February 15/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 8,22-26. When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, "Do you see anything?" Looking up he replied, "I see people looking like trees and walking." Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. Then he sent him home and said, "Do not even go into the village.

Lebanon: Amnesty International condemns targeting of civilians-Amnesty International USA 15.02.07

Free Opinions.
Comparing and Contrasting Hizballah and Iraq's Militias-By: Andrew Exum Washington Institute for Near East Policy 15.02.07
The Lebanese have their politicians to thank for the slaughter of innocents-Daily Star 15.02.07
A commemoration to end 'gangster rule' -
By Rami G. Khouri 15.02.07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For 15/02/07
Pope implores Lebanese to reject violence and rediscover
U.N. Condemns 'Pernicious Attempt to Undermine Security
Assad Attacked, Hizbullah Mocked on Hariri's Assassination Anniversary
Some Fear Lebanon's Democratic System-Washington Post
UNSC strongly condemns twin bomb attacks in Lebanon-Kuwait News Agency
Bus blasts wreak havoc in Lebanon-Globe and Mail - Toronto,Ontario
Syria blames US for recent bombings in Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria-Monsters and
Bus attacks trigger panic in Lebanon-Toronto Star - Toronto,Ontario,Canada

Lebanon: Two years of crisis-MWC News
Robert Fisk: Lebanon slides towards civil war as anniversary of ...Independent
Russia condemns commuter bus blasts in Lebanon-ITAR-TASS
Iraq to close borders with Syria, Iran for 3 days-Shanghai Daily
March 14: Syria attempting to change Lebanon into another Iraq-Ya Libnan
'Honor' killing spurs outcry in Syria-Christian Science Monitor
Region's strife tears at Lebanon's fragile seams-Christian Science Monitor
UN says Israel, Lebanon armies violated ceasefire-Ynetnews
Ban Ki-Moon Leads UN Condemnation of Terrorist Bus Bombings in Lebanon-NewsBlaze
Tension and reconstruction in south
Deadly bombs mark eve of Hariri assassination
Zawahiri urges Lebanon to reject UN resolution-Hindustan Times
Qaida's No. 2 Incites Lebanese Muslims Against 1701
Golan belongs to Syria, Druze protest-Ynetnews
Lebanonطs future hangs in the balance as rivals duel-Canadian Jewish News

Pope implores Lebanese to reject violence and rediscover unity
Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolence to Patriarch Sfeir for victims of yesterday’s attack. Cardinal Bertone called for prayers for “this martyred land”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI has “implored” the Lebanese people to reject violence and to seek national unity and the common good. In a telegram of condolence for victims of yesterday’s attack, addressed to the Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, the pope once again expressed his concern for and closeness with the Country of the Cedars.
In the message signed by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and made public today, Benedict XVI said he was “deeply saddened by the serious attack” and expressed “his spiritual nearness and prayer” for families of the victims. “Entrusting to divine mercy those who were tragically lost, the Holy Father invokes the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary over the entire Lebanese nation. He implores the Lebanese people and their leaders to unanimously reject violence and to rediscover in this tragic moment, the motivation for a leap towards national unity and the common good.”
Already yesterday, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone urged “prayers for Lebanon where today there was a serious anti-Christian attack.” He said: “Let us pray for this martyred land for which the Pope has already made several appeals.”

18 Members of Iran's Terror-Sponsoring Unit Killed in Bombing
Jerusalem ( - Eighteen members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard - a group notorious for training Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas terrorists - were killed in a car bomb explosion in the southeastern part of the country Wednesday. A local Guard commander, Colonel Qasem Rezaei, was quoted by the Iranian news agency IRNA as saying "saboteurs" had detonated a car bomb near a bus transporting the guardsmen. The FARS News Agency reported that security analysts believe that "a well-known gang leader ... has been in charge of the terrorist operation" and that four people had been arrested in connection with the attack. A group called Jundollah claimed responsibility in a statement. FARS said the group is well-known for having perpetrated several other terrorist operations in the area. The bombing occurred in a predominantly Sunni province near Iran's border with Pakistan. The area is populated by ethnic Baluchis, who have accused the regime in Tehran of discrimination. Sunnis make up about nine percent of predominantly Shi'ite Iran, which has a population of 70 million. The 130,000-strong Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), or Pasdaran, was designated guardian of the Islamic revolution after 1979, and is accused by the State Department of involvement in planning and supporting terrorism. It has particularly close ties to Hizballah, which it helped to establish in 1982. Exiled Iranian opposition groups say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has filled the ranks of the cabinet with people with IRGC backgrounds, and Ahmadinejad is himself a former senior Pasdaran officer.

