Iraq’s Shiites are a no minority. They make up some 60 percent of the country’s population of 22.5 million. Their eyes are anxiously following US preparations for war against Saddam Hussein. But, less cohesive than the restless Kurdish tribes of northern Iraq, DEKBA-Net-Weekly’s experts do not expect them to play much of a role in the coming US invasion.
They bear the mark of year upon year of repression by the Saddam regime, which destroying their traditional religious leadership, kept close tabs on the Shiites living in Baghdad and denied freedoms to the communities of the rural south.
Senior Shiite religious figures suspected of cooperating with Iran or liable to issue fatwas (religious edicts) denouncing the Baghdad regime on religious grounds, were systematically liquidated. The two leading Shiite religious dynasties, the Hakim and Sadr, were broken up, leaving the relatively docile Ayatollah Mohammed Sistani in charge as the most senior living Shiite clergyman. He understandably watches his step, not daring to come out against the Iraqi leader. Most recently he was constrained – most likely under threat from Saddam – to issue a fatwa condemning a possible US invasion and calling on Shiites to stand up and fight enemy forces.
Years of repression have therefore placed the Shiites firmly under Saddam’s jackboot, unlike the largely autonomous Kurds of the north. The two million Shiites living in Baghdad are too scared to raise their heads in opposition to Saddam, when they know that the city’s streets teem with government agents and every Shiite gathering is infiltrated. But under this frightened exterior, the Shiites of Baghdad are more susceptible to Iran’s influence than they are anywhere else. Iranian agents occasionally sneak into the Iraqi capital to knock off members of the main Iranian opposition guerrilla group, the Mojahedin e-Khalq. In other parts of the country, Iranian government operatives sometimes launch missile attacks at the Mojahedin’s bases allowed by Saddam to operate against the Tehran government. The missiles are smuggled in by Iranian penetration cells.
Small Shiite underground cells have formed in the Shiite-dominated towns of southern Iraq – most made up of students of religious seminaries where revolution is preached. Several are run by Iranian agents or take their orders from Teheran. They trade message and instructions by email. These undercover units take good care to keep their heads down against the pervasive presence of Saddam’s spies.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts, judging the southern Iraqi Shiites’ reaction to American ground invasion from the south, believe they will not offer armed resistance. On the other hand, they are unlikely to cooperate with their Western “liberators”.
The United States has in recent months clinched a secret agreement with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (al-Majlis al-Aal el-Thouvrat al-Islalmiat al-Irafieh), a group Iran established more than 20 years ago, for its followers in Iraq to assist the American invasion force.
This may not be much use. Over the years, the Supreme Council’s influence with these Shiites has faded and few are likely to heed this request once the US campaign gets underway.