[120] http://www.asharqalawsat.com/, London, December 6, 2003.

[121] http://www.asharqalawsat.com/, London, December 6, 2003.

[122] http://www.alqabas.com.kw/, July 18, 2003.

[123] Al-Hayat, Apr. 30, 2004.

[124] Az-Zaman, Oct. 14, 2003, quoted in Nimrod Raphaeli, "Understanding Muqtada al-Sadr." Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2004 ( http://www.meforum.org/article/655)

[125] Nimrod Raphaeli. Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 161. MEMRI. February 11, 2004 No.161

[126] Wikepedia entry: "Muqtada al Sadr" (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=Moqtada_al-Sadr&redirect=no).

[127] Wikepedia entry: "Muqtada al Sadr" (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=Moqtada_al-Sadr&redirect=no).

[128] Roula Khalaf. "Iraq's rebel cleric gains surge in popularity." Financial Times. 19 May 2004.

[129] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[130] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.

[131] Juan Cole. "The Iraqi Shiites - On the history of America's would-be allies." Boston Review October/November 2003.



By Ofra Bengio

King Husayn of Jordan toyed with the idea of cooperation between Israel, Jordan and a post-Saddam Iraq which, he envisaged, would join the peace process. Even earlier, an ex-Israeli official called for initiating peace talks with Iraq maintaining that Saddam Husayn would repay Yasir 'Arafat's past support by backing 'Arafat and joining the peace process; Iraq's desperate economic situation might encourage such a move, especially since there was no "bilateral conflict" between Iraq and Israel over water, settlements and borders, or even a common border between the two. The only obstacle he foresaw, was the US opposition to such a move.1

Such reasoning sounds fanciful, but the question of Iraq's stand on the Arab-Israeli peace process is both intriguing and more complex than it might seem. Given the crisis involving Iraq, examining this issue becomes even more interesting.

Since the Kuwait war ended in 1991, Baghdad was perceived as sending ambiguous signals regarding its stance on the issue. Thus, for example, President Saddam Husayn reportedly told Arab officials in early 1993 that Iraq's missile attacks on Israel had avenged Israel's attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor in June 1981. Hence there was no longer any cause for hostility between the two.2 Two years later, however, when speaking on the Iraqi army's feats during that war he stated: "I believe that the Arab nation has the right to ask: Thirty nine missiles? [the number fired at Israel by Iraq in 1991] Who will fire the 40th?"3 In the face of such utterances and others, which will be discussed later, what was Baghdad's authentic stance? What was strategic and what was tactical? What was the impact of the Arab-Israeli peace-process on Baghdad and what are the prospects, if at all, for her to join it?

This article's aim is to shed some light on the complicated Iraqi-Israeli relationships; to analyze the historical and the more immediate motives for Iraq's stance vis-a-vis Israel and to find out to what extent Iraq's different internal and external problems have motivated it.


Iraq's unique stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict has given it a potential impact on the peace-process unique among the confrontation states, as well as among those of the periphery. Although Iraq has no common border with Israel and thus was not a "confrontation" state like Syria, Jordan and Egypt, it has behaved like one. Thus, it participated in all the major Arab-Israeli wars in far more than the symbolic manner of other non-confrontation states (such as Saudi Arabia, or Libya). In fact, Iraq sent at times one-third of its armed forces to the front.4 Unlike the confrontation states, however, Iraq never signed the armistice agreement of 1949 with Israel, nor did it accept UN resolutions 242 and 338.

Another unique feature is that in the last 30 years, Iraqi-Israeli relations ceased to be merely a function of the general Arab-Israeli conflict, (as is the case with other countries of the periphery like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait) but assumed some strong bilateral aspects as well.

A third unique element is that Iraq was the only Arab country to have initiated hostilities against Israel (during the 1991 Gulf war) without organizing a coalition with one or more than one Arab country.

Finally, it is the only Arab country to have used unconventional weapons against Israel and the only attacker to whom Israel did not retaliate.

Different geostrategic, political, ideological and historical factors accounted for Iraq's position vis-a-vis Israel in the 20th century. One important element which may help explain Iraq's behavior -- not just toward Israel but in the region as a whole -- are its geostrategic constraints. An oil country such as Iraq with such a small outlet to the sea (barely 70 km. at the best of times, that is when Shatt al-Arab river was open) has always felt a kind of strategic strangulation, seeking to break through it by laying pipelines via the neighboring countries.5 The Iraqi-Haifa Oil Pipeline, which operated from 1935 until 1948, reflected such deep-seated Iraqi interests in the area.6 The closure of the pipeline after the 1948 war has left Iraq with a latent desire to reach out to the Mediterranean Sea, and hence also with direct state interest in the conflict, besides the all-Arab one.

