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Paper No. 974                                 10.04.2004

by B. Raman

(To be read in continuation of my earlier article on Ahmed Chalabi of April 14, 2003  at ,  the article of February 16, 2004,    titled "Iraq: From Bad To Worse" at  and the article of April 7, 2004, titled "the USA's Biggest Enemy" at )

In my article on Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraq National Congress (INC), I had stated as follows: "There is now a curious position of the CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency ) and the DIA (the Defence Intelligence Agency) operating independently of each other in Iraq.  It is said that the CIA continues to fund the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Iraqi National Accord, the pro-Teheran Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and an unnamed group, supported by Prince Hassan of Jordan, which calls for the restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq. The DIA has been funding Chalabi's INC.  The groups funded by the CIA strongly distrust the DIA-backed INC and Chalabi, but till now Rumsfeld (Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary) has had his way.  Chalabi seems to have convinced Rumsfeld and Perle (Richard Perle, a member of the Defence Policy Advisory Board) that it was his Shia followers in Baghdad, who had come out in the streets and hailed the entry of American troops.

2."There are already indications of differences in the anti-Saddam Hussein coalition with those opposed to Chalabi accusing him of having secretly signed an agreement with the DIA that a Government headed by him would denationalise the oil industry in Iraq, thereby paving the way for its take-over by US companies and would re-imburse to the US the expenditure incurred by it on the overthrow of the regime from the oil export earnings.  Teheran also nurses strong suspicions about Chalabi because of his alleged links with elements opposed to the Islamic Revolution in Iran.  It remains to be seen whether Rumsfeld would prevail in getting Chalabi installed as the head of the so-called interim Iraqi authority and if so, how long he would last." (Citation ends)

3. A year ago, the Disinformation Division of the DIA, with the help of compliant Western journalists, had enacted for dissemination to the rest of the world seeming scenes of jubilation as a statue of Saddam Hussein was brought down. The total number of people, who had participated in those scenes for the benefit of the correspondents, was not more than about 200, but the journalists and their cameramen had photographed them in such a way as to make it appear to the viewers as if thousands had participated. In an article on the scene, I had pointed out that all those, who had gathered there at the instance of the DIA's  Disinformation Division, were beating their chest, indicating thereby  that all of them were Shias and that not a single Sunni could be seen in the commandeered crowd.

4. The entire scene was organised, on payment by the DIA through Chalabi, by a 30-year-old  Shia with a large following  in the slum areas of Baghdad. His Shia followers used to be called Sadrists. His name is Moqtada Al-Sadr, son of Ayatollah Muhammed Sadeq Al-Sadr, who, along with two other sons, was killed allegedly by the Saddam Hussein regime in 1999. He is the same man, who is today in revolt against the US occupation forces. His so-called  Mehdi Army is fighting against the occupation forces in the streets of the Shia majority areas of a Baghdad suburb  called Al-Sadr City and in many towns of southern Iraq. It has joined hands with the anti-US Sunni resistance fighters and Pakistani, Chechen and other foreign terrorists, who have already been putting up a determined fight against the US troops in the so-called Sunni Triangle since May last year.

5. What has happened since April last year which has driven the Sadrists, who used to be the beneficiaries of the clandestine funds of the DIA distributed through Chalabi, to take to arms against the coalition troops? Why have they become so virulently anti-US within a short period of one year? What are the implications of the current serious upsurge in fighting all over Iraq to the future of the country and to  the US attempts to pacify it?

6. Any analysis to find  answers to these questions has to go back to the conflicting policies followed by the CIA, under its Director George Tenet, and the DIA, under Rumsfeld's orders, pre-April,2003, to secure the support of the Shias for the USA's plans to have Saddam overthrown. Their attempts were essentially focussed on two leaders of the Shia community---the Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, of Persian origin, who was backed by the CIA, and Moqtada Al-Sadr, of Arab origin, who was backed by the DIA, at the instance of Rumsfeld, on the urging of Chalabi.

7. While the CIA's funds used to go to Al-Sistani, those of the DIA were going to Al-Sadr through Chalabi. The mutual suspicions and jealousies between the pro-Teheran followers of Al-Sistani, who constituted the Badr Army, the militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and Al-Sadr, who constituted the Sadrists group (the Mehdi Army had not yet come into the picture), had started affecting internal security in the Shia majority areas immediately after the invasion  of Iraq by the coalition troops.

8. Amongst the consequences of their rivalries, one could mention the assassination of the CIA-backed Abd Al-Majid Al-Khoui, upon the latter's return to Iraq from his political exile in the UK on April 10,2003. The CIA had asked him to persuade the Shias of southern Iraq to facilitate the early occupation of the country by the US-UK troops. Abd Al-Majid's father, the grand Ayatollah Abu Al-Qassem Al-Khoui, was the spiritual mentor of Al-Sistani. Al-Khoui's followers alleged that he was got killed by Moqtada Al-Sadr, in order to eliminate a possible rival.

9. While there was no reason to suspect that the DIA had any inkling of the alleged plans of its protege to have Al-Khoui killed, the assassination did create some embarrassment for it. Despite this, no action was taken for the vigorous investigation of the case, apparently lest the needle of suspicion point at Al-Sadr and make his arrest unavoidable.

10. The favours enjoyed by Al-Sadr started declining after President Bush appointed Paul Bremer, reportedly an officer of the CIA who had held many diplomatic posts and functioned as Counter-Terrorism Co-Ordinator in the State Department under President Ronald Reagan and later as the Chairman of a 1999 National Commission on Terrorism, as in charge of the coalition administration in May last year  and placed him directly under Dr. Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Adviser (NSA). Till the appointment of Bremer, a retired officer of the US Army (Jay Garner) connected with the DIA was in charge of the administration and he reported directly to Rumsfeld, bypassing Rice.

