Image here. Iraqi Army unit with American soldiers.
Vali Nasr pens a very interesting piece today in the Washington Post here. He argues that Iran has taken a major hit in Iraq with the offensive by Maliki against the Mahdi Army.
Iran wants U.S. forces to leave Iraq and assumes that a friendly Shiite government would then protect Iran’s interests. Tehran has looked to Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards‘ Quds Force, to manage its strategy of supporting Shiite unity and resisting American occupation. But these efforts do not go hand in hand. The first means supporting stability and state-building and working with Iraq’s government; the second involves building violent militias that undermine government authority.
For Nasr these two were in tension with voices like anti-Ahmadinejad/Revolutionary Guards Ali Larijani and Tehran Mayor Mohammed Qalibaf (likely next president of Iran) were calling for full support of the Iraqi government and the end of supporting rogue elements of the Mahdi Army. Or not so rogue elements of the Mahdi Army according to some reports.
This points out how useless the American policy of ratcheting up pressure with Iran via Iraq has been. The clear and obvious alliance was always pro-Shia government (not Sadr) between the two countries.
I think Vasr may overestimate the degree to which Sadr has lost out (I’ve learned never to underestimate that guy) and how this might give the US leverage to negotiate with Iran (from a position of strength–which would be fine by me, I’m for negotiations and ending this ludicrously and dangerously ignorant policy of Iranian isolation) but this sounds correct to me:
Iran still has considerable influence in Iraq. It may reconstitute the Mahdi Army and pick up the fight against America, using special groups of the type suspected in the Baghdad car bombing Tuesday. It may also try to use nationalist opposition to the U.S.-Iraq “status of forces” agreement to its advantage. But Tehran will find it difficult to regain lost turf in Baghdad or Basra, or to go back to happily supporting Shiites both at the center and in the militias. It will have to choose whether it is with the state or the sub-state actors.
As much as I have criticized Bush & Co. (rightly) for their wrongheaded position vis a vis Iran, there is also the revolutionary-expansionist wing of Iran that is a serious part of the problem (equally wanting to ratchet up for their own political ideology), the response to which I’ve always thought is that if they think they are so smart and can handle Iraq, give it to them and watch it be their Poland or Vietnam or whatever analogy you prefer.
On the other hand, there is still a fundamental inconsistency not mentioned by Nasr regarding the Maliki government. How can the central government be strong via parties that seek regional autonomy? Unless the government is a function of the achievement of power via militias. The Maliki and SIIC militias may be better in terms of market reforms, women not being forced as much into Islamist garb/oppression, but there still remains the question of why the US should be inserting itself into an intra-Shia theocratic fight. But if it does for God’s sake, make common cause with the elements of Iran that want to support this militia (over Sadr). What you can’t have, and which we do, is the Maliki/SIIC position while maintaining the anti-Iran position thereby failing to see the parties within Iran jockeying for power and neutralizing the US ability to empower elements more to its liking.
Though of course I am forgetting, Israel’s truce with Hamas is a victory for Iran and now come to think of it, I’m an appeaser. So you probably shouldn’t listen to what I have to say on the matter.