Lebanese Mark Anniversary of Hariri's Death Despite Further Terror
Jerusalem ( - Tens of thousands of Lebanese marked the second anniversary of the assassination of pro-Democracy former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in central Beirut on Wednesday despite twin bombings of minibuses in a Christian village on Tuesday that killed three people. Western-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora linked Tuesday's attacks to Hariri's murder two years ago and vowed that the government pursue the "criminal terrorists ... who assassinated Hariri and his companions, and continued this criminal scenario ... with the [latest] crime." Many Lebanese believe that Syria was behind the murder of Hariri, a staunch opponent of the Syrian occupation of his country. Other pro-Western Lebanese leaders also pointed the finger at Syria. Amin Gemayal, whose son Pierre was a minister in Siniora's government and was assassinated in November, charged that "alien hands" had been behind the murder. Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze faction, also allied with Siniora, accused Syria of being involved in the attacks. Siniora has been locked in a power struggle pro-Syrian forces led by Hizballah for months. Hizballah wants more power in order to wield a veto over government decisions such as its backing for a United Nations tribunal that has implicated senior Syrian officials in the Hariri murder.

Public Statement
AI Index: MDE 18/002/2007 (Public)
News Service No: 031
14 February 2007
Lebanon: Amnesty International condemns targeting of civilians
Amnesty International condemns in the strongest terms yesterday's bomb attacks on two buses near the town of Bikfaya, a Christian area of Lebanon, north east of Beirut. At least three civilians are reported to have been killed and some 20 injured. Deliberate attacks on civilians can never be justified and those responsible show complete disregard for the most fundamental principles of humanity.
These deadly attacks on civilians represent a further deterioration of the security situation in Lebanon, which has become increasingly polarised, prompting fears of a possible slide towards a new conflict following the civil war which wracked the country from 1975 to 1990. During that conflict mass human rights violations were committed, including some 17,000 enforced disappearances and the killings of thousands of non-combatants.
Amnesty International is calling on political and other leaders in Lebanon urgently to take all possible steps to ensure that the killings of 13 February 2007 are not used as a licence for further violence and that those responsible for yesterday's attacks on civilians are arrested and brought to justice, promptly and fairly and without recourse to the death penalty.
Yesterday's bomb attacks were clearly intended to inflame current political tension. Today is the second anniversary of the killing of former Prime Minster Rafiq al-Hariri, who was killed with 22 others by a massive car-bomb in Beirut. The UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) into the assassination has implicated Syrian and Lebanese officials, and discussions over a proposed international tribunal to try the alleged perpetrators led to the resignation of six government ministers, provoking a political crisis.
Since early December 2006, thousands of demonstrators led by Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have maintained a mass and largely peaceful protest in Beirut, in support of demands that Hizbullah and the FPM be given a greater role in the government. In the week beginning 24 January 2007 various political groups set up armed road-blocks, some seven people were killed, and scores of others injured or arrested. Earlier, on 21 November 2006 in Beirut, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel of the Kataeb (Phalange) Party was shot dead by unknown assassins.
Tensions intensified in Lebanon in the aftermath of the summer war between Hizbullah and Israeli forces in which some 1,000 Lebanese civilians and 43 Israeli civilians were killed and tens of thousands of Lebanese homes and other civilian infrastructure were destroyed.
