US and France Vie for Iraq`s Shiites

In the heat of war, General Tommy Franks played out his thesis that speed kills the enemy. A more nuanced formula may govern America’s international strategy beyond Iraq. This formula was revealed by Jim Hoagland, Washington Post columnist, on April 13, as having been proposed by Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser to President George W. Bush:
Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.
Anxious to avoid punishment, French president Jacques Chirac urged his Russian and German colleagues at their St. Petersburg summit this week to start dismantling their anti-American front. If this was meant seriously, Hoagland advised the French president “to pick up the phone at the Elysee and call Bush now.”
The Washington Post’s readers at the Elysee waited three days to take this advice. On Tuesday, April 15, Chirac initiated his first phone conversation in two months with President Bush.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer cautiously described the conversation as positive. He said the two presidents had agreed that Syria must not grant asylum to Iraqi leaders. This was a direct reaction to the exclusive report run by debkafile six hour prior to their conversation, revealing the French president’s approval for transferring a group of Iraqi officials and military leaders from Syria to France.
Fleischer did not quote the two presidents as agreeing that France would not “grant asylum to Iraqi leaders”. Indeed, Chirac turned out to be saying one thing and doing another. According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources in the Persian Gulf, the telephone call notwithstanding, the French pressed ahead with their anti-American front, building it across the Arab world, through Iran and inside Iraq. As they spoke, Saddam’s foreign minister Naji Ali Sabri was on a plane bound for Paris – and he was not alone.
debkafile‘s sources have learned that the Iraqi nuclear scientist Jafer Jafer told his US captors that he too had been bound for Paris for the promised political asylum. But he made the mistake of picking the wrong escape route. To avoid the gridlock set up in Damascus by the teeming high-ranking fugitives from Baghdad, he headed out through Jordan, was recognized in Amman and handed over to the Americans.
France’s anti-American program had several more tentacles. As American officials addressed the first meeting of Iraqi opposition and factional leaders at Abraham’s reputed birthplace of Ur near Nasiriyah, French diplomats and intelligence officers landed in Tehran for a day of meetings with Mohamad Bakr Al Hakim, head of the Iran-backed Supreme Assembly for Islamic Revolution in Iraq – SAIRI, who for that reason boycotted the US-sponsored parley. The French visitors were there to persuade the cleric to instruct his followers in Baghdad, Najef, Karbala and Basra to join in founding an anti-American coalition of forces in Iraq.
Aware of what the French were up to, Washington arranged for the Kurdish PUK leader Jalal Talabani, a close friend of the Shiite cleric and Iranian leaders, to reach Teheran at the same time as the French contingent. His task was to make sure Al Hakim was not caught up in French toils. They are still talking.
Wooed at every hand, 20,000 Iraqi Shiites staged a vocal protest rally in Nasiriyah to shake their fists against the American-sponsored Iraqi opposition leaders and shout “America will not decide for us but the Hawza!” (religious medressa).
This surge of activity on Tuesday, April 15 was Act One of the confrontational contest being fought among the United States, Iran, Syria, Iraqi faction leaders and the Lebanese Hizballah for control over Iraq’s largest group, 12 million Shiites.
None of the contestants can afford to lose.
For America, defeat would mean losing post-Saddam Iraq, meaning that after winning the war against the Saddam regime, the US would lose the country.
For France, defeat would mean bankruptcy for its anti-war campaign against Washington, carrying the punishment advised by Rice: the push from valuable and lucrative positions in the Muslim and Arab world. “
It is worth recalling that Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini charted his 1979 Islamic Revolution against the pro-American Shah of Iran from a place of asylum near Paris, after fleeing from Najef, his first place of exile from Iran. Then as now, French leaders placed friendship for the Shiites ahead of ties with the United States.
For Iran, being done down over Iraq would bear the heaviest price of all. It may lose its religious, political and military primacy of the world Shiite movement. If the large Iraqi Shiite community turns to America, then the holy city of Najef, the sect’s Jerusalem or Mecca, will usurp the Iranian holy city of Qom as the Shiite’s spiritual capital and challenge Khomeini’s Islamic revolution.
For Syria, forfeiting influence in the Iraqi Shiite leadership would loosen the grip it maintains on Lebanon through the powerful Shiite terrorist group, the Hizballah. The loss of Lebanon could precipitate the fall of Beshar Assad’s presidency of Syria, which has been seriously shaken already by the crash of his foremost ally Saddam Hussein. Assad had hoped that harboring hundreds of high-ranking Iraqi fugitives would give him an ace to play with in the contest for a foothold in post-war Iraq. This ace is rapidly becoming a grave liability.
Assad’s blunder was not lost on Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, who hurried over to the presidential palace in Beirut on Tuesday, April 15, and laid his resignation before president Emil Lahoud. Sensing the fur was about to fly in Syria or Lebanon, Hariri took care to move out of harm’s war in good time.
These aggressively vying interests have transformed the contest for the hearts of Iraqi Shiites into the key to the domination of Iraq as a whole. Until now, the contest has been fought largely under cover, but the war’s tactics promise to become increasingly overt and belligerent.
The Americans still have the military option of striking targets in Syria or the Lebanese Hizballah, thereby eliminating Syria and the Hizballah from the Iraqi Shiite equation. Destroying the Hizballah would also inflict a blow to the Islamic suicide terror movement. On the cards too is a clash of wills among Iraqi Shiite clerical leaders. Washington would then watch to see which candidate exhibited the most effective survival skills.
Chief of Saddam’s Palestinian Terror Arm Caught
mg class=”picture” src=”/dynmedia/pictures/abbasA.jpg” align=”left” border=”0″>Mahmoud al Abbas, who embodies a hidden chapter in Yasser Arafat’s career as terror mastermind, was captured in Iraq by American troops in a hideout near Baghdad.
He was turned back from the Syrian border after the Damascus authorities had let most of the Iraqi leadership through.
Abu al Abbas became internationally notorious after he hijacked the Italian Achille Lauro cruise-ship in 1985 on Arafat’s orders, shooting a disabled American Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, and throwing him overboard. A life sentence is outstanding against him in Italy. The Palestinian Liberation Front, the PLF, which he heads, is officially designated by Washington a terrorist organization. In Israel, he is best known for a thirty-year old terrorist atrocity in Nahariya, when he personally murdered members of a family, of which only the mother, Yael Haran, survived.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources add: Abul Abbas’s PLF operated out of Baghdad as Iraqi military intelligence’s operational arm for anti-Israel terror in close liaison with Yasser Arafat’s right hand Tawfiq Tirawi, the commander of the Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. A PFL Palestinian cell trained in Iraq kidnapped and murdered 16-year old Yuri Goshchin in Jerusalem in July 2001.
Counter-terror experts say interrogation of Abbas will for the first time provide solid evidence of Arafat’s hand in terrorist activities in the past and the direct link between his terror campaign and the Saddam regime. An American spokesman said the capture of Abbas is a message to all terrorists that they have nowhere to hide.
Abu al Abbas was captured by US special operations forces together with other suspects, weapons including rocket-propelled grenades, Yemeni and Lebanese passports and other documents.

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