Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mystery delegation backfires

It appears the SupremeCouncil/Dawa delegation to Tehran backfired, if its purpose was to put pressure on the Mahdi Army. In the first place, Maliki chum Sami al-Askari denied, on the American radio station Radio Sawa, that Maliki had anything to do with the idea of sending the delegation in the first place. And he added that the delegation has had to assure the Iranian authorities that what is going on in Iraq is "not targeting the it was apparently indicated in a report that reached Tehran", but rather merely trying to rein in criminal groups. (Summary of his remarks in Azzaman of Saturday May 3). Moreover, he said, the delegation has no purpose other than to inform the Iranian authorities of information the Iraqi government has about Iranian arming and training of Iraqi militias.

If the Askari remarks foreshadowed trouble, the evolution of the meetings confirmed it. First of all, the Iranians brushed off the charges of intervention, "rejecting the proofs" of their involvement with Iraqi militias, and issued a statement that said their interest in the talks was to assist in ending the fighting. And on Saturday, the Fars News Agency reported that "a senior member of Iran's negotiating team with the US demanded a halt to US attacks in Iraq before any new round of talks with Washington" on Iraqi security. The official referred to "the savage attacks against the Iraqi people". So if the purpose of the delegation was to exert pressure on Sadr via Iran, it clearly appears to have backfired, and resulted in Iranian pressure on the US to stop the Sadr City campaign, if it wants talks with Iran.

That's a lot of "ifs", but the one clear point here is that if the idea was to pressure Sadr, it didn't work. (For cosmetic purposes in English, there was a recycling of earlier pro forma remarks by the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad to the effect his government supports the Maliki government in its law-enforcement operations--Tehran Times on Saturday May 3 summarizing remarks by the ambassador published in Asharq alAwsat three days earlier, prior to the delegation to Tehran).

Saturday's escalation in Sadr City comes in that context.

AlQabas, a Kuwaiti paper with independent Iraqi coverage, is one of the more methodical of the Arab-language papers when it comes to organizing complex stories. It leads its account of all of this as follows:
The intensity of fighting and air-strikes on Sadr City escalated on Saturday, and the parliamentary delegation visiting Tehran denied that it ever had any intention of meeting Moqtada al-Sadr. This came about as the Iranian leadership stipulated that what it called halting "the brutal American attacks on Iraq" was a condition for resumption of Iranian-American meetings on the situation in Iraq.
But if the delegation's result was Iranian pressure on the US (rather than on Sadr), that leaves unanswered the other set of questions about this whole episode. If the idea came, as appears likely, from Bush to Hakim to the UIA group, and if Maliki's chum Sami alAskari denied Maliki had anything to do with it, what was going on there? Could this have been part of a new Bush scheme to drive a wedge somewhere in the UIA-Maliki-Iran alliance? Recall that as recently as early 07, it was considered unthinkable that Maliki and Sadr could ever come to a parting of the ways, and yet it was done. As things look now, wouldn't a government headed by Adel AbdulMahdi of the Supreme council look a look a lot nicer to Washington than the current one?


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