Amnesty International is urging political leaders to reach a framework for addressing the unresolved issues that have fuelled background grievances and suspicions, including over the international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the killing of al-Hariri, the composition of a new government and forthcoming parliamentary elections. To be sustainable, any such agreements would need to be accompanied by both adoption in Lebanon of particular reforms of the justice system that Amnesty International has repeatedly called for, and also a wider, international law-based resolution to the regional instability that continues to destabilise and generate human rights violations in Lebanon. Amnesty International is calling upon all sides involved in the perilous situation in Lebanon not to allow a further escalation of violence and accompanying human rights abuses.
East Mediterranean Team
Amnesty International, International Secretariat
Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street
London WC1X 0DW
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7413 5500
Fax: +44 (0)20 7413 5719

U.N. Condemns 'Pernicious Attempt to Undermine Security
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned the bus bombings that killed three people on the eve of the second anniversary of ex-premier Rafik Hariri's assassination. The 15-member council approved a non-binding statement that "condemns in the strongest terms" the bomb attacks as "a new pernicious attempt to undermine security and all the efforts aimed at preserving stability" in Lebanon. The bombings in the town of Ain Alaq northeast of Beirut came on the eve of the second anniversary of the Beirut bomb attack that killed Hariri and 22 others. The council reiterated "its unequivocal condemnation of any attempt to destabilize Lebanon" and recalled "its determination to continue to assist the government of Lebanon" in identifying and prosecuting those responsible for the latest bombings as well as "other terrorist attacks and assassinations committed in Lebanon since October 2004." "There must be no impunity for such heinous acts," said the council, which also urged all parties in Lebanon and in the region "to show restraint and a sense of responsibility with a view to preventing any further deterioration of the situation." Council members also appealed to all Lebanese parties to "continue the political dialogue with a view to finding agreed solutions to outstanding issues." U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon earlier also slammed Tuesday's bus bombings. "The United Nations strongly rejects attempts to secure political objectives through violence and the killing of innocent civilians," Ban said in a statement released by his spokeswoman, Michele Montas. Ban stressed that "there must be an end to impunity" and appealed to all Lebanese "to maintain national unity in the face of such attempts to undermine the country's stability."(AFP-Naharnet) (AP photo shows an injured Lebanese woman sitting inside one of the bombed buses, waiting to get help from medics) Beirut, 14 Feb 07, 07:53

Qaida's No. 2 Incites Lebanese Muslims Against 1701
Al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, called on Lebanon's Muslims to reject the U.N. Security Council resolution that ended last summer's war with Israel, in an audiotape released Tuesday.
"I call on the brothers of Islam and of jihad (holy war) in Lebanon not to yield to Resolution 1701 and not to accept ... the presence of international and crusader (Western) forces in south Lebanon," said al-Zawahri in the audiotape broadcast on al-Jazeera TV network.
"The American plot in Lebanon is the same as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf countries, Algeria and Somalia," he said, denouncing as "traitors ... those who cooperated with the crusader and Zionist campaign" in Lebanon last summer.
Resolution 1701 led to an August 14 ceasefire in the 34-day war that erupted after Hizbullah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid.
It was the forth message by Osama bin Laden's deputy since the beginning of the year. The last was on Jan. 22, when he mocked U.S. President George Bush's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 14 Feb 07, 08:02

Assad Attacked, Hizbullah Mocked on Hariri's Assassination Anniversary
Lebanon's majority leaders told a sea of supporters marking the second anniversary of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination in Beirut that agreeing on the international tribunal to try his murderers is the only gateway to dialogue and unity. Hundreds of thousands of March 14 supporters streamed from north, east, central and south Lebanon to Martyrs' Square in cars, busses, and boats raising Lebanese flags and chanting slogans against Syrian President Bashar Assad. The March 14 majority coalition accuses the Assad regime of masterminding the Hariri assassination on Feb. 14 2005 and the serial assassinations, the latest of which killed three civilians and wounded 23 in a twin bombing that targeted commuting buses northeast of Beirut on Tuesday.
Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea said the international tribunal, which Syria reportedly rejects, "will certainly be created." He stressed that "whoever fights against what is right will be knocked out … The international tribunal will certainly be created." Geagea escalated the confrontation with Hizbullah pledging that "henceforth, we will not accept any weapons outside the Lebanese army's frame of control...The Lebanese army is the resistance, the Lebanese government is the resistance, the Lebanese people is the resistance."
