In the Arena

Today in Iraq, er, Iran

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Juan Cole notes the significance of the Shi’ite cease fire, if such a thing exists, being negotiated in Qom. And it is, indeed, significant that members of Maliki’s coalition sought out Sadr in Iran, where he is trying to burnish his religious credentials. And it may be significant that the agreement came a day after the Iranians called for the fighting to stop–clearly, five years on, Iran has greater political influence (and respect) in Iraq than the Bush Administration does.

But don’t read too much into the locale: Sadr has been funded by the Iranians, and may be studying in Qom, but it doesn’t mean that he’s in Khamenei’s back pocket. Qom, in fact, is a center of religious opposition to the current Iranian regime, home to some of the most distinguished ayatollahs of the quietist school–including Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, who was Ayatollah Khomenei’s designated successor until Montazeri began criticizing Khomenei’s activist conception of the clerical role in government. And Sadr’s movement is still Iraqi nationalist–and more likely to remain independent of the Iranians than Sadr’s rivals, ISCI and the Badr Corps, organizations that were born in Iran during the Ba’athist regime.

Finally, Sadr seems to have emerged from this with enhanced stature. For a leader routinely described by U.S. intelligence sources as a video game-playing goofball, Muqtadr seems to growing more deft with each crisis. It might not be a bad idea for the U.S. government to figure out a way to live this guy–but then, this U.S. government has been singularly unreceptive to good ideas. Certainly, the President’s dopey statements about the “Iraqi Army” fighting “terrorists” in Basra send the wrongest message imaginable. There won’t be a credible Iraqi Army until there’s a credible Iraqi government. And Sadr has shown that there won’t be a credible Iraqi government without his participation.