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Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Al-Shaalan began 2005 by making two very sharp statements objecting to Iranian interference in Iran. On Wednesday, Jan. 5, Shaalan accused Iran of sending insurgents across the border:
We have a strong belief that Iran is the main accused in the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, such as illegal entry, smuggling of arms and means of sabotage. The proof which we have bears witness to Iran’s responsibility in many operations that have shaken Iraq’s stability.
The next day, Defense Minister Shaalan expressed concern that Iran had sent over a million Iranians into Iraq to pose as Iraqis in the upcoming elections. He was concerned that Iran was trying to engineer an Iranian-backed Iraqi government. “It is estimated that the minimum that Iran wants is to dominate southern Iraq. If we go to Basra, we will not hear an Arabic accent, rather we will hear a Farsi accent, and this is also true of Najaf and Al-Kut provinces.” The defense minister called this influx of Iranians across the border “a sign of significant meddling.”
The figure of a million Iranians slipping across the border into Iraq was the same number used by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who charged in December that the mullahs wanted to create a “Shiite Crescent from Iran to Syria and Lebanon.”
Shaalan was forceful that Iraq had proof: “We have intelligence indicating that Iran is sending fake families to Iraq, many of whom are based in Karbala, Najaf, Baghdad, Al-Amara and Al-Kut – the documents are in our hands.”
Figuring out the mullahs’ intentions in Iran is not easy, except to calculate that they are up to no good. The only clear objective the mullahs have is to beat the United States.
The clerics who currently rule Iran want the United States swept out of the Middle East. Should democracy take hold in Iraq, the principle of theocratic rule that is central to the mullahs’ view of the world would be challenged. This the mullahs cannot tolerate.
Yes, Iranians are predominately Shiites and, as such, they want to reach out to the Shiites in southern Iraq. Yet, there are complications. Just because both are Shiites does not mean they are the same. Remember, Iranians are by nationality Persians, and their language is Farsi. The Iraqi Shiites speak Arabic and are not Persians.
Also, we must keep in mind the 8-year war Iran fought with Iraq from 1980 through 1988. Here Shiites on both sides fought bitterly against one another. Iran wants a Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran to Damascus and Beruit only if the crescent is governed by an Islamic theocracy with the Iranian mullahs themselves sitting on top.
Iran also brought the radical cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr to Tehran and are said to have spent up to $80 million a month for the cost of training, equipping, paying and clothing Al-Sadr’s dissident militia. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is also reported to have trained some 800 to 1,200 of Al-Sadr’s “Mahdi army” at three camps along the southern Iraqi border.
Hezbollah, one of the mullah’s surrogate terrorist arms, also did their best to organize extremist Islamic “charities” to shuffle some of their front money to Al-Sadr’s terrorist purposes instead of their own. Still, for all the attention he has drawn to himself, Al-Sadr is by no means accepted by the other Shiite clerics in Iraq.
There is good evidence he tried to have killed the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani (who is an Iranian by birth), perhaps with dreams that Al-Sadr could replace Al-Sistani as a leader of the Iraqi Shiites once Al-Sistani was eliminated. There was little likelihood that would ever happen except in Al-Sadr’s dreams. Al-Sistani is revered for his wisdom and scholarly mastery of Islam – to most Iraqi Shiites (and to most observing Americans) Al-Sadr is just a young, hot-head wannabe, not a legitimate heir to a serious Shiite imam like Al-Sistani.
The vast majority of Shites in Iraq could rightly consider Muqtada Al-Sadr to be a questionable religious leader at best, and the Mahdi army of his followers a mere bunch of thugs at worst. Al-Sadr is popular with the mullahs, not because he is a Shiite, but because he is willing to submit to their authority and to do their biddings for them in Iraq.
Unfortunately for Al-Sadr, and for the mullahs, there has been no popular outpouring of support for the 30-year-old rabble-rouser or his Mahdi army in Najaf, or anywhere else in Iraq. Honest Iraqi Shiites are appalled that Al-Sadr would desecrate mosques with sandbags and machine guns just to protect himself holed up like a coward.
Iran is trying to have the situation in Iraq both ways. By moving in Iranian Shiites to vote in the Iraqi election, the mullahs are playing along with the democracy movement, thinking they can stack the deck in their favor. By supporting vocal extremists like Al-Sadr, the mullahs are playing the anti-American card trying to create a scene the liberal anti-American press will portray worldwide to argue the insurgency in Iran has created for the United States another “Vietnam quagmire.”
Either way, the mullahs are doing what they do best – causing trouble in the hope that no matter what happens they will come out the winners.
The only problem for the mullahs is that President Bush may not play along. The White House seems determined to hold the elections on Jan. 30 as planned, while playing tough with the insurgents wherever they may choose to hold out.