Geagea's words drew thundering chants of support that echoed across the whole of Beirut and reached the ears of protestors taking part in a Hizbullah-led sit in at the nearby Riad Solh Square since Dec. 1 with the declared objective of toppling Premier Fouad Saniora's majority government.
Addressing President Emile Lahoud, whose term in office was extended for three years under Syrian pressure in 2004, Geagea said: "History has settled its account with any tyrant …at the end (of your term) you will go away to history's garbage dump."
At 12:55 p.m., the exact time of the one-ton explosion that killed Hariri two years ago, an angry crowd fell silent as church bells tolled and mosque minarets blared Allah Akbar chants.
Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblat stressed in his address that the year 2007 will see the creation of the international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri murder and related crimes. "We will not surrender to terrorism and to authoritarian parties, be they Syrian or otherwise," Jumblat said as the crowd applauded and shouted slogans attacking Assad, his regime and his Lebanese allies in the Hizbullah-led opposition. Addressing Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah without mentioning him by name, Jumblat said: "Give the weapons to the Lebanese army and the hay to your allies." He was referring to Hizbullah weapons confiscated last week concealed in a truck loaded with hay.The government delivered the weapons to the Lebanese army in south Lebanon, ignoring calls by Hizbullah which claims the weapons are needed by its resistance arm.
Jumblat stressed that "from now on there will be no weapons except what is controlled by the Lebanese army."He was obviously escalating calls to disarm Hizbullah.Jumblat also stressed that "we adhere to international (U.N. Security Council) resolutions. All international resolutions," in reference to resolution 1559 which was adopted in the year 2004 and called for disbanding and disarming all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, a reference to Hizbullah and pro-Syrian Palestinian factions operating in Lebanon. Jumblat launched a vehement attack on Assad terming him "a snake .. a beast .. an Israeli product .. a liar .. a criminal." "This year will witness the creation of the international tribunal, justice will be served and the punishment will be a death sentence," Jumblat pledged.
Parliamentary Majority leader Saad Hariri, son of the slain ex-premier, delivered an emotional speech in which he thanked all those who took part in the ceremony and stressed that the Lebanese are "committed to freedom, independence, the truth, justice and the international tribunal." "We adhere to justice to punish the murderers" who committed the Hariri killings and related crimes, he said. He condemned recent "aggressions on peaceful neighborhoods" by masked followers of the Hizbullah-led opposition on Jan. 23. "Despite all that, we are in the final phase of the march to create the international tribunal soon, very soon," Hariri said.  "Lebanon will be victorious and Lebanon's enemies will be defeated," he pledged. Hariri's speech was interrupted with applause and chants attacking the Assad regime. The majority leader concluded by stressing that "we are ready for any brave decision in favor of Lebanon … but the international tribunal is the sole gateway to any solution." Beirut, Updated 14 Feb 07, 15:23

Bombs Kill 3 in Lebanon on Day Before Memorial
Bela Szandelsky/Associated Press
Soldiers examined the damage yesterday after bombs tore through two buses in Ain Alaq, northeast of Beirut on a busy commuter highway.
Published: February 14, 2007
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Feb. 13 — A day before Lebanon prepared to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of its former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, three people were killed and about 23 others wounded when two minibuses were bombed as they ferried passengers to work, to shopping and to Bible study classes.
In a country so fragile and on edge because of its internal political struggles, the bombers managed to heighten tensions, but not by attacking government ministers or the politically outspoken. Instead the targets were passengers who paid about 80 cents to pile into a minibus for the half-hour ride to Beirut.
It was the first such attack — directed at ordinary civilians, not public figures — since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990. It caught people like Nidal Ashkar, 45, who was on her way to Bible study. She lost a leg. And Leila Gemayel, 39, who was going shopping with a friend. The friend was killed, and Mrs. Gemayel suffered serious burns on both legs.
The names may be meaningful only to the friends and relatives who crowded into the halls and waiting areas of the tiny Serhal Hospital along a beautiful mountain road just north of Beirut. But that — apparently — was the point.
