Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sadr to Iran?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

ABC News is reporting that Moqtada al-Sadr left Baghdad for Tehran "two to three weeks ago," a move that "coincide[d] with the announced U.S. troop surge in Baghdad". The source -- "senior military officials," whatever that means.

Sadr may or may not be in Baghdad now -- there are conflicting reports, according to CNN -- but it makes sense both that Sadr would leave Baghdad for Tehran and that U.S. officials would claim that he has left Baghdad for Tehran. Consider:

1) Why he would leave: The intent of the surge is to secure Baghdad, but Sadr's friend and ally, Prime Minister Maliki, hopes to direct the surge against the Sunni insurgents while protecting the Shiite militias, including Sadr's Mahdi Army. Sadr would find safety in Tehran until the surge is over, whereupon he would return to Baghdad with the U.S. pulling out, the Sunni insurgency weakened, Maliki still in office, and his own militia still strong.

2) Why the U.S. would claim that he has left: The U.S. is currently trying to make the case, evidence aside, that Iran is directly supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with weapons to use against both Sunnis and Americans, perhaps in preparation for a war with Iran. The supply of weapons to Shiite militias would presumably be interpreted by those pushing for war with Iran as an act of war to which the U.S. could respond. Even if Sadr hasn't left Baghdad, the claim that he has done so would reinforce his ties to Iran, or the perception thereof. (Connecting Sadr to Iran also means connecting Maliki to Iran. What this would mean is that the U.S. has already given up on Maliki and is preparing to pull out and lump Baghdad and Tehran together.)

Of course, all it would take for Sadr to disprove the U.S. claim would be for him to appear in public, or on TV, in Iraq, preferably in his own Baghdad neighbourhood. And that may yet happen. (#2 seems unlikelier than #1, and I present #2 largely because I am highly skeptical of whatever the U.S. claims.) But whether he does or not, the connection has been made. It's out there. And it can be built upon as the case for war against Iran is made.

Remember -- It's all about Iran now, not Iraq. The Iraq War is past, the Iran War is future. The U.S. has backed Maliki, but it will soon give up on him, pull out, and blame the Iraqis for not doing enough on their own. At that point the U.S. will have enemies in both Baghdad and Tehran, but the enemy will be the same: Iran.

And that means war.

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