Awfully nice of them to admit it. And to the British left’s flagship paper, too.

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, the movement that fought Israel’s vaunted military machine to a bloody standstill in last year’s July War.

One Iraqi militiaman, who asked to be named only as Abu Muhannad, said he had spent a month in Southern Lebanon, Hizbollah’s stronghold. “I was one of the experienced fighters from the Mehdi army to go for training there,” he said. “We learned how to take advantage of an armoured vehicle’s weakness, and how to wait and kill the soldiers who try to escape.”…

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.

“We teach each other,” i.e. cross-pollination. The traffic’s not one way, either; follow that last link to refresh your memory. As far as I know, it still hasn’t been conclusively established that Sadr is Iran’s chief proxy in Iraq, although the collusion with Hezbollah and the fact (again, per the Independent) that thousands of JAM members have trained in camps in Iran indicates a high level of nuance to the relationship. Traditionally SCIRI was Iran’s arm inside the country but they seem to have drifted towards the American side in the past year, possibly as a reaction to Sadr’s coziness with the regime. Michael Totten, on the ground in Baghdad, seems pretty clear on what’s what, though:

The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq. It is, in effect, the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah.

The Iranians know what they’re doing. Lebanon was their proving ground. The Revolutionary Guards built Hezbollah from scratch along the border with Israel and in the suburbs south of Beirut during the chaos of civil war and Israeli occupation. In Iraq they’re simply repeating the formula, only this time more violently.

Like Hezbollah, the Sadrists are careful to present themselves as nationalists to counter the fact that they’re an instrument of a foreign, non-Arab power. The Independent devotes another full article tonight to the rest of its interview with Sadr, and this passage is notable:

Basra would be a safer place once the British military presence had ended, Mr Sadr insisted. “There will still be some problems in southern Iraq, there will be violence because some countries are trying to influence the situation,” he said in apparent reference to Iran. “But with the occupation of southern Iraq finished we will be freer to live our lives as brothers.”

Yeah, he’s not the only one to suggest that today. The question is, is he just blowing smoke to paint himself as a proud Iraqi “patriot” or is he genuinely annoyed about some double game Iran might be playing by arming the other Shiite militias in the south like Fadhila and SCIRI’s Badr Brigades? Above my pay grade, I’m afraid. Maybe Roggio will have a theory tomorrow. This requires some parsing, too:

“We are at war and America is our enemy so we are entitled to take help from anyone,” he said. “But we have not asked for Iran’s help.” The cleric also said he “welcomed” a recent decision by the UN to expand its role in Iraq. “I would support the UN here in Iraq if it comes and replaces the American and British occupiers,” he said.

“If the UN comes here to truly help the Iraqi people, they will receive our help in their work. I would ask my followers to support the UN as long as it is here to help us rebuild our country. They must not just be another face of the American occupation.”

Why invite the UN in when he’s trying to push the U.S. out? Because the UN has been very, very good to Hezbollah and Sadr’s hoping to work a little of the same magic in Iraq. Part of Hezbollah’s appeal in southern Lebanon, remember, is that it provides certain basic services that the weak Lebanese government can’t; the Sadrists already follow that model in Sadr City and naturally they want some UN money in the mix to expand the operation. Foreign influence is fine, in other words, so long as they can trust the foreigners not to interfere with the business.

Which, I think we can agree, they can.

un-hizb.jpg

Might be a good time to revisit this old post, too, to remind yourself exactly what it means when a group follows the Hezbollah model. Meanwhile, he’s an intriguing report from the Guardian about the probable next Supreme Leader of Iran. A trial balloon from the “pragmatist” wing of Iranian jihad? Or just trying to sell books?