Closely related to this is Iraq's geopolitical position. Its remoteness form the area of the fighting and the fact that it has no common border with Israel affected its behavior in the conflict:

-- Baghdad could afford the "luxury" of adopting a radical stance without having to pay a direct price for it, as Syria or Egypt had to, for example. Thus, in spite of the fact that Iraq participated in all the major wars, the fighting was never carried over to its territory, nor did it lose any land to Israel.

-- Similarly, Baghdad could more easily disengage itself from the Arab-Israeli conflict when more urgent tasks called for at home or in other fronts.

-- A third important element is Iraq's location between the Fertile Crescent and the Gulf, which has caused her to fluctuate throughout modern history between two orientations. Iraq could not afford being "engaged" on the two fronts simultaneously. Hence, when the one became the primary focus, the other was put in the shade and vice-versa. Iraq's participation in the October 1973 war, for example, required the withdrawal of its forces from the internal front in Kurdistan as well as the Iranian front.7 On the other hand, Iraq's war against Iran all but nullified Iraq's role in the Arab-Israeli front. The only case in which Iraq "combined" the two orientations was during the Gulf crisis when it first made a linkage between its withdrawal from Kuwait and that of Israel from the occupied territories and then when it used missiles to open the second front, Israel, at a low cost in military resources.

On the political level, Iraq, like other Arab countries, used the Arab-Israeli conflict for two different purposes. Internally, it employed the issue to divert attention from problems and difficulties at home and directing the people's frustration at the regime against a different enemy, while at same time building unity at home. Externally, it used it as a lever for achieving leadership role in the Arab world.

While such political considerations motivated almost all Iraqi regimes since the inception of the Iraqi state, the Ba'th party, which came to power in 1968, differed from all of them in that it anchored this activity in ideological tenets. As in the Syrian case, the Iraqi Ba'th's commitment to the cause of Palestine has been at the core of the Ba'th doctrine, hence the additional difficulty in disentangling itself from the issue even if it wanted to do so.

Finally, on the historical level, the invasions of the land of Israel by different ancient Mesopotamian kingdoms as well as by Muslim forces both gave an inspiration and an excellent propaganda tool for rulers such as Saddam Husayn to try and repeat ancient glories, likening himself to Nebuchadnezzar or Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi.


Roughly speaking, it is possible to divide the history of "Iraqi-Israeli" relations into three major phases.

The first one, between the inception of the Iraqi state and the early 1960s, was characterized by the fact that Iraq was involved in the general Arab-Israeli conflict, but it was purely an external issue.

The second phase, from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, witnessed Israel's involvement in the Iraqi Kurdish internal issue. Although limited in time and place, this support introduced the theory of the American-Israeli-Iranian conspiracy against Iraq.8 It proved to Iraq that although it had no common border with Israel, it could pay a price for involvement in the conflict, and finally it inserted a strong bilateral element into the general Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel's support to the Kurds was perceived as threatening the very sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Iraqi state. For Iraq this support was no less than an attempt to establish a "second Israel" in northern Iraq.9

The third phase, which began in the early 1980s, caught Iraq between two conflicting trends, a radical and a more moderate one, thus blurring Baghdad's genuine stance.10 The causes for Iraqi radicalization were manifold, foremost of which was the Israeli attack on the nuclear reactor in June 1981.11 The attack constituted a severe moral, military and political blow for Iraq, opening the "strategic account" between the two, because it damaged the regime's prestige and its symbol of power; the Iraqi army proved completely helpless; for the first time in the history of their relations, Israel figured as a real threat to Iraqi security and for the first time, the military initiative passed to Israeli hands. Another cause for the Iraqi radicalization was Israeli arms sale to Iran during the Iraqi-Iranian war, as well as Israeli declarations "supporting" prolongation of that war.

