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    Middle East
     Feb 15, 2005
US fights back against 'rule by clerics'
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Given the widespread Sunni boycott of Iraq's January 30 elections for a National Assembly, with voting concentrated among the Kurdish north and Shi'ite south, the polls served more as a referendum to prove Shi'ite and Kurd strength.

This can be seen in the results of the polls released on Sunday, with the Shi'ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance capturing 48% of the vote and the Kurdish alliance 26%.

Now it emerges that there is a strong movement in southern Iraq for the establishment of autonomous Shi'ite provinces as a precursor to introducing vilayet-e-faqih (rule by the clergy) in the whole country.

Of these calls for autonomy or federalism, the most disconcerting for US authorities is the call for religious rule. Already, leading Shi'ite clerics in Iraq are pushing for "Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution".

To head off this threat of a Shi'ite clergy-driven religious movement, the US has, according to Asia Times Online investigations, resolved to arm small militias backed by US troops and entrenched in the population to "nip the evil in the bud".

Asia Times Online has learned that in a highly clandestine operation, the US has procured Pakistan-manufactured weapons, including rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, ammunition, rockets and other light weaponry. Consignments have been loaded in bulk onto US military cargo aircraft at Chaklala airbase in the past few weeks. The aircraft arrived from and departed for Iraq.

The US-armed and supported militias in the south will comprise former members of the Ba'ath Party, which has already split into three factions, only one of which is pro-Saddam Hussein. They would be expected to receive assistance from pro-US interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord.

A military analyst familiar with strategic and proxy operations commented that there is a specific reason behind procuring arms from Pakistan, rather than acquiring US-made ones.

"A similar strategy was adopted in Afghanistan during the initial few years of the anti-USSR resistance [the early 1980s] movement where guerrillas were supplied with Chinese-made AK-47 rifles [which were procured by Pakistan with US money], Egyptian and German-made G-3 rifles. Similarly, other arms, like anti-aircraft guns, short-range missiles and mortars, were also procured by the US from different countries and supplied to Pakistan, which handed them over to the guerrillas," the analyst maintained.

The obvious reason for this tactic is to give the impression that the resistance acquired its arms and ammunition from different channels and from different countries - and anywhere other than the United States.

Asia Times Online contacts said it is clear that Pakistan would not be the only country from which the US would have procured arms. And such arms could not be destined for the Iraqi security forces because US arms would be given to them.

For the Americans, the situation in southern Iraq has turned into a double-edged sword. Iraqis there fully embraced the elections - even if they had to be convinced by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to do so - and this participation was welcomed as a sign of democracy taking root in the country.

But with Shi'ite religious parties emerging as the strongest power, no sooner were the elections over than voices were raised for the creation of an autonomous southern Iraqi region, and for vilayet-e-faqih .

People from different walks of life from Basra and other southern provinces can be heard on television and radio channels demanding a federal system in which southern Shi'ites could govern their oil resources for their benefit.

Notably, Ahmad Chalabi, a leading secular Shi'ite candidate in the Iraqi elections, has called for autonomy for the Shi'ite south, which contains some of the world's largest oil fields. Chalabi, a former US favorite who fell out with Washington after the 2003 invasion, said the move would ensure a fairer share of wealth for a region that provides the bulk of Iraqi revenue but receives only a fraction of state spending. The mainly Shi'ite southern provinces of Amara, Nasiriya and Basra are Iraq's poorest, Chalabi said.

Observers say this is the beginning of a new era which could climax in a movement for vilayet-e-faqih , a compulsory part of the Shi'ite faith that is intertwined with the concept of imamat or leadership (all Muslims under one leader). The difference between a caliph and an imam is that a caliph can be anyone accepted by Muslims, but an imam must hail from the Prophet Mohammed's family and be a recognized religious authority (clergy).

Already, members of the Da'wa Party, many of whom were taught in Iran, have taken over mosques in Basra, and members of Hezbollah have heavily infiltrated the Shi'ite population, in addition to Iranian intelligence and members of the Pasdaran-i-Inqalab (Iran's Revolutionary Guards) to pave the way for vilayet-e-faqih.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)


The Shi'ites' Faustian pact
(Feb 11, '05)

Coming to terms with Sistani
(Feb 10, '05)

Sistani begins on his true agenda
(Feb 8, '05)

 
 

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