Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Missing Soldier Update

There is a detailed story in the Washington Post today (“Missing Soldier Believed Alive, U.S. Says,” The Washington Post, November 3, 2006) about Sgt. Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, the kidnapped American soldier. Shaimaa Abdul Satar, al-Taayie’s Iraqi sister-in-law, identified the leader of the group that kidnapped al-Taayie as “local gangster Abu Rami, whose real name, they said, is Majid al-Qaissy. They said he is a Sunni Arab, as is their family and Taayie’s.” This information matches what other sources have been saying to me about “Abu Rami.”

“Abu Rami” was the head of a highly-active 300 man unit of the Mahdi Army in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad. That is, he was leading this unit until four months ago, when he was expelled by the Sadrists after his Ba’athist past was uncovered. He was allegedly a 4th tier Ba’athist (‘udhoo firqeh) during the Saddam regime. Most of the men under his command stayed along with him, and it is likely that many of them did not know that he had been expelled to start with. Around 12 of the 15 leaders of this gang are Sunnis or prominent ex-Ba’athist security officers, according to a knowledgeable source.

This area of Karrada is a predominately Shi'a urban center. It used to be the traditional bastion of many prominent Iraqi Shi'a families during the last century. Nowadays, the predominant political force there is Shi'a parliamentarian Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, head of SCIRI, who had inherited the mass following enjoyed by his father, Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim, in Karrada during the 1970s.

Why are there ex-Ba’athist Sunnis leading the Mahdi Army in Karrada?

It is a big mystery, and a major embarrassment to Muqtada al-Sadr’s political network in Baghdad. It partially explains why the Sadrists have been more or less paralyzed on this issue, and have been unable to secure the release of al-Taayie to stave-off a clash with the American military.

“Abu Rami” suffers from a persistent skin condition that scars his face, but is reportedly very charismatic. He must have posed as a Shi'a convert in order to control his gang. But he had also openly told al-Taayie’s in-laws that he was a Sunni, and fashioned himself as the protector of the few Sunnis families living in the area. He was a regular visitor to their home, again according to the aforementioned source.

Abu Rami’s fellow gangsters are highly disciplined, and exhibit signs that they have intelligence or security backgrounds.

What is going on here? Is there a Ba’athist plot to provoke a confrontation between the Americans and the Sadrists, or was it a lucky strike?

Either way, the American military, which has collected plenty of accurate information on Sadrist-related death squads, is planning a major offensive in tandem with Iraqi Army units for the couple of weeks ahead.

The operation had been delayed so as not to generate bad press prior to Tuesday’s election. It shall be subsequently enacted without the support of Maliki’s government, leaving the latter looking ineffective and irrelevant.


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