Iranian Peacemakers in Iraq?
The Sunday New York Times (May 11, 2008) carried a story without much fanfare but with potentially significant importance to the American continuing presence in Iraq. Reported by Alice J. Rubin, it was titled “Sadrists and Iraqi Government Reach Truce Deal.”
The gist of the report was that a delegation of Iraqi parliamentarians dispatched to Tehran to pressure the Iranian government to stop supplying Iraqi militias with weapons used against Americans and Iraqis instead negotiated a deal with the Iranians to broker a truce in inter-Shiite fighting in Sadr City, a Shiite-dominated suburb of Baghdad, between Iraqi government forces and elements loyal to Muktada al-Sadr. The result was a ceasefire “brokered with the help from Iran” that has, at least temporarily, brought a stop to violence in one of the most troubling hot spots in Iraq. And it was all done without apparent American advice or assistance and even, indeed, in the face of American opposition to dealing with Iran in anything but a hostile manner.
How did the “Iran factor” work in this case? As noted in the most recent posting of this blog on May 5, Iran has been providing assistance to all major Shiite parties in Iraq, including the government and al-Sadr’s Mahdi army. The Iraqi and Mahdi armies have been the major contestants in the battle for control of Sadr City, meaning the Iranians have both an interest in and leverage over boh contending parties. In this case, they apparently sent word to al-Sadr (with whom they have a mixed relationship, since he is both a strict Shiite and an Arab nationalist) that he either negotiate a cease fire or they would cut off supplies to him. And it has worked, although no one is predicting how long it will hold. The Iranians have apparently accomplished a goal that has eluded the American occupiers.
What does this tell us? Maybe a lot, maybe very little. It certainly suggests that Tehran can, when it wants to, exercise influence over what happens in Iraq, in this case for the betterment of peace in that country. Their actions are undoubtedly self-interested in ways that will almost certainly be interpreted darkly by the Bush administration, but it is undeniable that they can be movers and shakers in determining what happens in Iraq. Does this mean the United States would be well advised to try to befriend (or at least start talking to) the Iranians and see if Tehran and Washington may have some common interests that can be pursued in the interest of Iraqi stability and American withdrawal? Maybe, maybe not, but the Iranians have demonstrated that they cannot be ignored altogether if the objective is to influence events in Iraq.