AMMAN – Washington insists it is trying to win the support of the Shi’ites in southern Iraq. At the same time, it has warned largely Shi’ite Syria and predominantly Shi’ite Iran not to interfere in its invasion of Iraq. Understandably then, either from a religious or a geopolitical point of view, Shi’ites don’t trust America’s motives in Iraq.
The populations of Arab Syria and Persian Iran are widely in solidarity with the Iraqi people – while at the same time their governments appear to be doing little about the American presence on their doorstep. Iraq’s deputy prime minister, the multifaceted Chaldean Christian Tariq Aziz, has sent his own message to Iran: “You’re next; you’d better prepare.” US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already threatened Syria and Iran on the record. Israel is weighing in: “Iran is handling many terrorist organizations,” says former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres. Peres is suggesting “economic sanctions and no forgiveness” towards Iran. For Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Iran is next in line in the neoconservative’s domino theory of “democracy by bombing” in the Middle East. And Syria will be caught in the crossfire.
The Bush administration’s hawks were counting on having Iran on its war side – sort of. But once again this is a very complex situation where there’s no simple “you’re with us or against us.” The Iraqi National Congress (INC), led by Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle’s very good and unctuous friend Ahmed Chalabi, is Washington’s pet Iraqi opposition group. The INC is a big player in the six-member interim council that is supposed to make recommendations to the Americans in the immediate post-Saddam Hussein era (they have already been excluded outright from government by Washington).
Apart from Chalabi’s INC, the other five components of the interim council are: Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP); Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK); the Iraqi National Accord (INA) – which to Washington’s horror might be joined by a cluster of Saddam’s militias; a stillborn party led by former Iraqi foreign minister Adnan Pachachi; and the crucial Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the powerful Shi’ite group based in Tehran.
The pro-American INC has good relations with the SCIRI – which is very close to many key branches of Iranian intelligence. Chalabi until recently lived in a lavish mansion in Tehran paid for by the State Department. For months, Chalabi tirelessly repeated that Iran would support the US with weapons and soldiers in the event of an invasion of Iraq. Once again, Chalabi has been discredited. Last week, Chalabi’s good friend Rumsfeld starkly warned Iranian groups that there would be serious consequences if they interfered with America’s war, and also accused Syria of sending military equipment to Saddam’s regime. An intelligence source tells Asia Times Online that this was a Pentagon reaction to the fact that the “active neutrality” policy towards the war by the Iranian hardline leadership close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in fact a green light for Shi’ite groups not to collaborate with the coalition forces. A key example concerns the Da’wa Party. This party – as well as the Action Party and a collection of Shi’ite tribes – are key components of the Iraqi Shi’ite opposition in exile. Da’wa has been a fierce enemy of Saddam’s regime for two decades: their hatred of the regime increased exponentially after the brutal suppression of the Shi’ite uprising of early 1991. But this does not mean that Da’wa would automatically align with America. During the 2002 buildup towards war, the Bush administration included Da’wa in the opposition basket that would have a say in post-Saddam Iraq. But now, according to intelligence sources, Da’wa in fact is supporting Saddam’s regime.
Arab support for Iraq
Every day, more and more Arabs commit to fight for Iraq – which historically has been the eastern flank of the whole Arab nation. At the Iraqi embassy in Amman, hundreds of Iraqis daily seek permits to return to their homeland to fight the “foreign aggression.” And each day at the Iraqi embassy in Beirut, dozens of Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians and Palestinians also apply for Iraqi visas for the same purpose.
A Lebanese source tells Asia Times Online that these volunteers are usually males between the ages of 25 to 50, married with children, Sunni and Shi’ite alike. Some say that to go to Baghdad now is like performing the hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca. Some are very poor. Some sport long beards. But some come from the Lebanese middle class. An Iraqi visa usually costs US$58. Now it’s free. The embassy takes care of their nine-hour bus journey from Beirut to Baghdad. Since the beginning of the war, at least five buses with a total of 250 people have crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border, and then the Syrian-Iraqi border. The latter border is a totally artificial divide. Bedouins living on both sides of it share the same outlook.
Jordan has closed its own border with Iraq to anybody from the Arab world wanting to cross and engage in “martyrdom operations.” But the border remained open for the more than 6,000 Iraqi exiles who have already returned home.
Tariq Aziz’s comments once again are revealing. He said that Jordan’s position is “beyond mysterious.” Saddam’s regime has accused Jordan of blocking shipments of food and medicine to Baghdad. Jordan vehemently denies it. Saddam’s regime accuses Jordan of collaborating with the US. Everybody in Amman knows that America has used Jordan as a base for Special Forces operations inside Iraq – although Jordanian ministers and even King Abdullah himself have taken extraordinary pains to stress that the American mission is only to defend Jordan against Iraqi missile attacks.
The American military base at Safawi, eastern Jordan, is off limits to the media. The Jordanian government has muzzled opposition to the war and has practically sealed off the ultra-explosive southern city of Ma’an. A plot has just been foiled concerning a bomb – allegedly planted by Iraqi agents – at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Amman, which is generally packed with American military, diplomats and journalists.
Americans are patrolling western Iraq. They have established checkpoints on the highway from the border to Baghdad. According to human shields recently arrived from Baghdad, the Americans have even bombed a hospital in Rutbah – killing and wounding civilians. They have used the captured H2 and H3 airfields in western Iraq – the military push came from Jordan – to parachute soldiers into Iraqi Kurdistan.
The US may be helped by the Kurdish Peshmergas in northern Iraq, but now it can count on definitely no help from any Arabs – or any Persians. And even the Kurds and the Turks are weary of the American agenda. The PUK, for example, has an influential office in Damascus, and it works closely with Syrian intelligence. A Lebanese source confirms that Syria has sent its number one man in Lebanon, Major General Ghazi Kanaan, to Turkey to share intelligence and to organize a three-way Syria-Turkey-Iran summit to discuss what happens on their borders in the events that the Kurds start entertaining independence ideas.
According to one of the latest reports from GRU – Russian intelligence – America would be inclined to accept a war lasting a maximum of three months, with no more than 1,000 American casualties. Otherwise, states GRU, a serious political crisis will engulf the US and the world. The Arab world remains more divided than ever.
Kuwait – a de facto American base – is on the receiving end of Iraqi missiles. The United Arab Emirates is just waiting for big business in post-Saddam reconstruction contracts. Qatar hosts the Central Command. Saudi Arabia still hopes that Saddam will just go – into exile. Egypt cannot but let American ships pass through the Suez canal, while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, however, has warn of the emergence of “a hundred Bin Ladens.” Jordan sits on a perilous fence. And Syria – along with Persian Iran – will do what it takes not to help an American occupation of Iraq.