|03KUWAIT2276||2003-05-28 06:10:00||SECRET||Embassy Kuwait|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (S) Summary: One week after returning to Iraq, noted Shia
leader Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum and his party are encountering
an Iraqi populace disillusioned with the lack of security and
disgruntled at the fact that Ba'ath Party members still hold
positions of power, according to Kuwaiti Shia businessman
Abdul Ilah Marafie, who is helping to sponsor Bahr al-Uloum
and speaks with his party on a regular basis. Marafie
relayed Bahr al-Uloum's concerns and told Poloff he would
soon obtain concrete suggestions from Bahr al-Uloum as to how
coalition forces might court Iraqi Shi'is and counter the
destabilizing effects of possible Iranian and Saudi
influences. End Summary.
2. (S) In a followup to reftel meeting, Poloff met with
Kuwaiti businessman and Director of the Marafie Foundation,
Abdul Ilah Marafie on May 25 to discuss developments in
southern Iraq from a Shia perspective. Marafie said that
noted exiled Iraqi cleric Sayed Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum had
entered Iraq a week earlier with two of his sons and a number
of family members. The group traveled first to Basra, then
Samawa, before visiting Baghdad. Using Thuraya phones
provided by Marafie, they have been communicating with him on
an almost daily basis. Marafie said the party has
encountered a populace in Iraq who are extremely
disillusioned that coalition forces have not forcibly removed
all Ba'athists and their sympathizers from power. Although
they give civil administrator L. Paul Bremer high marks for
his recent intitiative to purge Ba'athists from power (this
has "had a big effect"), they stress that this policy must be
continued and enforced throughout all of Iraq. Calling the
removal of Ba'athists a "major issue," Marafie emphasized
that undertaking such action would be a visible sign for
Iraqis that the Saddam era is over, and would clearly
demonstrate the intent of coalition forces to establish and
maintain law and order.
3. (S) Marafie also relayed Bahr al-Uloum's concerns about
the general level of instability in Iraq, noting that it is
fueling unhappiness and a large amount of conspiracy theories
about the true intent of the coalition. Unable to understand
what the composition of an Iraqi Interim Authority might look
like, worried that it might not represent all Iraqis, and
frustrated by a real or perceived lack of input, many Iraqis
hypothesize that the U.S. struck a deal with Saddam Hussein.
4. (S) Marafie said that securing Najaf, in particular, will
be vital to stabilizing the Shia population, and through the
Shia, the whole of Iraq. He said Bahr al-Uloum had met with
the "frontline" clerics of Najaf, Sayed Mohammed Ali
al-Sistani and Sayed Mohammed Said Hakim and told them it was
their duty to play a more political role in the conflict and
"lead people to stability." But the clerics have thus far
opted for a less prominent and more apolitical role, largely
due to the fact there is "no feeling of law and order" in
Iraq. Marafie said the coalition should act quickly to
establish a local police force in Najaf.
5. (S) A lack of local leadership is also creating problems
in Iraq. In Najaf, Marafie claimed, the appointed head of
the local government is a Sunni, ex-Ba'athist from Basra.
(Note: When asked, Marafie could not say who appointed him.
End Note.) The coalition should focus on installing people
"whose hearts burn for their country, not power."
6. (S) Asked about possible Iranian attempts to sabotage
efforts to restore stability in Iraq, Marafie, said there is
"definitely" Iranian influence at work there, and offered his
assessment that Saudi Arabia might also be undermining
stability. Marafie said that Iran is afraid that Qom will
lose its influence as a Shia center of learning as Najaf
regains its former glory, and the Saudis are concerned that
moderate voices (who they "are against") may gain a foothold
in Iraq. (Note: Marafie downplayed the suggestion that SCIRI
leader Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim was being directly influenced
by Iran, purposefully stating he was not/not the source of
"Iranian presssure" being exerted in the two holy cities.
7. (S) Marafie was unable to offer recommendations from Bahr
al-Uloum as to what specific actions coalition forces might
take to further stabilize Najaf at this time (i.e. how to go
about establishing a police force, urging moderates to speak
out, etc.) without inflaming the already tense political
environment, but promised Poloff he would solicit them. Post
will continue to meet with Marafie in an effort to monitor
the situation in Najaf and other religiously significant
Shi'a cities from Bahr al-Uloum's vantage point.
8. (S) Comment: While many of Bahr al-Uloum's reported
concerns are being addressed by the recent actions of the
Civil Administrator, it is clear that the Shi'a community is
still very uneasy about the future. Special focus on the
restoration of stability and services in the holy cities of
Najaf and Karbala may be one way to quickly make friends with
Iraq's Shi'a majority.