“The message is clear,” said Jihad Nasr, at the hospital bedside of Mrs. Gemayel, his sister-in-law. “There was no politics between these people. These are normal people. Employees. They don’t even have cars.”
The message, the victims and their visitors said, was to spread fear beyond the rich and powerful into everyday homes.
It worked. “How am I ever going to ride a bus again?” said Rata Kuosoumati, 48, a maid who was in the first bus when the bomb went off but was not badly hurt.
Officials said bombs had been planted inside the buses, which are more like oversized minivans, as they made their morning runs. Every 10 minutes in the early morning, these privately owned buses take people between the Metn district, a primarily Christian area in the mountains, and Beirut.
In the hospital, friends and relatives said they took the attack as an act of intimidation, aimed at making people afraid to attend the Hariri memorial planned for Wednesday.
In Lebanon public memorials are never just about grieving; they are also political statements, so the anniversary was to be a chance for the pro-government forces — locked in a political battle with the Iranian- and Syrian-backed opposition, led by Hezbollah — to rally their allies.
And then came the randomness of the attack.
“It means, ‘Don’t come to the demonstration tomorrow,’ ” said Timur Guksel, former spokesman for the United Nations forces in Lebanon. “It has no meaning except to tell people, ‘Don’t come tomorrow.’ ”
Leaders of the governing coalition said that despite the attack, they planned to go forward with the memorial for Mr. Hariri.
The first minibus carried about 24 passengers, mostly women, according to witnesses. As it rounded a turn, passing a vista of snowcapped mountains and hillside villages, a bomb in the back blew up. With blood, body parts, smoke and screams filling the road, a second bus slowed and then stopped. Some of the passengers got out to see the mess, and as the driver opened his door, that bus blew up too.
The first bus was a twisted wreck. The second nearly disintegrated, its roof, doors, walls and windows gone. A heavy rainfall tamped down the smoke and quickly washed the road clean of blood.
“Why are we dying in Lebanon?” said Tania Hayek, 43, who was a few feet away in a cliffside cafe called Chez George when the first bomb went off. “We want to live. We are normal people. We just want to live.”
Politics — local and global — have been making that increasingly difficult for the Lebanese. Locally there is a battle for power, fueled by foreign sponsors. On one side is the Shiite group Hezbollah and its alliance with Syria and Iran. The government and the March 14 coalition are on the other side with the United States, Sunni Arab leaders and Europe.
At least six attacks have occurred since Mr. Hariri died, killing or maiming officials or prominent journalists. But the attack on Tuesday came as Lebanon confronts its worst political crisis since the end of the civil war.
Hezbollah and its allies want the ability to veto all government actions and want the government to back off supporting the international tribunal being set up by the United Nations to hear evidence in the assassination. The government has refused both demands. The investigation has implicated top Syrian officials.
That is a rough outline of what politicians have been fighting over since the Hezbollah alliance began an open-ended protest in the center of Beirut in December.
Until Tuesday, that was not really part of Dr. Michel Saliba’s world, he said. Then his wife woke him to tell him the news. His brother, Shady, 25, was the driver of the second bus. Dr. Saliba, 40, bought the bus for his brother so he could support his wife and year-old son.
Dr. Saliba said he rushed to the hospital as other passengers arrived. “Butchered” was how he described them.
“I saw a woman who lost both legs, someone with no hands,” he said. Then he went into surgery to repair his own brother’s damaged skull. Later he sat outside his brother’s room for hours as investigators tried to get the brother to remember details of who might have planted the bomb in the bus.
But he did not remember much.
“Welcome to the new Iraq,” said Dr. Saliba. “I thought they would only bomb ministers and political people. We are not even part of a party. And still we are the target of this.”
Nada Bakri contributed reporting.
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U.S. Says Powerful Iraqi Cleric Is Living in Iran
Published: February 14, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 — The powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has left Iraq and has been living in Iran for the past several weeks, senior Bush administration officials said Tuesday.  With fresh American forces arriving in Baghdad as part of the White House plan to stabilize the capital, officials in Washington suggested that Mr. Sadr might have fled Iraq to avoid being captured or killed during the crackdown. But officials also said that Mr. Sadr, who has family in Iran, had gone to Tehran in the past and that it was unclear why he had chosen to leave Iraq at this time. Mr. Sadr’s departure from Iraq was first reported Tuesday night by ABC News.
