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Juan Cole on the Tribal Sheikh Petition Against Iran

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Juan Cole offers indispensable behind the story of a petition authored by Shiite Tribal Sheikhs—and backed by terrorist organization the MKO—to evict Iran from southern Iraq.

The tribal sheikhs of southern Iraq who have gotten up a petition against Iranian influence in their region should be viewed with some suspicion. I heard supporters of the petition interviewed on Aljazeera today and they were looney as the day is long. One was maintaining that hundreds of thousands of Iranians have flooded into southern Iraq (not true if you mean residents; Iran is nice compared to southern Iraq and nobody is immigrating. You could see that level of immigration on satellite photos!)

The other interviewee supporting the petition was, I swear to God, a member of the Army of Heaven millenarian group that is alleged to have marched on Najaf last January with the aim of killing Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and other Shiite clerical leaders in hopes of thereby provoking the coming of the Twelfth Imam, the Promised One of Shiite Islam. This man defended the Army of Heaven as Iraqi and intimated that it had been attacked by the Iranians.

So these tribal sheikhs petitioning against Iran are probably linked to Iraqi nativist and sectarian movements like that of Mahmoud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi (who leads an anti-Iranian offshoot of the Sadr Movement) and even the Army of Heaven. Among their primary targets is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. ISCI was formed by Iraqi expatriates at the suggestion of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1982 in Iran and long received money and training from Tehran. ISCI dominates the provincial governments of most southern Shiite provinces, to the annoyance of local Iraqi Shiites unconnected to them or Iran, who feel excluded from patronage. (The petition may even be a way of extracting more patronage from Iran and ISCI).

No doubt our own American “Army of Heaven” will wax dreamy-eyed about these Iraqi nativists working against Iranian influence. I wouldn’t get so excited about it if I were they. Rural sectarian Shiism might not look so attractive in power.

None of this was mentioned by CNN who covered the story.

Irancove @ November 24, 2007

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