Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Southern Iraqi Shiite tribal leader claims Iran behind Basra fighting (and al-Qaida!)

Sheikh Kazim Unayzan, chief of the Southern Arab Tribal Council told Dubai Al-Sharqiyah television in an interview aired on April 7 that Iran had invaded Iraq and intended to use Iraq as a base to spread its influence to the Persian Gulf states. Unayzan claimed that Iran was seeking to destabilize Iraq through its support of militias, death squads, and even al-Qaida itself.

Sheikh Unayzan and Sheikh Sabah Muhsin al-Maliki, head of the Bani Malik tribes, were interviewed in Arabic, but an English account of the interview can be found on Radio Free Europe and on BBC Worldwide Monitoring (subscription).

Al-Maliki claims that it was the Arab tribes of southern Iraq that brokered a truce between the Al-Mahdi Army and the government:
Tribes in southern Iraq played a large role in extinguishing the fire of sedition. They mediated between the Al-Mahdi Army and government. The tribes reached a truce in some areas so that security could prevail. Praised be God, things went on normally there."
More significantly, the tribal leaders remarked on the intervention of Iran in Iraq:
[Unayzan]"Iranian interference is no secret to anyone. America itself wants the Iranians to interfere in Iraq although it found Iranian explosive devices, Grad missiles, and Katyushas. The Iranians have agendas. Some political forces are now working for the Iranian intelligence and they receive funds from them. The Iranians are seriously thinking of creating an unbalanced Iraq that advocates a theory that is not pan-Arab. This means they want to keep Iraq away from its pan-Arab affiliation. These forces worked from Karbala and even Baghdad up to the farthest part of Iraq. Iran supports Al-Qa'idah, militias, and death squads. Iran buys the smuggled and stolen oil." He then says he "warned" the Arab countries that if Basra falls in Iranian hands, the Iranians will try to expand in the direction of the Gulf States, where "Iran has a large community estimated at 5 million people."

On whether he is concerned about the Arab identity of Iraq, Al-Maliki says: "There is a large concern and this is the feeling of every patriotic citizen who wants security and all that is good for his country. We are all concerned because there are foreign interferences by Iran and its agents." Asked if the Arab tribes will establish a force to fight the militias, he says the tribes will not fight the "patriotic militias which have a genuine Arab history." He adds: "But there are militias which want to wreak havoc in Iraq, hand southern Iraq to another country, and destroy some leaders in Iraq. These should be fought. A force should be formed from the tribes to deter them."

Asked if a force similar to the Awakening Councils will be established, Unayzan says: "We will not establish Awakening Councils to serve the occupation. This is the first point. We will establish a force to strike at the militias collaborating with Iran. This is certain. The Iranians killed only in Basra 31 heads of tribes and clans, 37 doctors carrying the doctorate and master's degree including a professor, 400 women, and a large number of pilots and ordinary people who belonged to the Ba'th Party and the former security and intelligence services. We want to stop this."

...Asked what the tribal council will do if it participates in and wins in the local elections, Unayzan says: "We will first prevent the establishment of federalism, block the Oil Law, and prevent absolute subservience to Iran. We will demand protection for our areas in the south to prevent all neighbouring countries and not only Iran from infiltrating them."...On the reasons for "lack of security and poor services in Basra," Unayzan says "personal gains, ambitions, and Iran's blatant interference in Iraq are the reasons. He adds that the recent Basra fighting began and ended "with Iranian motives."

...On the way he views merger of religion with politics in Iraq, Unayzan says political Islam does not serve the interests of any country." Asked if Basra can be ruled by religious parties, he says: "There is no doubt that Basra is now ruled by the religious parties. Had it not been for the tribes, they would have made people suffer bitterly." He adds this is so although killings, abductions, and seizure of state resources continue, noting that the government's campaign in Basra was not successful because more than 900 people were killed in it.

Asked about national reconciliation...Unayzan says: "Reconciliation with whom? The Shi'is totally reject reconciliation with the Ba'thists. They want to uproot the Ba'th ideology and the Ba'th Party in general. There are more than 3 million Ba'thists in Iraq, and the Shi'is, including me, refuse to pardon the Ba'thists. But those whose hands were not stained with the blood of the Iraqis and who have good intentions should be accepted and rehabilitated." He then says reconciliation can be achieved when the Iraqi officials listen to the ordinary people and prevent foreign interference.

The two southern Iraqi tribal leaders are currently on a tour of Arab countries to mobilize Arab support for the Southern Arab Tribal Council.

UPDATE: Those quick to pounce on John McCain's slip, in which he momentarily implied that al-Qaida in Iraq was a "Shiite sect" before correcting himself, would do well to consider that to keep track of the complex and shifting political coalitions in the Middle East one must not presume that such affiliations do not cut across Islamic sectarian lines. That point will be lost, however, to those who appear to think that one need only have the Sunni and Shiite teams on their Middle East scorecard. MSNBC wasted no time suggesting McCain had made another gaffe. Here is the exchange:

McCain: There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view Al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?
Petraeus: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago.
McCain: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites overall?
Petraeus: No, no sir.
McCain: Or Sunnis or anybody else then? Al Qaeda continues to try to assert themselves in Mosul, is that correct?
Meanwhile, Jason Linkins, on Huffington Post, praised Senator Evan Bayh's questioning as the "highlight of the hearing," but neglected to notice Bayh's own momentary lapse of taking Pakistan to be an Arab country, in this exchange with Ambassador Ryan Crocker:
BAYH: The Afghanistan and Pakistan are subjects for another day but since this is all tied up in the global effort against extremism and terror, as you know, things have not been going as well as we would hope in Afghanistan. And it is true we're not going to have troops in Pakistan. Still, our resources are finite and they do have an impact. Some might look at this and say why are we devoting five times the amount of resources to a place that at this time is not the principal threat?

CROCKER: In part, Senator, to be sure that it doesn't become that. I noted in my testimony that Osama bin Laden fairly recently referred to Iraq as the perfect base for al Qaeda and it is a reminder that for al Qaeda, having a safe base on Arab soil is extremely important today. They got close to that in '06.

BAYH: They apparently have one now in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

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|| headland, 1:07 PM


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