Across the Bay

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mughniyeh and the Mahdi Army

Back when I was discussing the comedy of Michel Aoun's Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah, aka. Toilet Paper, I noted an item that appeared in The Independent back in August 2007:

Lebanon's Hizbollah has trained Shia fighters from Iraq in advanced guerrilla warfare tactics, according to Mehdi army militants who have been fighting British forces in the south of the country. Members of Muqtada al-Sadr's powerful militia said they had received instruction from fellow Shias from Hizbollah.
Another Mehdi Army fighter, a 26-year-old who asked to be identified as Abu Nasser, said he and 100 other group members travelled to Lebanon in December 2005. "They didn't teach us anything about suicide bombings, they showed us real tactics and taught our snipers," he said. Speaking in Tufa in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Mehdi Army, admitted to "formal links" with Hizbollah.

"We have formal links with Hizbollah, we do exchange ideas and discuss the situation facing Shiites in both countries," he said. "It is natural that we would want to improve ourselves by learning from each other. We copy Hizbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other and we are getting better through this."

Mr Sadr said members of the Mehdi Army had travelled to Lebanon, and would continue to do so.

Apparently, the man who organized this was the late Imad Mughniyeh -- you know, the guy who academics almost invariably said (on Hezbollah's word too mind you!), had no formal ties to Hezbollah.

A ranking Iraqi military intelligence officer told the Iraqi Az-Zaman that Mughniyeh had co-founded the Mahdi Army, and supervised travel of JAM cells to Lebanon for training at Hezbollah bases in the Bekaa Valley as early as 2003.

Mughniyeh also recruited fighters for the Mahdi Army (Jaysh Al-Mahdi/JAM) from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, that were also sent to Lebanon for training under the supervision of an Iranian intelligence official, Qassem Soleimani.

On a side note, I seem to recall one clown who poses as an Iraq expert, and who is fond of referring to Muqtada Sadr as "young Shiite nationalist cleric," who was at pains to deny any ties between Sadr and Iran. He bent over backwards to deny that Muqti had went into "occultation" in Iran for a while. Yeah, that funky expert always was funny.

The Iraqi officer also said that Mughniyeh had sponsored the Tha'rullah group in Basra. The group is supposedly in charge of supervising the activities of the Kuwaiti Hezbollah, which surfaced after Mughniyeh's assassination.

Now, this is quite interesting. Mughniyeh's ties to the Saudi Hezbollah are known, especially for their involvement in the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers.

But the Kuwait angle is quite relevant today, in light of the threat against the Kuwaiti embassy in Lebanon the other day.

Mughniyeh had been involved in terrorism against Kuwait in 1983-85 (in cooperation with al-Da'wa), including the hijacking of a Kuwaiti airliner in 1984 (for more, consult Magnus Ranstorp's book, esp. pp. 91-93). As a result, when Kuwaiti Shiite MPs participated in commemoration services for Mughniyeh, other Kuwaitis were mighty upset, which led to the expulsion of the two MPs by the Popular Work bloc. The commemoration was reportedly organized by the Kuwaiti Hezbollah.

Now, this didn't sit well with Hezbollah in Lebanon. And they "filed a complaint" with the Kuwaiti Speaker of Parliament informing him that they were "offended" by statements released by "some legislators, ministers and media outlets in Kuwait towards a great commander of the Islamic resistance."

So along with the threat to the Kuwaiti embassy, Hezbollah apparently wanted to force the Kuwaitis to show some respect, and so they placed a large mural of Mughniyeh right at the Kuwaiti embassy.

And just to make sure it was crystal clear who made the threat against the embassy, one of Hezbollah's thugs, Nawaf Musawi (who is responsible for the Party's "international relations") made sure to rub it in, by calling the Kuwaiti charge d'affaires and denouncing the threats, assuring him that "the security of the brothers in the Kuwaiti embassy is the same as that of Lebanon and the Lebanese."

But hey, Hezbollah is not a terrorist group. It's "evolved" into a "nationalist insurgency group" and a "political party" that's been "Lebanonized" (and not, as per the above, a narrow Shiite sectarian force operating as the extension of Iran in the region). The "experts" said so after all.