DEBKA Weekly reveals that Iran suddenly found itself this week fighting on two fronts.
For the first, the stalled offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS), Tehran mustered its powerful Zelzal-3B (“earthquake”) solid propellant surface missile for an all-out offensive to finally root the Islamists out of the Iraqi cities of Faluja and Ramadi.
And so, after ISIS successfully parried every Iranian and Iraqi Shiite militia assault to recover those cities, Iraq sees heavy ground-to-ground missiles rolling into the battlefield for the first time since the US invasion of 2003.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that the first batteries crossed in from Iran this week aboard trucks painted to represent civilian vehicles, their military number plates removed. They were delivered to pro-Iranian Shiite militia bases in the western province of Anbar.
These powerful missiles were brought in on the recommendation of Al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian front in Iraq, and his deputy, Abu Mahdi, head of the “popular mobilization committee.”
Mahdi poses as an Iraqi Shiite, but is in fact an Iranian general called Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Ebrahim, who is charged with establishing a pro-Iranian Shiite army.
Sistani challenges Iraqi Shiite deference to Tehran
But the Iranians are also gravely concerned by another challenge from an unforeseen quarter: the Supreme Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Al Husaini Sistani, has begun leading an opposition movement against Iran. Our sources report that this development brought Al Qods Chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, hastening Thursday, Aug. 27, to the cleric’s seat in the southern Iraqi Shiite shrine city of Najef.
Iran’s deepening intervention in the war on the Islamic State, and growing influence in Baghdad, have opened up a deep new rift at the top of the Shiite camp and among Shiite militias.
The Shiite world’s most venerated religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, 85, has come out forcefully against Tehran and its Iraqi minions.
He was outraged by the favored treatment awarded the Iraqi Shiite militias which bend the knee to Tehran, such as the Badr Brigade, the League of the Sons of the Righteous and the (Iraqi) Hizballah. They won plentiful supplies of Iranian weapons and their leaders were hailed publicly in Baghdad as heroes.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Al-Abadi, and other Shiite leaders were treated to derogatory sneers.
When it was suggested that the Badr Brigade’s chief, Hadi al-Ameri would make a better prime minister than the incumbent, the outraged Sistani stirred into action.
Iraqi Shiites set up anti-Iran militias on Sistani’s fatwa
The Iraqi Shiite leader has a history of disrespect for Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Sistani holds that Khamenei is not entitled to use the title of ayatollah and his fatwas have no religious force for any Shiite.
For many years, the clerical establishments of Qom and Najf have vied for supremacy as the world centers of the Shiite faith, each presenting their religious seminaries as the more superior.
The contest between the two establishments has spilled over into world affairs: Sistani is up in arms against Iran’s drive for dominance in Iraq, the Gulf, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. According to his teachings, men of cloth should devote themselves to religious activity and education – not conquests and wars.
The ageing Iraqi cleric ordered two steps for stemming Iranian ascendancy in Baghdad:
1. He issued a fatwa (decree) for the creation of Shiite paramilitary groups as a counterweight for the pro-Iranian militias. Fifteen new groups responded to his call, led by Jund al-Majayer.
But still, the pro-Sistani groups are heavily outnumbered by 45 pro-Iranian militias. More will have to be enlisted, to bring them level, notably from the extensive following of Moqtada al-Sadr, who is anti-Tehran but also cherishes his independence.
Gen. Soleimani rushes to Najef to placate Sistanti
2. Sistani also mobilized his activists to derail the secret plot for turning last week’s protest rallies in Baghdad against corruption and the breakdown of essential services, such as water and electricity, into a movement for toppling the government.
These are the actions that brought Gen. Soleimani running to Najef in the middle of an operation for introducing the Zelzal missiles into service against ISIS. Placating the grand ayatollah was absolutely vital, because the internal Shiite struggle in Iraq between the pro- and anti-Iran camps was gaining momentum and threatening Tehran’s deep stake in Baghdad.
As far as we know, the Iranian general was still waiting Thursday night for an appointment to see the grand ayatollah.