The picture, however, was much more complicated because, along with this line, a more moderate one was at play as well. The long war with Iran prompted Iraq to seek internal and all-Arab support while diverting attention from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Another consideration was Iraq's desire to renew diplomatic relations with the United States (cut in 1967). A more moderate tone toward Israel was considered the minimal price to be paid for the success of such an endeavor. Similarly, by toning down its radicalism and posing as more moderate than Iran, Iraq may have hoped to discourage Israeli arms sales to Iran as well as to receive Israel's tacit agreement to a new projected oil pipeline from Iraq to 'Aqaba.

Iraq's dual and ambiguous stance was maintained throughout the Iraqi-Iranian war. On the whole, however, there was a kind of division of labor, whereby Husayn and the Iraqi media propagated the more radical line at home, while lower-ranking officials presented a more moderate one before the Western public. One example may suffice. Zionism, it was stated in Baghdad, was "a racist, reactionary and fascist ideology" and as such Ba'thi ideology considered the Arab-Israeli conflict to be "a life and death struggle" or "a question of to be or not to be." For "the continued existence of `Israel' [sic] meant the impossibility of realizing fully any of the Arabs' objectives."12 Of the many speeches which Husayn delivered in the 1980s, only once was he quoted by the Iraqi media as uttering a more moderate tone: "Israelis," (but not the state of Israel as some Western newspapers wrongly translated him) were entitled, he said, to "conditions of security" (wad' min al-aman)."13

Obviously, this last statement, which was made to the American Congressman Stephen Solarz, was calculated to prepare the ground for the resumption of relations between the United States and Iraq (which occurred in early 1984) and to win U.S. backing for Iraq's war against Iran. Concurrently, Iraqi officials like Tariq 'Aziz (then foreign minister) or Nizar Hamdun (then Iraqi ambassador to the United States), issued declarations to the effect that Iraq would not oppose a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian problem and that was not seeking another Arab-Israeli war.14 What was even more perplexing were leaks of secret contacts between Iraq and Israel, especially in 1987. Husayn Kamil Hasan, President Husayn's cousin and son-in-law who defected to 'Amman in August 1995 and the journalist Sa'd al-Bazzaz who had defected two years earlier, reported on such low-key contacts. Kamil Hasan even asserted that the first such (unsuccessful) move was made in 1978.15

For all its ambiguity, the Iraqi stance gave rise in 1987 to what was termed in Israel the "Iraqi option," namely a reassessment of Israel's political orientation in the Gulf war and a possible shift towards Iraq. One of the advocates of this change was the then vice-prime minister Shimon Peres.16 Those who supported a change raised the following arguments: the policy of "peripheral alliances" initiated by David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s, which advocated alliances with non-Arab countries, had become anachronistic; Iran was no less anti-Israel than Iraq; a pro-Iraqi stance might become crucial for the peace process. A tilt toward Iraq in its "hour of despair" might move it to reciprocate on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Above all, it was argued, Iraq had abandoned its radically anti-Israeli position and moved to a more moderate one.17

But concurrently with this Israeli conciliatory tone, the Iraqi media significantly increased its attacks against Israel and its very right to exist.18 Indeed, Israel's inability to differentiate between Iraq's strategic and tactical posture was one of the major causes for the "strategic surprise" in which it was caught in the second Gulf war.


Just days after the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor on 7 June 1981, President Saddam Husayn declared that Iraq would not be discouraged by the attack but rather "transform lessons into programs." He further called on countries to assist the Arabs in acquiring "atomic bombs," revealing that Iraq has already approached some friendly countries about a "kind of weapon that would make Israel hesitant to implement a strike."19

Eight years later, when it was free from the war with Iran, Iraq could be more specific on the type of weapon it possessed: "Long-range missiles capable of reaching the Zionist entity and destroying it in its strategic depth." An Iraqi paper went so far as to predict that by the end of the 20th century Israel would no longer exist.20 These were indeed the prelude to Saddam Husayn's threats a year later to the effect that Iraq will make fire "eat up half of Israel" if the latter tried to do anything against Iraq. Rejecting the notion that his declaration was impulsive or emotional, Saddam Husayn reported later that it had been decided upon by the state's leadership.21 It took less than a year for these threats to materialize into the missile attacks on Israel during the 2nd Gulf war.

The missile attacks on Israel were significant on different scores. They put an end to the "decade of ambiguities" vis-a-vis Israel, demonstrating that the radical stance was the strategic one. As far as Iraq was concerned, the attacks provided an outlet to the feelings of vengeance against the Israeli attack on the nuclear reactor ten years earlier. That such feelings were deeply entrenched in Iraq was shown by statements in 1989 to the effect that "the special circumstances" that had prevented Iraq from retaliating on the attack on the nuclear reactor no longer existed.22 Linked to this was its significance as a morale-boosting both for the leadership and the population at large.

