Basra, Asharq Al-Awsat- Salam al-Maliki, the former Iraqi transport minister and a leader in the ” Asaib Ahl al-Haqq ” organization which claimed responsibility for kidnapping British hostages in Baghdad, has cast doubts on the validity of a statement issued the day before yesterday by Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of Al-Sadr Trend in Iraq, in which he disowned “Asaib” and urged the Iraqi Government to stop the dialogues with it. Al-Maliki also asserted the organization’s links with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas organization, and influential parties in the Iranian Government. According to informed sources, Asaib Ahl al-Haqq split from the pro-Al-Sadr Al-Mahdi Army following Al-Sadr’s decision to freeze the militia’s activities in 2007.
Al-Maliki told Asharq al-Awsat that the ” Asaib Ahl al-Haqq organization does not belong to Al-Sadr Trend or is part of Al-Mahdi Army for (Al-Sadr) to disown it. It is an independent national organization that adopted armed resistance as the way for getting rid of the occupation and its legitimacy was recognized by the Iraqi Government and the US Government which called the organization the honest enemy as evidenced by the release of dozens of its detainees. The measures taken against it would have been different had its actions been ones of terrorism.” He added that “Al-Sadr Trend is not a party, a movement, or a political organization but a mass trend that emerged from the cloak of Martyr Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr like other political, ideological, and religious trends which are at present led by religious leaders like Al-Yaqubi, Al-Sarkhi, Qasim al-Tai, Ali Sumaysim, and others. Asaib Ahl al-Haqq is one of these trends and it has the legitimacy to choose the road of jihad and action and adopt what it believes is appropriate. It is not associated with Al-Sadr Trend or Al-Mahdi Army and besides, religious leadership is not hereditary.”
Al-Maliki went on to explain that “the statement denied us our right to participate in the political process because we are a faction resisting the occupation even though Al-Mahdi Army is also such a faction.” He said “Asaib received many calls from the parties and trends participating in the government and outside it and from political figures to enter the political process.” The Iraqi Government recently announced the start of the dialogue with Asaib Ahl al-Haqq to integrate it in the political process in return for stopping the armed attacks. Negotiations were also held between the two sides to release the British hostages in return for the release of leaders from the organization.
Al-Maliki added that “Asaib is not an extension of the armed resistance which Al-Sadr ordered his followers to stop it in 2007 and it started this national program since 2005.” He urged Al-Sadr Trend’s leaders to “adopt the constructive dialogue for dealing with the differences in viewpoints and not to resort to issuing statements through the media out of concern for the good ties that bind the national factions and the legitimacy of their resistance of the occupation, whether it is through armed resistance or through political means.” He did not rule out the likelihood that “there are influential figures in Al-Sadr Trend seeking to disturb the atmospheres between the organization and the Trend.”
On the “Asaib al-Haqq’s” terms of reference, Al-Maliki asserted that “our action, whether at the armed resistance level or the political and ideological one, does not contradict the Islamic Shariaa’s constants. A number of senior religious leaders have blessed us but the time is not right now to reveal them.” He added: “The organization will be announcing soon its structure, objectives, and its political, ideological, and social program.”
He denied reports that he was forced to travel to Kuwait because he was wanted by justice during the Charge of the Knights operation in Basra in March 2007and said: “It is true that I traveled to Kuwait to treat my son who had a heart problem from birth but he died few days after the charge which coincided with the operation. But I was not wanted by justice as I met later with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Kuwait on the sidelines of the meeting of the neighboring countries and gave him proposals for a settlement with Al-Sadr Trend but which did not see daylight due to the many pressures exerted on the prime minister at that time.”
The US forces arrested the organization’s leader Qays al-Khazali in the spring of 2007 and Ali Musa Daqduq, who is close to Lebanese Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah, in one of the houses in Al-Hayyaniyah area (west of Basra). Commenting on this, Al-Maliki said: “I do not have details of the arrest and the reason for Daqduq’s presence in Basra. But the Asaib organization has certainly ties of agreement and coordination with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Palestinian Hamas organization, and influential parties in the Iranian Government as well as Shiite figures and groups (in the Gulf) due to the existence of common ties that bind them, among them religion, the creed, and resistance of the occupation in defense of the Islamic Arab project and rejection of the US presence in the region.”
Regarding the accusations that the organization is supported by foreign parties that provide it with weapons and finance, Al-Maliki said “the accusation is now a ready card used by political parties against others when all neighboring and international countries and organizations are giving massive amounts of money to most trends and political blocs that are active at present, though these parties recently resorted to self-financing by investing in a number of projects.” He pointed out that the Asaib organization is receiving generous help from merchants and businessmen who support “its national program” and added that “arms have stopped being a problem because they are available in all governorates in large numbers and at acceptable prices. Anyone who wishes to have a weapon can get it easily.”
Regarding the organization’s responsibility for kidnapping the five British citizens, four of whom their bodies were found in the past, and the deal for releasing the fifth in return for the release of Al-Khazali, Daqduq, and other leaders in the organization detained by the US forces, Al-Maliki said “this issue is still under discussion and therefore I cannot confirm or deny it because no detailed information is available about it. As to the release of our detainees, this was one of our conditions and agreement when we started out dialogue with the government before one year. It (the government) pledged to release all those who were not involved in shedding the blood of Iraqis. The talks are continuing.”
He added that all the armed operations carried out by his organization are targeting the US forces in Baghdad and are announced on the organization’s website “but our operations outside Baghdad are very limited and have now stopped after we entered into negotiations in depth with Al-Maliki’s Government whose steps for the withdrawal of US forces outside cities before their complete evacuation from Iraq in 2011 we support.”