11. Bremer came to office in Baghdad fully sharing the CIA's distrust of Chalabi and Moqtada Al-Sadr. While he could not keep Chalabi out of power due to the strong support enjoyed by him from Rumsfeld, he, with the backing of Rice, managed to keep Al-Sadr out of the Governing Council. He also started clipping  his wings and ordered a vigorous investigation of his suspected role in the murder of Al-Khoui. A petulent Moqtada Al-Sadr started hitting back at the Americans.

12.Since the early 1960s, successive Iraqi Governments had tried to keep the Shia community divided and weak by encouraging differences between those of Persian origin and those of Arab origin and by seeking to discredit the clerics, who took guidance from Teheran. As part of this policy, the Governments also encouraged the feelings of tribal identity and solidarity as against those of sectarian (Shia vs Sunni) identity and solidarity.

13.The Al-Sadr family, which co-operated with the pre-1999 attempts of the Saddam regime to exploit the tribal affinities of the people against Najaf-based clerical leaders drawing inspiration from Teheran, built up, with the assistance of the regime, a strong following for itself, from amongst the estimated two million Shias living in an eastern  suburb of Baghdad, which used to be  called Madinat al-Thawra (City of the Revolution). These Shias, the poorest of the poor, had originally migrated into Baghdad from Southern Iraq in the early 1960s, where the influence of  the pro-Teheran clerics was strong. Under Saddam, it was re-named as Saddam City and since the fall of Saddam, has come to be known as the Al-Sadr City, named after the father of Moqtada Al-Sadr.

14.It is to this community, whose loyalty to his father has remained strong, that Moqtada Al-Sadr turned when he decided to defy the US-led occupation regime in July-August last year. He called for a boycott of the US-constituted Governing Council, announced the setting up of his own shadow Cabinet to govern the Shia majority areas of Iraq, called for an Islamic Constitution and an Islamic rule and set up the Jaish-e-Mehdi (the Mahdi Army) to enforce his authority.

15. Addressing his followers on July 18 last year, Moqtada Al-Sadr denounced the US-appointed Governing Council as a cabal of non-believers and called for a jihad through a "general mobilization to fight the American and British occupiers." Though he said that the proposed jihad would be through peaceful means and called upon his followers to avoid any armed confrontation with the American and British troops, US officials watched with concern the growing popularity of Al-Sadr whose Mahdi Army started attracting a large number of recruits, many of them former Shia tribal soldiers of Saddam's disbanded army.

16. After his revolt, the DIA cut off all its links  with him , which only made matters worse, driving him to be even more petulent.Initially, Bremer followed a policy of ignoring Al-Sadr and his followers and avoided any overt action against them in order not to provoke them at a time when the US troops were facing a growing armed struggle by the Sunnis in the so-called Sunni Triangle.

17. Instead, Bremer reverted to Saddam's policy of divide and rule in order to keep the Shias weak. But, whereas Saddam backed and encouraged tribal affinities in order to counter sectarian affinities, Bremer backed and encouraged the sectarian affinities of the followers of Al-Sistani in order to counter the tribal affinities of the followers of  Moqtada Al-Sadr. He gave importance to the views of Al-Sistani on the future set-up of the country and on the feasibility of early elections etc. The UN too, apparently at the instance of the US, projected the image of Al-Sistani as the highly-respected leader of the majority of the Shias. Systematic attempts were made to beliitle the leadership and following of Al-Sadr.

18.This unwise policy resulted in the tribal affinities of the Shias and Sunnis asserting themselves over their sectarian affinities and different tribes, forgetting their sectarian differences, joining hands for a common jihad against the non-believers and their foreign masters. The result: What we are seeing in different parts of  Iraq since the beginning of this month.

19. The ham-handed approach of Bremer is evident from the fact that at a time when cunning and calculation demanded avoidance of unnecessary provocation to the followers of Al-Sadr in view of the armed confrontation with the Sunnis of Fallujah, he embarked on a policy of simultaneously confronting both, resulting in their joining hands against the Americans and other coalition troops.

20.Despite media reports to the contrary, there is no convincing evidence so far of a joint command and control of the anti-US Shia and Sunni forces. There have been simultaneous, but diverse uprisings in different parts of the country by the Shia followers of Al-Sadr and by the disbanded Sunni members of the Saddam Army.In different areas, tribal affinities are making the Sunni and Shia members of the same tribe  forget their sectarian differences and put up a common fight against the Americans and the British. But, there is no evidence till now that a common brains trust is motivating and co-ordinating the diverse uprisings.

21. What should be of increasing concern to the Americans is that the re-assertion of tribal affinities is causing a strain on the loyalty (to the Americans) and dependability of the newly-raised Iraqi Police and Security Forces, many of whom have been silent spectators of the violent incidents and have consciously avoided taking action against their tribal brethren  indulging in anti-US violence. There have already been reports of desertions from the newly-raised security forces and if these pick up momentum and the security forces join the anti-US elements en masse, the plans of the Bush Administration to create an Iraqi facade for their continued occupation of Iraq after June might prove unimplementable.

22. Paul Bremer, who started his tenure in Baghdad well last year, has become a liability. Even if he is replaced, the situation is unlikely to improve in view of the continuing dependence of the US administration on a bunch of paid Iraqi stooges of its intelligence community for the formulation and implementation of its policies. It is these stooges, which misled the US on the question of the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq and on the prospects of the Iraqis welcoming the US troops as "liberators", and it is the very same stooges, which have now made the US and the Americans the most hated in Iraq. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )