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Hezbollah sets up operations room to cope with Iraq fallout

File - Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags, as they parade during the opening of new cemetery for colleagues who died in fighting against Israel, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Last week’s capture by militants from the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) of key Iraqi Sunni cities, coupled with the quick collapse of the Iraqi army has prompted Hezbollah to establish a military operations room to cope with the fast-moving dramatic developments in Iraq, Lebanese political sources said.

ISIS’ major military gains in Iraq were viewed as an earthquake that placed the volatile region at a new strategic crossroads, from which Lebanon is not safe at all.

Hezbollah’s military operations room was set up after the party had received serious information that a broad Sunni alliance is now controlling the Iraqi provinces of Diyala, Salahuddin and most of Kirkuk, the sources said.

The alliance, comprising of the Iraqi Islamic Army led by Saddam Hussein’s former Vice President Izzat al-Dori Ibrahim and the Muslim Ulema Association, in addition to ISIS formations, is trying to continue its military blitz toward the Iraqi capital Baghdad, high-level Iraqi sources told The Daily Star.

The sources disclosed that efforts were underway to revive the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Iraq, which comprises the Muslim Ulema Association and the Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq, along with the Iraqi Islamic Army which includes Saddam Hussein’s remaining officers, in the face of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Shiite blocs.

Being a secretive party, Hezbollah command is now assessing the military situation in Iraq before taking any decisions. The party’s security apparatus and its command that supervises the situation in Syria have gone underground and are operating in secret rooms, as they did during the 2006 July war with Israel, the Lebanese sources said.

While Hezbollah’s politicians, lawmakers and media officials are tight-lipped, refusing to comment on the ongoing military developments in Iraq, reports said the party has mobilized around 30,000 fighters who have been fully readied for any military move.

ISIS’ military gains broke a link in a chain, casting doubts on an American-Iranian understanding that ensured a foothold for Iran in the Middle East.

The dramatic events in Iraq came when Hezbollah felt comfortable with Maliki’s winning the recent parliamentary elections in Iraq and the re-election of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

Those being aware of Hezbollah’s way of thinking can understand its concerns and worries over the events in Iraq, not with regard to the security situation spinning out of control as much as with the situation approaching red lines which the party considers an existential threat.

Hezbollah is concerned about the revival of ISIS or the takfiri fundamentalist phenomenon from which Lebanon is not safe. The party had paid dearly for the rise of Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria and was able to defeat them. But these groups would subsequently try to retaliate for Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria in their own ways, without ruling out the possibility of a return to suicide bombings in areas where the party enjoys broad support.

ISIS’ military advances fueled fears of Sunni-Shiite strife starting from Iraq. Everyone knows that Hezbollah had made many concessions at the local level in a bid to avert this strife in Lebanon.

However, the most important repercussion of the events in Iraq on Hezbollah is the intermingling military developments between Iraq and Syria, especially since ISIS and its allies have been trying to control large areas containing a huge wealth of oil and natural resources. The oil wealth would make ISIS’ declaration of an Islamic state an easy goal to attain.

The events in Iraq come amid speculation pointing to the sudden collapse of an American-Iranian understanding in Iraq.

The reason for this collapse is Maliki’s sectarian policy which had led to Sunni discontent and to a declared uprising later.

Another regional reason for the collapse of the U.S.-Iranian understanding in Iraq was based on the assumption of forging a Sunni alliance in the Arab world led by Saudi Arabia in the face of an Iran-led Shiite alliance.

However, a foreign diplomat, who is following the Lebanese-Syrian situation, said all these assumptions are wrong and are not based on a logical and scientific analysis. He noted that all Al-Qaeda-linked groups that now control a string of Iraq’s provinces have been in a state of historic and ideological hostility with Saudi Arabia and might even seek to strike Saudi interests whenever they could do so.

According to the diplomat, who declined to be identified by name, Assad’s third term has become a de facto matter and it would witness major changes, amid speculation that the influence of Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk, the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, was growing in Syria, while the possibility of naming him as prime minister was not ruled out.

The diplomat expressed the belief that the worsening situation in Iraq along with the ongoing war in Syria would increase American-Iranian coordination on the Middle East.

He spoke of a new development concerning the Lebanese presidential election, but said it has not reached the stage of naming the next president as much as reaching the common belief of the need to fill the vacant presidency seat in Lebanon amid fears of the outbreak of a major conflagration in the Middle East.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 16, 2014, on page 3.

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