Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hizb and Mahdi: Do they or Don't they?

By Juan Cole

"The NYT was told by somebody in Washington that Hizbullah has trained between 1,000 and 2,000 Mahdi Army militiamen. I don't know if I believe it, and I am not sure it is significant if true. There are thousands of Mahdi Army militiamen, and some have much more direct war experience, fighting the Marines in 2004, than does Hizbullah. Their popularity has anyway more to do with their charitable work, as WaPo pointed out Monday, than with their military prowess, such as it is.

The logistics are suspicious here. To get from southern Iraq to Lebanon you have to go through Iraqi Sunni Arab territory, which would get most Shiites killed. And, why take the militiamen for training all the way to Lebanon when Iran is right next door and easy to get to via Kermanshah or Basra?

Nor can the effect of the training be seen on the ground. Hizbullah's signature tactic is setting shaped charges, which is rare for the Mahdi Army but is often engaged in by the Sunni Arab guerrillas, who are not to say the least being helped by Iran or Hizbullah. And, it is being alleged that Mahdi Army is being trained to kidnap and torture. That needs training?

There is a real possibility that this report is disinformation "leaked" by the Cheney/Wurmser axis in order to forestall a move to negotiation with Iran and Syria over Iraq, which the Baker-Hamilton Commission will likely recommend."

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