Hundreds of members of Al Mahdi Army, which was created by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, were trained by members of the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah in Iran, according to a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard official who spoke to Asharq al Awsat newspaper. The official also said Iran gave Hezbollah tens of boats were delivered to the Syrian al Lazeqeya port for "its big battle, which will be soon."
The source, who was identified in the story as Col. Al Haj Reda because he preferred not to have his real name published, said the Revolutionary Guard's al Quds Force, which was in charge of training Shiite Iraqi militias in several Iranian cities, decided to use the help of Hezbollah members who had been trained by al Quds Force themselves, because of the language difficulties. Lebanese Hezbollah members and Iraqi Shiite militias can communicate easily in Arabic, while most Iranian's first language is Farsi.
Col. Reda, who is residing in one of Iran's neighboring countries according to the report, said members of al Mahdi Army came in groups of between 50 and 100, mostly from Najaf, Sadr City and Basra. They crossed into Iran through unsupervised border areas. Since 2007, al Mahdi Army members started getting advanced training on the use of different type of missiles and making explosives, said the source. The coast guard forces also trained them on naval skills, including diving, he added.
As for Hezbollah's close relationship with the Iran, Col. Reda considered Hezbollah part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and said a common ideology connects them. "There's no difference between its men and those belonging to the Revolutionary Guard," he said, adding that Iran's funding to Hezbollah surpassed $800 million in 2007. Col. Reda said it is therefore not strange for Hezbollah members to participate in training Iraqi militias instead of using translators to communicate with the trainees.
Other sources also told the paper that Hezbollah trainers can be found mainly in the training camp in Lafizan, north of Tehran, the camps of Mondhareya and Saleh Abad on the Tehran-Qom road and in the Revolutionary Guard's Qawa air base in the city of Mashahd, where Hezbollah pilots were trained. Training of al Mahdi Army often takes place in camps close to the borders with Iraq like Khatem al Anbeyaa, Eelam and Karmenshah camps, added the sources.
Col. Reda noted that Iran withdrew members of Hezbollah temporarily from Iraq after the arrest of senior Hezbollah official Moussa Dakdouk there in March 2007. He explained that he left the Revolutionary Guard because of his objections to the role it plays in Iraq and Lebanon and has now applied for asylum in one country, but refused to reveal its name. He also promised to reveal "serious secrets" and his real identity after moving to that country.
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