The Basra police chief let the Persian cat out of the bag. Gen. Hassan Sawadi, who heads law enforcement in Iraq’s second-largest city, says he can count on the loyalty of only 1 in 4 policemen. The other three owe their allegiance to Shi’ite militia groups — the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army, and Hezbollah in Iraq, a new group based in the southern marshlands — which means Iran.
Last May, Gen. Sawadi’s predecessor as Basra’s top cop conceded half his force was moonlighting for political parties and some were “helping out with assassinations.”
Looking at the countrywide picture, Iraq’s National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told the BBC, “Iraqi security forces in general, and the police in particular, in many parts of Iraq, I have to admit, have been penetrated by some of the insurgents, some of the terrorists as well.”
The CIA-supervised new intelligence service, the armed forces, police, the defense and interior ministries, all have enemy agents secretly embedded in their ranks.
Some 50,000 men and women who worked for Saddam’s Mukhabarat, a combined repressive secret police and intelligence agency, vanished after liberation and many are assumed to be with the Sunni insurgency.
Basra officials, who didn’t want their names disclosed for obvious reasons, said at least 60 percent of the police force are Shi’ite militiamen, not simply cops who acquiesce.
The 12,000-strong Badr Brigade is the armed wing of Iraq’s main Shi’ite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). During Saddam Hussein’s despotic tyranny, SCIRI’s leaders lived in exile in Iran and were funded by the theocratic regime’s Revolutionary Guards (RG). The Badr Brigade’s rival is the 10,000-man Mahdi Army (MA), created shortly after U.S. forces routed Saddam by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who preached the need for a new faith-based force to fight the American infidel.
A year ago, MA fought vicious battles against U.S. forces in the holy city of Najaf and in Sadr City, a sprawling Shi’ite suburb of Baghdad where some 2 million live in slum conditions. Last week, an uneasy truce between MA and the U.S. broke down in Sadr City when al-Sadr’s gunmen ambushed an Iraqi unit, which brought in U.S. forces.
Both Shi’ite armies are well equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, heavy machine guns and the ubiquitous Kalashnikov. Like most men subject to compulsory military service under Saddam, they also are well-trained.
Last month’s clash between British troops and the Mahdi Army in Basra dramatically illustrated how Baghdad’s political establishment has lost control to pro-Iranian warlords and religious leaders in the oil-rich south. Contrary to most news reports, the Shi’ites are not exercising “remarkable restraint” in the face of the Sunni-led insurgency’s declaration of war. “That is the view from inside the insulated green zone in Baghdad,” said the knowledgeable Iraqi-born chairman of a major international conglomerate, who spoke privately. “But the reality is of a civil war already under way.”
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, one of two principal Kurdish leaders, favors drafting Kurdish and Shi’ite militia to take on the Sunni insurgency. “If we wait for official security forces to be trained and effective enough to wipe out the insurgents, we will have a very long wait while the insurgency grows in strength.” This could also be the signal for a full-fledged civil war with volunteers for both sides flocking in from other countries.
University professors in Basra have told journalists off the record that “secession of the Shi’ite south is not a far-fetched scenario.” Along with 70 percent of Iraq’s proven oil reserves, and a majority of its population, the south could spawn another Kuwait-type state, small but rich and self-sufficient.
Two important Abdullahs have remarked to visiting dignitaries “the Bush administration isn’t listening.” Saudi King Abdullah and Jordan’s King Abdullah, who run two of Iraq’s six neighboring countries, have extensive intelligence networks that operate the length and breadth of Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’ite Iraq. Both kings see Iraq now as the principal recruitment poster for Islamist extremism in the rest of the world.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently told a visiting U.S. congressman, “You call them insurgents, but they are the Iraqi army you dismissed against the advice of all your friends.”
Jordan’s Abdullah has launched a major campaign for enlightened moderation in the Muslim world and a rapprochement of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But Iraq remains the major obstacle to Step One on this new road.
Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah sent Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to Washington to sound the alarm. Iraq, he told reporters, is moving “toward disintegration, with a growing danger the country will dissolve into a civil war that will draw its neighbors into a broader regional conflict.” There will be a struggle for natural resources, Saud added, that will “draw Iraq’s neighbors into a wider war.” The neighbors are Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran.
The administration mantra is “Stay the course.” It can dismiss what some call the Bush-bashing ragged wackos on parade, but not the Bush loyalists increasingly uneasy with the war’s prosecution. Nor can the White House ignore Tony Blair’s former special representative in Iraq Sir Jeremy Greenstock when he says, “If Iraq looks as if it’s breaking down into a mosaic of different local baronies and militias, which might be a tendency if people look for security anywhere they can find it in society, then I think the coalition will have to think again about its presence.” Stripped of British understatement: Lifeboats should be used when the ship begins to sink.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.