Monday, December 17, 2007

In Through the Out Door

Back in June, I criticized Bill Roggio's treatment of the re-branding undertaken by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) - which, post-transformation, became the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Roggio stated at the time:

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), is under observation overseas for cancerous tumors in his lungs. The SIIC recently changed its name from Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) - dropping the "revolution" from the name in a clear rejection of Iran - and turned away from following Iran's Supreme Leader for religious guidance.

What Roggio failed to note is that the medical observation "overseas" that Hakim was under later became actual treatment for Tehran! More importantly, though, Roggio completely elides the motives that led SCIRI to attempt the image makeover in the first place: It wasn't some souring on Iranian beneficence, but rather the fact that SCIRI's main Shiite rival, the Sadrist current headed by Moqtada al-Sadr, enjoys a decided advantage in terms of nationalistic bona fides which translates into higher levels of support from certani Iraq Shiite populations. The Sadr edge exists for good reason.

Not only was the ISCI party and its Badr Corp militia formed, trained and indoctrinated in Iran (comprised of a group of Iraqi expats who fled during Saddam's many crackdowns, while Sadr's people famously stayed in Iraq throughout, with Sadr's father and uncle being martyred in the process), but ISCI continues to enjoy a close relationship with Iran and actually espouses policies like soft-partition (regional autonomy in the Shiite south) and accommodation with US forces that further alienate nationalist-leaning Iraqis. Sensing the loss of hearts and minds to the Sadrist current due to this conflicting allegiance/lineage, then-SCIRI made a loud public showing of its new, Iraq-centered orientation.

Despite the fanfare, though, little changed in terms of the actual policies supported by ISCI or with its connections to Iran. The PR blitz was obvious, if a bit transparent, though Roggio seems to have accepted it uncritically. In a further display of credulity, Roggio described Sadr as an "Iranian vassal" and "Iran's de facto proxy in Iraq" - inverting the true dynamic. In a more recent piece, Roggio focuses less on hyping Sadr's ties to Iran (coinciding with the US military's own dialing back of anti-Sadr rhetoric) but, nevertheless, continues to uncritically promote the "independent ISCI" storyline:

...groups like the Badr Corps and its political backer the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq broke from the Iranian sphere of influence and integrated with the government...

Yes, that would be the same ISCI whose leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim (still receiving his cancer treatment in Tehran), recently chastised the US government for claiming that Iran was arming Shiite militias and sowing chaos in Iran. No, Iran would never arm Shiite militias like Badr Corp. Swopa linked to a story in yesterday's New York Times that further highlights the close cooperation between ISCI and elements of the Iranian government:

A millennium after Najaf first became a magnet for Shiite pilgrims, leaders here are reimagining this city, long suppressed by Saddam Hussein, as a new hub of Shiite political and economic power, not just for Iraq but for the entire Middle East.

. . .And although Najafis will say little about it, Iran is playing a significant role in the plan, helping to improve the city and its holy sites, especially the golden- domed shrine to Imam Ali, the figure most associated with the founding of the Shiite sect, who is said to be buried here.

Money from Iran is financing some of the shrine expansion projects as well as contributing to the construction of a major electrical power-generating plant whose output will be shared between Najaf Province and its neighbor, Karbala, which is also the home of two important Shiite shrines.

The improvement of Najaf plays right into the plans of ISCI and its Iranian patrons for the creation of a rump Shiite state in southern Iraq:

Najaf’s governor, Asaad Abu Gulal, says his mission is to prepare the city to become the premier place in southern Iraq. “If we happen to have a southern region, Basra may be the commercial capital, but Najaf would be the political capital,” he said. “We have the political leadership, and we have the religious authority.”

...the most powerful Shiite Party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by the cleric Abdul Aziz Hakim, runs the city. The council has been the most vigorous proponent of creating a semiautonomous southern superregion similar to the Iraqi region of Kurdistan....

In pursuit of self-sufficiency, Najaf is building an airport, an electrical plant to increase the city’s power, hospitals and small refineries to help increase the city’s supply of fuel for automobiles and cooking.

...The role of the Iranians in helping the province is largely unacknowledged by Najaf’s politicians, most of whom are members of the Supreme Council. Although the party’s roots are in Iran, it has forged a strong allegiance with the United States and appears eager to keep at arm’s length — at least publicly — from its former sponsor. Najaf officials said they had refused most of the help the Iranians offered, because they felt it could be too controversial politically.

...Even with much of the construction just now getting under way, the city is already a showcase for the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which controls Najaf’s governorship and Provincial Council. In the relatively short time it has been in power, the party appears to have largely eradicated security problems and erased public signs of strife with the Shiite faction led by the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr. His militia occupied the shrine and battled American and Iraqi troops in 2004. Mr. Sadr remains a formidable populist force elsewhere in the south. [emphasis added throughout]

Sure, all of that might be damning evidence, but ISCI spokesmen say publically that they've made a clean break from Iran. Don't you take them at their word?

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