How the Outcome in Sadr City Led to Today’s Clashes in Beirut
The Siniora cabinet and the March 14 political coalition that props it up have been doing and saying many provocative things from Hezbollah’s vantage point over the last two years from, yet Hezbollah chose to be provoked yesterday and today; why is that?
Ostensibly, Hezbollah is responding to the Lebanese government’s decision to sack the security chief of Beirut’s international airport, and to dismantle Hezbollah’s secure landline-based communications network that had been expanded recently.
What could have spurred-on this over-reaction on Hezbollah’s part, which has been manifested so far with flexing its muscles in the Sunni area of Beirut, seemingly showing-up the government as weak and vulnerable?
I believe Iran needed to show the United States and its Arab allies that it can humiliate them by overrunning the government they back in Beirut and that they’d be unable to do anything about it, and I believe that Iran needed to make this point now because the Mahdi Army in Iraq has collapsed.
Iran has been backing certain factions of the Mahdi Army with training and arms as an investment in a force for chaos, which can be held in reserve and unleashed against the Americans in Iraq in the event that George Bush may order a bombing run against Iran’s illicit nuclear program this summer—something he’s be egged-on to do by U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
Iran’s earlier acolytes such as the Hakim family had comfortably nestled into the very fabric of the Iraqi state, and could not be counted on to be Iran’s agents of disorder—especially since they now enjoyed financial independence from Iran by their exposure to Iraq’s own ample resources. Iran needed a different, more desperate beast to do its bidding, thus the ‘Special Groups’, as they Iranian-managed offshoots of the al-Sadr’s rag-tag Mahdi Army are called, were conveniently cobbled together from the gangsters and hoodlums of Iraq’s dislocated Shia masses.
But ever since Prime Minister Maliki launched Operation Cavalry Charge on March 25 in Basra, the Iraqi government, with some U.S. air cover and logistical support, has been engaged in a war of attrition with the Mahdi Army; witling away the once-sharp and threatening capability of Iran’s investment in terror. Whereas these ‘Special Groups’ could launch 30 to 40 projectiles into the Green Zone a few weeks ago, today they can only manage one or two rockets. The Iraqi Army and the US military have pushed on into all the redoubts of the Sadrists, notably Sadr City where some 1200 fatalities (a significant number of them non-combatants) have occurred.
Maliki has also ordered the Iraqi Red Crescent to prepare an initial contingency plan to absorb 100,000 refugees from Sadr City, indicating that he is not backing down. Moreover, there’s word from parliament that the government has asked for the removal of legal immunity from several parliamentarians, some of whom are Sadrists, over charges of inciting violence against government troops. Particularly vulnerable is Sadrist MP Baha’ al-‘Araji.
Clearly, Maliki feels that he’s come out on top in his scuffle with the Sadrists, and recent confrontations in Basra, Kut, Hillah, Shatrah, Karbala, Shula City (Baghdad), Nassiriya and Suq al-Shuyukh have shown that the Sadrists are no match for the Iraqi Army and police who continue to arrest Sadrist leaders and evict the movement from its offices.
The Sadrists and the Iranians have been reduced to bravado and PSY-OPS: one account has it that the Sadrists have a plan to take over the Green Zone within seven hours, and that they can take over Basra within 24 hours. Another is that General Suleimani of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard actually controls events in Iraq.
But in effect, Iran has lost the deterrence value of its investment in the Sadrists.
That’s why Iran needed to flex its might in downtown Beirut, to embarrass the Saudis and others who can do very little to bail-out Siniora’s government. The ruse seems to have worked: Saad al-Hariri basically rescinded the government’s orders against the airport security chief and the communications network today.