Damien Cave has an article in today’s NY Times that is a first-rate job of reporting what is known, and discussing what is not known (but is necessary to know in order to understand what is happeniing) regarding Iran’s role in Iraq and how Iraqi figures from Maliki to Sadr are coping with the confusion, fear, and uncertainties regarding American behavior and intentions.
A lot of it jibes with my own information, particularly Cave’s description of Iran’s support for Sadr’s top assistants. I’ve been told that Iran has long since lost confidence in Sadr–apparently the sort you can rent, but not buy, and not a great revolutionary talent at that–and is trying to control the Mahdi Army through his nominal subordinates. Cave reports that Sadr has dismissed some of these.
On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that Sadr would directly defy the wishes of the mullahs, and the “purge’ is unlikely to have been directed against Tehran’s favorites.
This analysis extends throughout the Iraqi leadership, Sunni and Shi’ite alike. None of them can afford a direct confrontation with the Iranians, especially since they cannot possibly believe that the United States is in for the long term. Every Iraqi leader knows that we are going to leave, either quickly, as the Democrats urge, or a bit later, as so many of our military leaders have said. The Iranians aren’t leaving, so any sensible Iraqi leader is going to take out insurance, and try to make the Iranians happy. The Iraqis are walking a tightrope, some of them hoping we leave quickly so that they don’t have to make these terrible choices, others hoping we leave because they want Iran to win, and others hoping we stay a long time, and that in the interim there’s regime change in Tehran.
The news from Iraq always has to be read against this background, and bravo to Mr. Cave for doing such a fine job.