Neutralizing the power of Mr. Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has sporadically battled American forces for the past four years, has been a particular concern for American officials as they try to rein in powerful Shiite militias in Baghdad.
With the new American offensive in Baghdad still in its early days, American commanders have focused operations in the eastern part of the city, a predominantly Shiite area that has long been the Mahdi Army’s power base.
If Mr. Sadr had indeed fled, his absence would create a vacuum that could allow even more radical elements of the Shiite group to take power. Last year’s election of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as prime minister enhanced Mr. Sadr’s political stature inside Iraq. Mr. Maliki was elected with the backing of a political bloc led by Mr. Sadr.
American and Iraqi officials have said that recent intelligence points to signs of fracturing within the Mahdi Army, and that radical splinter groups who are not under Mr. Sadr’s control could be carrying out commando-style raids and assassinations.
Officials have suggested that these splinter groups could be receiving orders from officials in Iran, but have not offered direct evidence to back up their claims.
An aide to Mr. Sadr, reached by telephone on Tuesday night, denied that Mr. Sadr had left Iraq and said that the cleric was planning a televised address in the next several says.
Last week, during a raid in Diyala Province, Iraqi forces killed an aide of Mr. Sadr’s who American military officials said had been leading “rogue” elements of the Mahdi Army and fomenting violence against Iraqi civilians and police.
Three days later, Iraqi and American troops arrested the second-highest-ranking official in the Health Ministry, who they said was running a Mahdi Army splinter group and funneling millions of dollars to rogue Shiite militants.
The raids were carried out after Mr. Maliki dropped his protection of Mr. Sadr.
American officials said Tuesday that Mr. Sadr may have seen these operations coming and fled the country to avoid his own arrest.
But military officials in Iraq have also been wary of moving directly against Mr. Sadr, fearing that capturing or killing the militant cleric would further stoke the sectarian violence inside Iraq and turn more Shiites against the Maliki government.
In 2004, American forces arrested several of Mr. Sadr’s top aides and shut down a newspaper allied with the Mahdi Army, setting off bloody clashes in eastern Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
The news of Mr. Sadr’s departure from Iraq came amid an escalating war of words between the Bush administration and top Iranian officials. In recent days, White House and military officials have accused the Iranian government of supplying Shiite militias with the materials to make deadly roadside bombs. Iranian officials have denied the charges.

Comparing and Contrasting Hizballah and Iraq's Militias
By Andrew Exum
February 14, 2007
Recently, U.S. military officers and strategic planners have begun comparing Iraq's Shiite militias -- especially the Mahdi Army -- with Hizballah, the dominant Shiite militia and political party in Lebanon. Analysts hope to both understand these militias today and predict how they will evolve in the near future.
This is not a bad comparison to make. Today's political environment in Iraq has important similarities to that of Lebanon during the 1980s, when Hizballah came into its own as a national military and political force. As the Iraq war is now, the Lebanese civil war was a militia war -- one in which various armed factions struggled to protect their territory, expel external forces, and provide basic services to their constituencies. Besides environmental similarities between Lebanon then and Iraq now, another factor is that after the 2006 summer war with Israel, Hizballah has become a model of resistance and military prowess that the Shiite militias in Iraq may well strive to imitate.
Differences among Lebanon, Iraq, and Their Respective Militias
There are, however, several problems with comparing the militias in Iraq to Hizballah. First off, the environment that allowed Hizballah to develop into a "state within a state" and an effective military force had been in place for over three decades prior to the summer 2006 war between Hizballah and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Lebanon is a historically weak state in which seventeen different religious communities are often administered by sectarian leaders and community organizations rather than by the federal government. This has largely been the case since Lebanon's independence in 1943, and has become even more characteristic since a series of sectarian massacres kicked off the nation's bloody fifteen-year civil war in 1975.
