America Cuts a Would-be Shia Leader down to Size

The United States and the most powerful militant Shiite group in Iraq, the Supreme Council For Islamic Revolution in Iraq, could be on the quits.

On Monday, General Jay Garner, the de facto US governor of 23 million Iraqis, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the US administration’s liaison with Iraqi opposition groups, had a little chat with SCIRI’s Sayed Abdelaziz al-Hakim, head of the group’s radical martyrdom wing, about his brother, Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, SCIRI’s supreme leader. Laying down the provisional law in Baghdad, the two Americans told Abdelaziz in no uncertain terms the United States would not allow Mohammed Bakir to return to Iraq. SCIRI, they said, is a radical religious group advocating the killing of US soldiers and secretly organizing insurrection and suicide attacks against American forces.

Khalilzad showed Abdelaziz his cards up front – reams of secret documents proving that Iran recently poured $150 million into SCIRI’s coffers along with pledges of more money to come. Some of the lucre was meant to grease the palms of Shiite tribal leaders and Shiite clerics in Najef, Karbala, Baghdad and Basra to persuade them to do Iran’s bidding.

The United States is convinced that Iranian agents who infiltrated Iraq in recent weeks joined with Saddam Hussein’s secret agents to organize the shooting attacks against US soldiers in Falluja, assaults that drew retaliatory fire that cut down civilians and raised anti-US sentiment in Iraq and elsewhere in the Moslem world.

According to US intelligence officials, nearly 20,000 Iranian agents, many of them Iraqi members of the Badr Brigades and others Iraqis who fled as refugees to Iran over the past 20 years, have come home.

Garner and Khalilzad went so far as to call Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim an Iranian agent tasked with creating a Shiite state in Iraq. Abdelaziz’s denials fell on deaf ears. When he denied that Iran had organized massive Shiite demonstrations during religious ceremonies last month, Khalilzad countered by noting that some of the self-flagellation rituals performed by the demonstrators were Iranian, not Iraqi practices.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, the number two man in the Iranian leadership, told several of his associates this week that the United States sent a formal warning to Iran to stop inciting the Shiites at such ceremonies. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report.

Refusing Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim permission to return to Iraq was tantamount to a U.S. declaration of war on SCIRI, which had been led to understand that as the biggest Iraqi Shi’ite group it would be guaranteed a significant role in any future Iraqi coalition government.

The two other Shi’ite parties vying for power are al-Amal al-Islami — weakened by 20 years in exile — and Hizbad-Dava, an extremely radical faction that has effectively become a part of SCIRI.

Hakim realized he would have to change his plans after being blackballed by the Americans. DEBKA-Net-Weekly has learned that he intends to step down as SCIRI’s political leader, hoping to pave the way for his return to Iraq – though not in the grand style he had hoped for.

He had originally planned a triumphant return to his homeland For more than six months, Bakr has been plotting his home-coming ceremonies on a scale last seen back in 1977 when Ayatollah Khomeini returned in triumph to Iran from exile in France. Hakim was to have traveled through the main Shiite cities in southeastern Iraq before heading to Najef and Karbala, where he intended to establish his official base. He planned on living in Baghdad to be close to US administrators and the new center of Iraqi power.

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