The fact that Israel did not react was interpreted by the Iraqi leadership and the media as an inability on its part to do so. Indeed ever since, Iraq continued to flaunt the missile attacks as the most important achievement in Arab history, leaving Israel vulnerable and paralyzed.23 By hitting Israeli towns for the first time since 1948, Iraq claimed to have destroyed the very concept of Israeli security and made the possibility of defeating Zionism and liberating Palestine a realistic one.24 Similarly, the attacks gave a consolation of sorts to the Iraqi masses who felt they were not the only ones to have suffered missile attacks. Needless to say that the attacks were used as a propaganda ploy for mobilizing support among the Arab masses in general, and the Palestinians in particular.

Much less encouraging for Iraq, however, was the fact that the Gulf war enhanced the peace process in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This was indeed one of the ironical results of the war, putting into relief a linkage between the Gulf and the Fertile Crescent, but not in the way Saddam Husayn expected.


The peace process which began in October 1991 at the Madrid Conference constituted a severe blow for Iraq for different reasons. The very initiation of the process by the United States shortly after the end of the Gulf war was perceived by Baghdad as having been facilitated by its own defeat and at its expense.25 The situation isolated and further marginalized Iraq, as Baghdad could neither participate in the process nor veto the participation of others. Both its enemies and friends in the Arab camp stood to reap the fruits of its own painful war.

Baghdad's instinct was to cling to its old rhetoric and to escalate it even further, using it as a vehicle for airing grievances over other Arabs' behavior as well as its frustration over the ever-diminishing Iraqi role. One argument was that the "mother of battles" did not fragment the Arab world but rather rekindled the fire of revolution, Arab resurrection and Arab unity. Another was that by attacking Israel, Iraq saved all the Arabs. At the same time, Iraq criticized "America's Arabs" for conducting peace negotiations with Israel, warning that intercourse with Israel was prohibited in the same way that a believer was prohibited from mentioning Satan's name. By contrast it, was asserted, Iraq remained faithful to the Pan-Arab cause of liberating Palestine.26

Anti-Israeli attacks were escalated again. Furthermore, a new vein of antisemitism was added with the publication in an Iraqi newspaper of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," pointing to the "connection" between them and the American scheme for "new world order."27 Similarly, Saddam Husayn's son, 'Udayy, published a series of 12 articles in which he challenged Israel's very right to exist, finding support to this even in the Qur'an. 'Udayy maintained that time was in the Arab's favor and Israel's nuclear capability would be balanced by "other weapons of comprehensive destruction" which would be available to the Arabs. In any case, Israel had lost its strategic advantage to Iraq in the "mother of the battles." 'Udayy concluded that "the extinction of the Zionist entity was a necessity dictated both by the will of God, and the need to recover exclusive Arab rights in Palestine."28

The argument raised in Israel that Saddam Husayn might support or even join the peace process as a gesture of goodwill to 'Arafat, then, proved completely baseless. In fact, the Gaza-Jericho agreement signed on 20 August 1993 between Israel and the PLO constituted another blow for Iraq. It undermined one of the most important tenets of Ba'thi ideology: the liberation of Palestine by force. It dealt a blow to Iraqi aspirations of leading a radical Arab camp with the Palestine issue at its core. It seized from Iraq an important political and ideological card which it had ably used during the Gulf crisis. Finally, it raised fears in Baghdad that the precedent of legitimizing a new entity in the Middle East might set an example for recognizing a Kurdish one in Iraq.

Thus, far from supporting 'Arafat's move, Iraq lashed out at it as "the deal of the century" for liquidating the Palestinian question and threatening "the very existence of the Arab nation." Describing the move as a disaster and a catastrophe far greater than the one brought about by Sadat, the Iraqi media called for treating the "traitor" 'Arafat in the way Sadat was punished.29

Iraq's fear of losing the Palestinian Card was coupled with fears of a changing regional order from which it would be excluded. Iraq was particularly opposed to the notion of a "new Middle East Market" which it called an "Israeli plot" to turn Arab countries into "economic and political colonies" in "Greater Israel from the Euphrates to the Nile."30

A sore point for Iraq was the fact that the Arab countries were lifting the boycott on Israel while at the same time remaining silent or even encouraging (in the Kuwaiti and the Saudi case) continuing sanctions on Iraq. Another concern was a strategic one: Arab countries were negotiating peace with Israel without conditioning them on Israel's dismantling of its nuclear weapon, while at the same time Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were being dismantled systematically, leaving it between two countries with supposed nuclear capabilities -- Israel and Iran.

The swift developments in the regional arena occasioned by the 2nd Gulf war, caught Iraq yet again in a dilemma and increased the tension between the strategic and tactical line. Thus, as in the 1980s, concurrently with the very radical line at home, there began to emerge, since 1993, a more moderate or conciliatory one abroad. Or so it seemed.

The first hints were made by Israeli sources which began in 1993 to leak reports on tentative moves toward an Israeli-Iraqi rapprochement. One of them, Shishi, reported that the contacts were being facilitated by European and Middle Eastern figures who sought to set up a secret negotiating track with Iraq in a bid to include Iraq in the peace process. Shishi further claimed that Tariq 'Aziz, deputy prime minister, and Nizar Hamdun, the ambassador to the UN, supported the idea and had conveyed it to Saddam Husayn, who did not reject it outright. The paper argued that as Iraq had no common border with Israel, and as the Palestinian problem was on the verge of solution, "Iraq's hostility toward Israel is also disappearing." Recommending such a move to Israel, it said that it would be the "most significant tactical and strategic achievement" of the Israeli government, as an agreement with Iraq would rush Syria to the negotiating table and counterbalance the Iranian threat.31

In the following months, and especially after the summer, there was a steady flow of reports by Israeli and various non-Iraqi sources on secret contacts between the two countries. A general picture of the reports which tended to be speculative and at times contradictory, is as follows: Contacts took place at the UN, in Europe, and in Morocco, and were facilitated by the PLO, Russia, France, and other politicians and businessmen in Europe and the Arab world. The talks covered the following issues: the possibility of reopening the Kirkuk-Haifa pipeline (closed since 1948); Iraqi absorption of some 400,000 Palestinian refugees from Lebanon in southern Iraq; and the opening of interest sections in the two countries.

Israel's part in the deal would be to lobby Washington to lift the embargo on Iraq. Israeli figures who reportedly advocated the opening toward Iraq were President Ezer Weizman, Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Police Minister Moshe Shahal, with the latter two reportedly taking part in the contacts.32 At the beginning of September, an Arab Knesset Member, 'Abd al-Wahhab Darawsha sent a cable to Saddam Husayn requesting a visit to Baghdad of a Joint Arab and Jewish Israeli delegation.33 However, when asked about such contacts, Israeli officials including Prime Minister Rabin totally denied these reports, saying that Israel would not take any move behind America's back, and that in any case Iraq's motive was tactical, aimed at improving its image.

Throughout 1994, there was only one public indication from Baghdad of a possible change in attitude. In an interview with the Jordan Times, Tariq 'Aziz echoed Shishi's views, by saying: "Iraq is not a neighbor of Israel. We don't have a bilateral dispute with Israel. So when they [the Arabs and the Israelis] fight and when they agree it doesn't affect Iraq." He further asserted that the days when Iraq sought to speak for the Palestinians had gone, and that Iraq had never sought to destroy Israel. Later in the year, however, 'Aziz denied "any" contacts with Israel. So did the Iraqi newspapers, one of which termed the reports "fabrications" and a "dirty new game to blackmail Iraq." Another asserted that, contrary to other Arab countries, Iraq would never raise the "white flag" and recognize Israel.34

While it was impossible to know the exact nature of these contacts, if they existed at all, it could be safely assumed that Iraq and Israel were engaged in a complicated game which served the interests of both, namely, sending trial balloons toward each other by leaking reports on real or imaginary contacts and then denying such contacts altogether. Israel's interest in this game was quite clear, seeking to impress upon Baghdad that it could be instrumental in lifting the embargo, but at a price. In addition, such report might advance the peace process by helping to convince the Jordanian public that Jordan was not alone in moving toward peace, and to pressure Syria to accelerate the process before its rival, Iraq, would do so. Finally, the denials were directed to American ears, proving that Israel was firmly behind American policy and was not considering contacts with Iraq.

