Two months ago, US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld rushed over to Baghdad to caution president Jalal Talabani and prime minister-to-be Ibrahim Jaafari against appointing the Shiite Badr Organization commander, Gen. Hadi al-Amri, minister of the interior in the new government.
The general had spent 20 years in Iran from 1983 and maintained extremely close ties with the Revolutionary Guards military and intelligence arms. Rumsfeld warned it would be foolhardy to trust him with access to the innermost security and intelligence secrets of Iraq and the US military.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 203, April 22: To Make an Iranian General Interior Minister).
Rumsfeld was not impressed by the fact that since his return home in 2003, at the head of a 10,000-strong Shiite Badr Force, Gen. al-Amri had not been in touch with Tehran nor had he initiated independent military activity in Iraq. The secretary of defense clamped down an American veto on the award of any government post to the Shiite general.
It now transpires, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, that General al-Amri, whose force has meanwhile doubled in size and been renamed the Badr Organization, led a successful offensive to clear Sunni guerrillas out of an extensive swath of land south of Baghdad. He has also brought key Shiite cities to the same level of calm as that prevailing in the Kurdish regions of the north.
Alongside its military functions, the Badr Organization has been employed in the last two years as an infrastructure for running civilian affairs in the towns of southern Iraq.
Prime minister Jaafari’s presence at the Badr Organization’s first convention in Najef this week was not only a tribute to the dual-purpose service the former militia has performed in the Shiite regions of Iraq, but recognition of a far more sweeping development. The force has laid the first semi-autonomous foundations for what could become an independent Shiite entity in southern Iraq.
Two communities march in two-step
This embryonic entity is developing features similar to those of Kurdistan in the north.
The Kurds have retained intact their independent peshmerga army and intelligence agencies, although some small segments may operate ad hoc with the Iraqi army. But the bulk of this force is fully engaged in security tasks in Kurdish cities and the oil fields and pipelines situated in their territory. The peshmerga additionally stand guard over Kurdish frontiers with Iran, Turkey and Syria – and, equally important, its border with the Sunni Arab central heartland of Iraq.
Unlike the Kurds, the 2003 Iraq war caught the Shiites without a regular army – until the Badr Organization was placed at their disposal. Thousands of new recruits are now joining the force every month.
The two communities are moving forward in two-step.
The Kurds opened an international airport. Since early May it has been used for commercial flights to and from Europe and the Middle East.
The Shiites are building international airports in Najef and Basra.
Once they are built, travelers to northern and southern Iraq will be able to bypass Baghdad, thereby downgrading the importance of Iraq’s capital.
These are not the only steps towards greater self-rule.
Saturday, June 4, 111 Kurdish members of the national assembly met for the first time in Irbil and ceremonially appointed Masoud Barzani president of Kurdistan. Iraqi president Talabani officiated. The deputies also decided to bring about the union of the two once- rival Kurdish parties, Talabani’s PUK and Barzani’s PDK, as the groundwork for a Kurdish government.
In none of these events was reference made to any form of relationship between Kurdish political institutions and the central, elected government in Baghdad.
Two days later, the Bader Organization held its first convention in Najef – without advance notice.
Distribution of oil comes next
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources interpret the proximity of the two events as a Shiite bid to catch up with Kurdish momentum towards independence. The fact that prime minister Jaafari, head of the Shiite Dawa party, attended a formal gathering of the Badr Organization which is an arm of the rival SCIRI party, is taken to mean that mainstream Shiite leaders are coming together, as did the Kurds, to lead their community along the road to independence.
Kurdish and Shiite leaders, Talabani and Jaafari are clearly in mutual accord to support the other’s aspirations at the expense of the central government’s authority. The next step after the separatist political and military measures going forward will be a joint effort to agree on the distribution of Iraq’s oil resources between them.
If the momentum of the last two weeks is maintained, Iraq will in no time find itself melting down into three states, Kurdish, Shiite and Iraqi. A Shiite-Kurdish administration will rule the Sunni Muslim minority, while the other two entities make off with Iraq’s oil riches.
As the Shiites and Kurds between them shut down all of Iraq’s political options, it is hard to see an incentive for the Sunni Arabs to throw in their lot with the political process afoot in Baghdad or to end their guerrilla war.
President Talabani announced Thursday, June 9, the allocation of 25 seats on the committee for drafting Iraq’s new constitution to Sunni Arabs. The panel has until mid-August to compile the document. Two months later, it will be put to referendum. It will not be surprising if the Sunnis think they have been thrown a measly bone and do what they can to derail the next stages of Iraq’s democratic process.
MORE KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN IRAQ
- Oil. In a week’s time, barring more sabotage, the flow of Iraqi oil from Kirkuk to Turkey’s Mediterranean Ceyhan port will restart after several forced stoppages in early May. The Bush administration hopes that the arrival of Iraqi oil to international markets will start bringing oil prices down.
- Military. American and British instructors are building in Basra, southern Iraq, an enlarged brigade of Shiite Iraqis. Called the Tigers, it will be trained in guerrilla warfare and urban combat to become the Iraqi’s army’s special operations force in the south. American officers say the Tigers will be the elite equivalent in the south of the Kurdish Wolves in the north. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources identity the Kurdish Wolves as Kurdish Commando Unit 36 which fought with US troops in battles against insurgents in Najef, Falluja and Mosul.
- Iran. Two weeks ago, Tehran stopped all Iranian pilgrimages to Iraq’s Shiite shrines in Najef and Karbala, which had grown to about three million travelers a year. Iran also shut down all its border crossings to Iraq, except for people with special permits issued in the capital. Wednesday, June 8, Iran for the first time publicly accused the Iraqi government of stirring up Arab riots in neighboring Khuzestan, Iran’s oil-rich province. (See also DNW 203 from April 22: CIA and MI6 Reach a Long Arm into Khuzestan.) Our sources in the Iranian capital report that the Islamic republic accuses US and Iraqi intelligence of mounting a broad recruiting campaign for fighting strength among the Shiite Arabs of Khuzestan when they visit Najef and Karbala. They are trained and sent back home to fight the Tehran regime.