The rapid return from Lebanon last week of Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr, better known as the militant leader of the Mahadi Militia in Iraq, is significant not only because of the young clergy’s concern over events in the al-Askariya mosque attack. His presence at home was needed to watch over, and if necessary control, gangs of Shiite gunmen who went on a rampage of retaliatory attacks on Sunni mosques and individuals.
Muqtada spent time in Syria and Lebanon following a visit to Iran where he was received with honors by President Ahmadinejad.
Intelligence analysts warned at the beginning of February of a possible mega event to occur in the region. This analysis was based on Ahmadinejad’s open call to Iraqi Shiites not to hesitate and take what they had rightfully earned through their sheer numbers in the U.S. brokered democratic elections.
Western analysis tools often fail to identify the power of rhetoric in a region where words can be translated into action in a matter of minutes. Ahmadinejad, by now well known as a man with a loose tongue, found his match in Muqtada al-Sadr who apparently agreed to go to Lebanon to assure the vacuum created by Syria’s withdrawal in 2005 would not be taken over by a force not loyal to Damascus and Tehran.
Muqtada, known also for his strong ties to the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas Islamic Movement, acted as an Iranian envoy. It seems he and others in the Shiite militant camp agreed long ago the future of Iraq should go hand in hand with Iran.
Iraq has become a playground where the Iranian intelligence can engage in activities it cannot undertake in any other Muslim country in the region. To gain significant influence in Iraq Iran needs a series of major disasters such as the Golden Mosque’s bombing in Samara. Continuous violence and turmoil will serve Iranian goals all the more even when a Shiite place of worship is the target.
An Iraq torn apart by gangs of militants is a stage where U.S. soldiers are killed not for a Utopian democracy but rather for vultures like Ahmadinejad who thrives on U.S. and coalition body bags and on the blood of thousands of innocent civilians.
The U.S. has to cope, not only with a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Iraq, but perhaps even more with serious image erosion. It was the 1979 chaotic situation in Iran that brought about the Islamic Republic. When the Shah was persuaded by the Carter administration to go into exile and to leave his country to the mercy of the Ayatollah Rohalah Khomeini, a young Ahmadinejad could grow and rise to power within the Revolutionary Guard, and a young Muqtada al-Sadr might pursue the same path in Iraq. The two are a product of anarchy and lawlessness with violence perceived as a legitimate tool.
President Ahmadinejad who instigated the Danish cartoon craze and who encouraged Saudi Arabia to boycott Danish products, suddenly, oddly enough a day before the al-Askariya bombing, called upon the Muslim world to suspend all demonstrations. Time will tell whether his call for restraint was part of a larger scheme to clear the stage for something bigger close to home when the Muslim world, including the Iraqis, is boiling over.
Any disaster in Iraq will serve Iranian interests and Ahmadinejad will know how to utilize each and every violent event for the benefit of his own interests. At this point, when a civil, sectarian, ethnic, religious or whatever, war is practically imminent it is obvious the American led victory over the Iraqi Baath regime has not resulted in a real improvement in the lives of the Iraqi people.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s whirlwind damage control tour to some regional capitals was a knee jerk reaction to the so-called “Muslim anger” which, apparently the administration still does not fully comprehend and, therefore, continues to believe in appeasement.
Ironically it is this approach that moves away from commitments to democracy, stability and strengthening friends. No appeasement can convince a philosophy based on abusing the name of God to justify horrible crimes. At this stage Ahmadinejad is winning the battle without firing a single shot.