Friday, April 04, 2003

New York Newsday had a good article today on the Shia leaders who are encouraging the Shia to 'stay neutral' in the current war in Iraq. One of them we already know.

Nasrallah has been in contact with Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the leading Iraqi Shiite cleric who has lived in exile in Iran for more than 20 years. Al-Hakim has sent instructions to his supporters and secret cells in Basra, Najaf, Karbala and other southern Iraqi cities not to start an uprising or support the U.S.-led coalition in any way. Al-Hakim also issued a "message to the Iraqi people" last week urging them not to side either with the United States or the Iraqi regime.

As the heir to one of the most important dynasties in the Shiite world, al-Hakim is mindful that the actions of Iraqi Shiites could have an impact on the entire Shiite community. "He realizes that if Shiites in Iraq are perceived as cooperating with an invasion force, it could have repercussions throughout the Muslim world for years to come," said a senior al-Hakim adviser, who asked not to be named.

But who is this Nasrallah?

Sulaimaniyah, Iraq - The leader of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and other non-Iraqi Shiite figures have played a part in discouraging an uprising in southern Iraq, according to Shiite sources.

Hezbollah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, has been working quietly for several months from his base in Beirut to create a unified Shiite response to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, according to a source close to the Hezbollah leadership. Nasrallah and others have tried to convince Iraqi Shiites to stay on the sidelines of the war and not to start an uprising or openly support coalition forces.

And further on:

In some Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, there have been bloody battles between the majority Sunnis and minority Shiites. "No one in the Shiite community wants to see another situation like that in Pakistan," said the source close to Hezbollah. "That's why the sectarian politics in Iraq has to be handled very carefully."

Nasrallah gained enormous popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds after Hezbollah forced Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after an 18-year guerrilla war. In effect, his guerrilla force accomplished something that no Arab army had been able to do in more than 50 years of conflict: pressure Israel to cede Arab territory.

It seems those in Isreal who claimed withdrawal from Lebannon would encourage their enemies may have been right. The lesson here is not that the hawks are always right - remember how Lebannon was bleeding Isreal. Never capture anything that will bleed you as long as you hold it, then bleed you much more when you let it go. Grasp the nettle firmly, but leave the skunk alone.

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