Thursday, December 06, 2007

As Al Qaeda Shrinks, Focus Turns to Iran

As violence continues to drop and hundreds of Iraqi’s return home each day, a result of extinguishing the influence of Al Qaeda, many eyes are focusing on the negative impact of Iran’s involvement in Iraq.

With Al Qaeda’s violence waning, Iran’s meddling is increasingly sky-lined against Iraq’s reformation.

The capture of Iranian weapons and Quds Forces (Iranian Special Forces operatives) in Iraq is now well documented. Iraq’s residents have quickly become effective informants on the movement of these munitions and personnel. Coalition Forces have been successful in diminishing the impact of Iran’s intervention through these means.

But Iran’s relationship and involvement through Iraq’s militias is still creating instability.

Two large Shiite militias had been responsible, to a lesser extent than Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency, for sparking previous troubles. Al Qaeda started the problems and the Shiite militias escalated the violence as they sought to defend Iraq’s Shiite population against Al Qaeda.

One Shiite militia responsible for their share of trouble was the Jaash al Mahdi or JAM led by Muqtada al Sadr. Sadr is well known for his anti-Americanism and ties to Iran.

However, as part of “The New Way Forward” at least one diplomat was specifically assigned the task of working with Sadr to have the JAM stand down and bring cooperation between JAM and the Coalition Forces. Although it took some time, he succeeded and earlier this year Sadr agreed to do that very thing. The stand down of most of the JAM has helped curb the violence in Iraq, although splinter groups continue to be troublesome.

The second group is the BADR Organization formerly known as the BADR Army controlled by Iraq’s largest political party, The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Many leaders of this group spent years of exile in Iran during the reign of Saddam Hussein. The BADR Organization is thus very close to Iran.

Through BADR, Iran is trying to assert the most influence and the most violence.

The same diplomat who has been successful in working with the Sadrists believes that it is now BADR, not JAM, working directly with the Iranians for training and equipment.

BADR is suspected in the bombing of a Baghdad market last week. Subsequent arrests have now been made which also include the arrests of members of a “special group,” Coalition speak for those with direct ties to Iran. BADR is often associated with such forces.

Although both militia groups have been responsible for adding to the complexity in Iraq, as with so many current trends, there is reason for optimism with regard to their diminishing negative impacts.

In Shiite dominated southern Iraq, particularly around Basra, BADR has been somewhat of a thorn in the side of the Coalition as British forces have been turning over control to the Iraqi government. However, at this time “JAM is fully engaged with the top UK brass regarding stabilizing Basra” according to the same diplomat.

Having to concern themselves with one potentially hostile group certainly simplifies the situation for the Coalition forces.

There is a better sign, however, than this willing militia cooperation. That comes from the Iraqi people themselves.

Through the course of the last 6 months, the Iraqi people have been rejecting combatants and insurgents on all sides. On many occasions tribal and community leaders from all religions, groups, and sects have come together and rejected the violence being perpetrated by any antagonist. Accords have been reached which excluded all violent groups, including Al Qaeda and at times BADR and JAM.

They are doing the same with Iran. In a nearly amazing development, Reuters provided a story on the 21st about a group of Iraq’s sheiks who released a petition signed by more than 600 Shiite tribal leaders and 300,000 Iraqi’s condemning and rejecting Iran’s involvement in their affairs. Although both Shiite, the Arab Iraqi’s are rejecting the Persians who they say are guilty of "The most poisonous dagger stabbed in us, exploiting the Shi'ite sect to implement its evil goals, and planning to divide Iraq."

As has happened in so many parts of Iraq, the people are again rejecting a group which has shown that its interests are not solely focused on the Iraqi people, stability, and peace. The people increasingly seem to understand that they hold the key to their future and the power to influence what takes place in their country.

Coalition and Iraqi ability to diminish Iran’s influence will thus be achieved, not just through diplomacy and interdiction of Iran’s weapons and forces, but by continuing to foster the environment in which Iraq’s people reject Iran.

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