Report: Thousands of Iraqi Shiites training for war in Iranian camp

Not the first time we’ve heard this.

“This is a new plan now for the Mahdi Army, it is part of a new strategy,” he said. “We know we are against a strong enemy and we must learn proper methods and techniques.”…

Abu Rafed [a Mahdi Army veteran] estimated a total of almost 4,000 Iraqi Shias, including “many important Mahdi Army leaders”, had received training there last month alone, living at the camp for weeks at a time. He said the number of Iraqi Shias arriving there had increased significantly since the start of the “surge” in February

Abu Amer said: “The training was done by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I saw Iraqi fighters from Missan, Basra, Diwaniyah and Nasiriyah [areas of southern Iraq]. They were mainly Mahdi Army, but not all of them.” More Iraqi Shias had sought military instruction, he added, after the 2006 bombing of the Samarra shrine, the event widely blamed for triggering widespread sectarian war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shias.

The camp is in a town called Jalil Azad, outside Tehran. An independent expert on al-Sadr interviewed for the piece goes out of his way to say this doesn’t mean the mullahs are sponsoring it. Really? There’s massive paramilitary training going on outside the capital by members of the country’s most elite force and the Iranian government is indifferent in the matter?

According to the two JAM sources, the training emphasizes use of explosives and attacks on helicopters as “preparation for the time when we will have a big battle with the occupiers.” That time might be getting close: one of the Sadrist MPs promised today that they’re going to pull out of Maliki’s coalition soon if he doesn’t turn on the Americans, which presumably means the JAM will be back on the streets in force shortly thereafter. Al Qaeda’s trying to draw them out, too, setting off a car bomb today at a bus station 600 feet away from one of the Shiite shrines in Karbala. If they manage to hit one of them, or one of the shrines in Najaf — and given the emphasis lately on high-profile attacks, including another bomb on a bridge today, they must be trying — Sadr will have to take the gloves off.

Meanwhile, WaPo breaks down the split between Sunni insurgents and AQ that I’ve been writing about lately. Here’s the lay of the land right now:

The emerging confrontation between the Sunni groups and al-Qaeda in Iraq is the latest addition to a dizzying mosaic of battle lines. U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces are fighting al-Qaeda fighters, Sunni groups and Shiite militias. Shiite militias are combating Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda. In the south, the Shiite militias fight each other for control. In the west, Sunni tribal leaders are suspicious of Sunni parties inside the government. And in the north, tensions are rising between the Kurds and neighboring Turkey. Oil-rich Kirkuk itself is a flash point as Arabs and Turkmens clash with the Kurds over the city’s future.

Sunni politicians are trying to get them to unite under one banner to make negotiation easier, but most are unwilling to cede any of their own turf. There’s also a problem with some groups being split between those who oppose and support AQ. After the parliament cafeteria bombing, a “senior Sunni politician” told the Guardian that he knows for a fact they’ve infiltrated his own security detail. Quote: “It is getting very, very difficult to spot.”

I’ve got no exit question so I’ll leave you with this grimly fascinating piece about what it’s like to be a detective these days in Iraq. CSI: Baghdad would be a very different kind of TV show, needless to say.