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Who Are The Players In Iraq

Iraq today
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Washington (UPI) Apr 12, 2006
Nawaf Obaid, an adjunct fellow at The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, recently released a comprehensive study of the situation in Iraq titled "Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective." The author of the report offers invaluable background on the various players and political parties elbowing for power in post-Saddam Iraq. The following are extracts of his report.

The Kurds

The Kurds constitute about 20 percent of Iraq's population. The administrative region of Kurdistan is a de facto semi-autonomous state, albeit with borders to be finalized. Since the end of the 1990-91 Gulf War the Kurds have enjoyed relative prosperity. They remain divided, however, between the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, the KDP, led by Masoud Barzani in the western zone with Irbil as its capital, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, represented by Jalal Talabani, in the eastern zone with Sulaimaniya as its capital.

Obaid points out that a return to the status quo ante is unrealistic. "What is clear is that this new generation is very certain that they do not want to be part of Iraq," writes the Saudi security specialist.

The Kurds have a well-trained and equipped force of more than 160,000 Peshmerga fighters. Obaid points out "the endgame is clearly independence. This will be achieved through a combination of patience and political maneuvering."

The Shiites

The SCIS report explains that Shiite politics is dominated by three parties who joined the United Iraqi Alliance in the Dec. 15, 2005 elections. Its leader, Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, also controls the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI. The three parties are SCIRI, Risaliyoun (the party of Moqtada al-Sadr), and the Dawa party.

The United Iraqi Alliance is composed of the following parties.

-- Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI

-- Dawa Party

-- Centrist Grouping Party

-- Dawa Party/Iraq's Organization

-- Badr Organization

-- Justice and Equality Grouping

-- Iraqi National Congress, INC

-- Islamic Virtue Party

-- First Democratic National Party

-- Islamic Union of Iraqi Turcomen

-- Turcomen Al-Wafa Party

-- Hezbollah Movement in Iraq

-- Islamic Masters of Martyrs Movement

The SCIRI is the largest, best organized, and wealthiest, with a militia of about 25,000 and an estimated support base of some 2.5-3 million. Muqtada al-Sadr's party, according to intelligence estimates, has the support of 1-1.5 million. His Mahdi Army fought Coalition forces and the Iraqi Interim government in the early days of the occupation. While sketchy, intelligence sources estimates the Mahdi Army at just under 10,000 men. The Islamic Dawa, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, came in second on the Alliance's list after the SCIRI.

All three groups endorse the UIA platform that calls for the enforcement of the Iraqi Constitution and for national unity. Each of these groups, says Obaid, "is beholden in some way to Iran and has ties to its intelligence and security services."

The SCIRI was founded in 1982 after the original Islamic Dawa Party was obliterated following an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Saddam Hussein. "It was the principal opposition group of the Baathist regime," says Obaid. The SCIRI won popularity among the Shiites through its social services.

The Dawa Party

The Dawa Party, established in 1958, was "originally created to counter secularism, communism and the Baathist ideology of Arab socialism." Obaid states that "although founded by Shiites, the group has worked closely with the Sunnis." Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is the current leader of the Dawa party.

The Sistani Factor

Obaid identifies Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husayni al-Sistani as "Iraq's most important unelected figure."

Iranian Interference in Iraq

According to intelligence assessments, Obaid says, "there are strong indications that Iran continues to be deeply involved in shaping the future direction of Iraq." However, "there is little appetite for an Iranian style Islamic government among the Iraqi population," according to Obaid. But he warns: "The mullahs and their proxies have the power to disrupt the political process, create chaos, and threaten the emerging Iraqi state."

Finally, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has been able to place key operatives in strategic positions in the new Iraqi administration, as was reported in a previous United Press International article ("Sunnis in the Middle").

Death Squads

The Death Squads are organized under a separate directorate headed by a general who coordinates with an Iranian colonel from the al-Quds Forces. They are believed to be responsible for the assassinations of important Sunni tribal leaders, prominent academics, and former military officers.

Sunni Muslims

The Sunni Muslims who have long dominated the country make up 12-15 percent of the population. Sunni Islam remained the official state religion despite enforced secularism of the Baath Party. Sunnis can be found among Iraq's ethnic Arabs, as well as among Turcomen, Kurds, and other minorities.

Sunni Political Associations

The CSIS study states: The Iraqi Accordance Front, or IAF, is a coalition led by Adnan al-Dulaymi and Tariq al-Hashimi and includes the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, the Iraqi Islamic Party, and the Iraqi People's Conference. The Iraqi Islamic Party is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The Insurgency

Intelligence estimates there are approximately 77,000 insurgents. Those, in turn, can call upon hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect supporters. Obaid sees the insurgency as "the single largest threat to the new Iraqi state and may ultimately prove to be its undoing."

Insurgents have carried out tens of thousands of attacks and are responsible for thousands of deaths among the Coalition Forces and the general population, according to the CSIS report. "According to senior Iraqi tribal leaders, the insurgency is orchestrated mainly by former commanders and high level military officers from the former Baathist regime, combined with a sizable number of mid-level officers."

Counter to popular belief the religiously inspired insurgency, the jihadis, are a far smaller group. Iraq's tribal system plays a primary role in the insurgency, providing it with a "major source for its recruits."


The jihadis, says Obaid, "are responsible for the more violent and spectacular attacks in Iraq." Intelligence estimates their numbers at around 17,000, of which roughly 5,340 are foreign. Jihadis are generally Salafis and include Tandzim al-Qaida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (al-Qaida of Jihad Organization in the Land of Two Rivers) and Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna, an outgrowth of the Kurdish group, Ansar al-Islam. All of these groups target American forces and Shiites. They are informally under the leadership of Jordanian born militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

These groups have carried out suicide bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and beheadings. The first months of 2006 have seen an increase in the total number of jihadi fighters in Iraq, although there has been a slight decrease in the percentage of the foreign element. The drop is attributed to the implementation of stronger mechanisms preventing foreign fighters from entering Iraq, according to Obaid.

Syria's role: Syria remains the major entry point for foreign jihadis into Iraq. Poorly funded Syrian border guards and armed forces lacking the means to patrol the border is the primary cause. Additionally, the government is unable to purchase advanced technology required to remotely monitor the border. "The 450 mile border between Iraq and Syria has been a windfall for the insurgency," says the author of the report.

The United States has consistently accused Syria of failing to prevent militants from crossing the Syrian-Iraqi border to join the insurgency in Iraq, a charge President Bashar Assad has denied. Obaid emphasizes that insurgent activities within Syria "are not officially sanctioned by the government."

Finally, intelligence sources indicate that a specialized unit of Iran's al-Quds Forces also provides logistical support to Sunni militants.

Source: United Press International

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New York (UPI) Apr 11, 2006
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