“Al-Sadr is involved in a very complicated relationship with the Iranians,” said CNN Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware. “The Iranians do provide funding and support for his militia, yet at the same time they’re trying to rein him in and get him to adopt a certain political agenda, which from time to time he resists.”
Ware said Iran wants to use al-Sadr’s populist base to advance its agenda in Iraq. “However, they don’t want to see him get too big for his boots or to rise to a position where they can no longer have sway over him.”
Iran has weakened al-Sadr by encouraging dissension within his Mehdi Army and backing hardliners — known as the Special Groups — who break away and keep up the fight against the U.S. occupation, Ware said.
“Iran’s very good at putting pressure on you, forcing you to split, and anything that squeezes out the side, Iran picks up and turns into hardline factions,” Ware said. “That’s exactly what’s happened to Muqtada. He’s had purge after purge after purge of belligerent commanders, and they’ve all been swept up by Iran.
“And now the most lethal attacks on U.S. forces, the most coordinated attacks on U.S. forces, the most daring attacks on U.S. forces in the country are committed by Iranian-backed breakaway elements of Muqtada’s militia faction.”
As I’ve said before, this is a power struggle and, as such, something American soldiers SHOULD NOT be involved in because this isn’t about al Qaeda and it isn’t about terrorism.
Also, it seems Iran will be involved in Iraqi politics one way or another, and there’s nothing we can do about it now.
And here’s more from Juan Cole:
Al-Zaman says that an attempt to negotiate a political settlement by Basra governor Muhammad Misbah al-Wa’ili of the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila) failed in the face of al-Maliki’s insistence on a military victory.
Al-Zaman says reports are circulating that the Iraqi army has committed atrocities throughout the south, conducting mass executions in many places, including Basra and Kut.
It also says that there is a humanitarian crisis developing in the neighborhoods that the Iraqi army is besieging in Basra, with women, children and old folks trapped and food and potable water running low.
The Mahdi Army still controls Sadr City in East Baghdad and the US is unable to dislodge it for the moment. Al-Zaman says that the capital could erupt into fighting at any moment.
The one silver lining? This isn’t the start of a civil war as I had first feared. This is Shia against Shia.
More as it develops…