Iraq, in contrast, was administered by a totalitarian dictatorship until 2003, and has only devolved into its current state since the U.S.-led invasion of that year toppled Saddam Hussein and left a power vacuum in his place.
Furthermore, Hizballah is a much more mature and disciplined organization than any of Iraq's Shiite militias. As previously stated, Hizballah's evolution into a mature political force -- which effectively acts as a mini-state in South Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and Beirut's southern suburbs -- took place over decades. What began as loosely organized bands of Shiite gunmen developed over time into a network providing educational, medical, and other community services. The organization has also enjoyed strong financial and material support from Iran on a scale that may be much greater than anything available to Iraqi groups. None of Iraq's militias -- with the notable exception of the Peshmerga in the Kurdish regions -- should be expected to operate with the levels of discipline and organization that are characteristic of Hizballah in Lebanon.
It is also worth noting the way in which the IDF long held the upper hand over Hizballah on the battlefield. Hizballah did not begin to enjoy significant battlefield success against Israeli forces in South Lebanon until the 1990s. In this decade, Hizballah evolved tactically, gradually becoming both more proficient in the use of its weapons systems -- so impressive to observers of last summer's war -- and more difficult for Israeli intelligence to infiltrate. Hizballah's summer 2006 successes were the result of steady support from external sponsors such as Syria and Iran, intense preparation following Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, and a political and military evolution that has been taking place since 1982.
Iraq's Militias in the Path of Hizballah
Although militias in Iraq may not yet be able to fight as effectively as Hizballah, U.S. planners are correct in looking at Hizballah's successes in Lebanon as a model of what Iraq's militias may aspire to achieve. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr publicly declared his support for and unity with Hizballah during the summer war, and his militia has -- according to recently released U.S. intelligence -- accepted training from Hizballah fighters in both Lebanon and Iraq.
Iraq's militias have a long way to go before they even begin to rival Hizballah in tactics and battlefield performance. However, several disturbing trends suggest that militias and insurgent groups in Iraq have advanced with frightening speed in their acquisition and use of both basic and advanced weapons systems. In the past several weeks, six U.S. helicopters have gone down in Iraq. Sources disagree on whether these helicopters were brought down by conventional small arms fire or by more advanced weaponry such as shoulder-fired missiles. If conventional small arms were used, observers must conclude that Iraqi militias and insurgent groups have grown more proficient in the employment of small arms against U.S. helicopters -- a worrying sign for a U.S. military grown accustomed to the advantage that helicopters have provided in the counterinsurgency fight.
If shoulder-fired missiles were used, then the U.S. military has an altogether different cause for concern -- that Iraqi militias targeting U.S. military units are not just being funded, but also equipped and trained by external sponsors such as Iran. This worry has increased with published reports that Iran is responsible for introducing the most powerful roadside bomb used in Shiite militia attacks on U.S. armored columns, as well as a recent Department of Defense briefing detailing Iranian military support for the militias.
Hizballah -- like the militias of Iraq -- is the product of a unique political and social environment. As such, U.S. planners should be careful before drawing broad comparisons between Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite militias. Some characteristics of one may not apply to the other. At the same time, U.S. military officers and planners are correct in assuming that Iraq's militias will seek to emulate Hizballah's battlefield prowess, tactics, and successes. For that reason, U.S. planners must be wary of any new weapons and tactics introduced by outside sponsors that would enable this emulation. Continued external support for the militias in the form of weapons and training will make the U.S. military presence in Iraq more and more dangerous in the same way it did for the IDF in South Lebanon.
As such, determining what kind of game the Iranians are playing in Iraq is especially important. Perhaps Iran is waiting to see which Shiite militia emerges as the strongest before backing one faction wholeheartedly. Or perhaps it will attempt to support a loyal splinter militia in the same way it broke Islamic Amal -- later Hizballah -- off from Lebanon's Amal militia in the early 1980s.
All this remains to be seen. For now, planners should draw lessons from the Hizballah phenomenon while paying close attention to Iraq's ever-complex political and military environment.
**Andrew Exum is the Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and, most recently, the author of Hizballah at War: A Military Assessment. He led a platoon of Army Rangers in Iraq in 2003.