Iraq also directed its moves to three different audiences. It hoped to use Israel as a conduit for modifying US policy. It sought to change its image in the world to that of a moderate and peace-seeking country, and at the same time to present itself before the Iraqi and Arab masses as the only Arab country which has remained loyal to the Pan-Arab principles and ideals. In any case, not even the slightest change actually took place in relations between Iraq and Israel.


The trauma of the Gulf war and the ongoing embargo has magnified the Ba'thi regime's dilemmas regarding its internal and foreign policies of which the peace process was only a part, and a small one at that. These dilemmas put into relief the ongoing clash between the regime's strategy and tactics, between realpolitik and myth-making, and between interests and modes of action which keep repeating themselves, severely harming Iraqi interests and needs.

Regarding the chances of Saddam's Iraq joining the peace process, one major obstacle has been the United States. Indeed, it is one of the rare cases (alongside Libya), where the United States has consistently discouraged or even vetoed such a possible move. Of course, Iraq itself, it must be stressed, has not yet adopted a strategic decision on this matter.

To join in peacemaking, Iraq could benefit by lifting sanctions, ending its isolation and joining old allies such as Jordan or the PLO, and reopening the old Kirkuk-Haifa oil pipeline. But on the other side of the balance-sheet there are important considerations and powerful instincts. The regime has identified the embargo and its severe impact on the Iraqi people with the United States and Israel. Accordingly, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments might continue for many years to come and might hamper strategic opening toward the West, even by the next regime.

Nor does Ba'thi Iraq seem willing to relinquish the Palestinian card, believing that it is still possible to torpedo what it terms the peace between governments and not nations. Another point which has to do with the very "make-up" of this regime, is that throughout its rule it has distinguished itself in initiating conflicts and wars internally and externally, but never succeeded in striking peace treaties or solving them. At best it signed "ceasefire" agreements (such as with the Kurds in 1970 or with Iran in 1975), which it later renounced.

In addition, the fact that Iraq has entangled itself in direct wars with four regional countries (Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel) has made the solution of any of them even more difficult. In any case, being the oldest and geographically most remote one, the Arab-Israeli -- or for that matter the Iraqi-Israeli conflict -- is even less pressing for solution than the others. Moreover, Iraq does not feel threatened by a possible Israeli invasion the way it does, for example, from Iran.

Another unique point is that unlike Arab countries of the Gulf, for example, whose attitude towards the peace process is mainly a function of the general Arab stance (and perhaps even as a means of better defending themselves against Iraq), that of Iraq is also a function of its other regional problems. Thus, for example, its tendency to join the peace process might be greatly influenced by its relations with Iran. Iraqi attempts to reach peace agreement with fundamentalist Iran might be a disincentive for an agreement with Israel. Similarly, the Turkish-Israeli strategic alignment forged in 1996 might become another

disincentive for such a move.

For all of these reasons, Saddam Husayn's regime seems currently uninterested, and perhaps even institutionally incapable, of initiating strategic change toward Israel. If, however, Saddam Husayn were to change his strategy for ending the embargo from one of defiance to the tactics of compromise, an opening toward Israel might be a card he could play.

As for a post-Saddam Iraq, expectations are that a new regime would need support from the West and the Gulf Arab monarchies for reconstruction or even survival, and would consequently be more amenable to strategic changes, including ones toward Israel. Of course this would depend on the current state of the peace process itself. Moreover, it can be strongly argued that a regime seen as being propped up by the West (which had punished Iraq so severely) might not be popular or strong enough to effect strategic changes or at least to maintain them for long.


1. Shmuel Toledano in Ha'aretz, 5 August 1994.

2. Ha'aretz, 3 March 1993.

3. Babil, 7 January 1995.

4. An Iraqi source stressed that Iraq's participation in the 1973 war was not symbolical, as was expected, but included 3/4 of its air force; 2/3 of its armored force and 1/5 of its infantry, Dawr al-Jaysh al-'Iraqi fi harb Tishrin 1973, Beirut, al-mu'assasa al-'Arabiyya lil-dirasat wal-nashr, 1975, p. 5. For Iraq's size of expeditionary forces in the different wars see, The Iraqi Army in the Yom Kippur War (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv, Ma'arakhot, 1986), Introduction, pp. 12-27.

5. Sa'd al-Bazzaz blamed the "unjust geography" for Iraq's psychological feelings of isolation, Harb talid ukhra, (Amman, al-ahliyya lil-nashr wal-tawzi, 1992), pp. 13-14.

