In the Arena

Yesterday in Iraq

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Some interesting speculation from Iraqslogger about what else besides shouting happened at yesterday’s U.S.-Iran meeting.

A joint US-Iraq-Iran effort to deal with Al Qaeda would be good news, even if it is ineffective, as it will likely be. Clearly, the U.S. wants to do some horse-trading with the five Iranian agents we seized in Erbil a few months ago. Perhaps, as Christina Davidson’s article speculates, we’d ask the Iranians to turn over some senior Al Qaeda figures who are in Iraq in return for the Erbil five. No doubt, we’d like to use whatever chips we have to get the Iranians to discourage their Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force from providing arms and training to some of the more radical Shi’ites. (Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any talk of using these chips to free Alah Esfandari and the other Iran-Amricans imprisoned outrageously in Tehran.)

A moment of truth–or of more nefarious machinations–is coming for Iran. Various intelligence officials say that the Next Big Thing to happen in Iraq will be an eruption of interneceine Shi’ite warfare, most likely in Basrah when the British pull out of town (soon, but date not announced yet). Iran has given support to both contending militias, the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps–but what happens if those two forces are waging pitched battles for the control of the city (and, no doubt, the nearby oilfields)? Does Iran pick a side? Probably not. Does it try to support both sides? Probably so…but that’s a dangerous trick to pull off. And most important, does Iran want that sort of chaos next door–fighting that might spill into the holy sites of Najaf and Karbala?

It is amazing, when you think about it, just how irrelevant we are becoming to the fate of Iraq. Which, of course, raises the ultimate question: Why aren’t we starting our phased withdrawal–pulling a brigade out of Anbar, for openers–right now?