August 25, 2008

Muqtada al-Sadr in Iran - Who is behind it?

In my last post (Muqtada al-Sadr biding his time in Iran), I wrote about Muqtada al-Sadr and his decision to disband his jaysh al-mahdi (Army of the Mahdi) militia and transform it into a social welfare service organization, move to Iran and pursue a course of study to burnish his Islamic credentials, in hopes that he will gain the requisite stature to eventually become the major political power broker in Iraq.

Not a bad plan when you think of it. The big unanswered question: who came up with it? Muqtada al-Sadr is demonstrably not that smart. He has consistently led his followers into a series of disastrous military blunders, most recently suffering devastating losses in battles with American and Iraqi troops in Baghdad, al-Basrah and al-'Amarah. Yet, on his own he decides to completely change course, "get religion" and commit to a four to five year program of study?

Here is one possible explanation.

In the human intelligence business, we normally try to recruit assets with access to specific information that cannot be obtained through normal means - in other words, find a spy to steal the information. The usual targets for recruitment are diplomats, military personnel, government officials and employees - people who have routine access to sensitive or classified information. We recruit them to give that information to us, for whatever reason - ideological views, an appeal to their patriotism, revenge, greed, whatever works.

A more difficult operation is to recruit what is called an "agent of influence." This person does not necessarily have access to specific information of value, but they themselves are believed to be a future leader of a particular country, military organization, political party, etc. These agents of influence are difficult to find and more difficult to recruit since they are generally truly committed to the county or group we are trying to penetrate. However, finding and recruiting an agent of influence has huge potential. Having a well-placed asset that we can control inside a government or organization provides unique abilities to shape events to our liking.

Consider this scenario: An Iranian intelligence officer, whether from the Ministry of Intelligence and Securitry (MOIS), or the intelligence arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or a Qods force officer working with the Mahdi Army, approaches Muqtada al-Sadr.

The approach would have been along the lines of, "Here's your opportunity to get what you have alwasy wanted - to be the most powerful man in Iraq. To do that, you are going to have to have solid religious credentials, you need to be a marja' al-taqlid (source of emulation), at the very least an ayatollah. We - you friends and brothers in Iran - can make this happen. We'll get you into the presitigious religious academy in Qom, we'll make sure you get the credentials you need. We'll help you create a social services organization based on the Mahdi Army - remember, we have done similar things with Hizballah in Lebanon. When you return to Iraq, we'll continue to help. All we ask is that you continue to be our ally and friend."

Sounds pretty plausible, doesn't it? I wonder.