6. For this and a general discussion on Iraq's stance see, Michael Eppel, The Palestine Conflict in the History of Modern Iraq, (London, Frank Cass, 1994), pp. 45-46).

7. Immediately after the end of the war, Iraq mended fences with Iran, with a view to transforming the greater part of the forces deployed on the Iranian front to Syria, Dawr al-Jaysh, p. 46.

8. For this support, see Ofra Bengio, The Kurdish Revolt in Iraq (Hebrew), (Tel Aviv Hakibutz Hameuhad, 1989) pp. 83-87.

9. Mahmud al-Durra, Al-Qadiyya Al-Kurdiyya (2nd ed.) (Beirut, Manshurat dar al-tali'a, 1966), p. 388.

10. For a general discussion of Iraqi-Israel relations at the end of the 1980s see, Amatzia Baram, "After the Iran-Iraq War - What?" The Jerusalem Quarterly, No. 49, Winter 1989, pp. 85-96; Laurie A. Mylroie, "After the Guns fell Silent: Iraq in the Middle East," Middle East Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1, Winter 1989, pp. 51-67.

11. On the attack see, Shlomo Nakdimon, Tammuz in Flames (in Hebrew, New and updated edition) (Tel Aviv, Idanim Publisher, 1993).

12. Al-Thawra, 21 May 1987.

13. Qasdisiyyat Saddam, 7 January 1983.

14. E.g., AFP, 7 January -- From U.S. Department of Commerce, Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Report (hereafter, DR), 10 January 1983; Jerusalem Post, 26 August 1987.

15. Ha'aretz, 30 June 1995; Le vif l'express (Brussels), 6 October -- DR, 10 October 1995.

16. Jerusalem Post, 26 November 1987.

17. E.g., Jerusalem Post 23 January; Davar, 13 February; Ha'aretz, 8 November; Ma'ariv, 13 December 1987.

18. E.g., Al-'Iraq, 27 January; Al-Thawra, 14, 15, 21, 22 May, 9, 17 June, 2, 8 July; Al-Jumhuriyya, 3, 10 September 1987.

19. R. Baghdad, 23, 30 June, 13 July -- DR, 24 June, 2, 14 July 1981.

20. Al-Jumhuriyya, 14 March; Al-Thawra, 20, 26 March 1989.

21. Al-Thawra, 3 April 1990; Al-Muharrir, 8 May -- DR, 9 May 1990.

22. Al-Thawra, 21 January 1989.

23. Alif Ba , 19 January 1994.

24. Al-Jumhuriyya, 18 January, 1, 7, 12 February 1994.

25. Years later these feelings were echoed in al-Thawra which complained that the Madrid Conference was the outcome of the attack on Iraq. Al-Thawra, 28 July 1995.

26. Al-Thawra, 6 April; Babil, 30 March, 6 May, 7 June 1992.

27. Al-Qadisiyya, 5 February; Babil, 30 May 1992. For earlier anti-Semitic trends see, Shulamit Binah, The Anti-Jewish Farhud in Baghdad, 1941-Jewish and Arab Perspectives, (M.A. Thesis, The City University of New York, 1989), pp. 117-127.

28. E.g., Babil, 12, 18, 20, 26, 27 April 1993.

29. Al-Jumhuriyya, 18, 27 September, 30 October; INA, 21, 22 September -- DR, 22, 23 September 1993. Al-Thawra, 10 February -- DR, 17 February 1994.

30. Al-Jumhuriyya, 2 March, Babil, 1 August -- DR, 11 August 1994.

31. Shishi, 25 February 1994.

32. E.g., Foreign Report, 31 March; Al-Hayat, 23 April, 21 June, al-Sinnara, Yedi'ot Aharanot, Ha'aretz, 5 August, Ruz al-Yussuf, 29 August -- DR, 31 August; Liwa al-Rafidayn, 25 September 1994.

33. Jordanian Times, 2 June, Al-Muharrir, 5 September -- DR, 12 September 1994.

34. Babil, 14 August -- DR, 14 August; Al-Thawra, 21 August, Al-Ra'y ('Amman) 17 September -- DR, 19 September 1994.

Ofra Bengio is a Senior Research Fellow in the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies, Tel Aviv University, and author of The Kurdish Revolt in Iraq (in Hebrew), Hakibutz Hameuhad, 1989 and Saddam's Word: Political Discourse in Iraq, Oxford University Press, 1998.


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