Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Next Best Thing

There's a lot of complicated political maneuvering going on right now among Iraqi Shiite factions, with the major poles of religious authority being Tehran (ie. Ayatollah Khameini) and Najaf (ie. Ayatollah al-Sistani), and the major firepower concentrated in the hands of SIIC (formerly the Iran-leaning SCIRI) and al-Sadr's Mahdi Militia.

Of course, by now we're all used to thinking of Moqtada al-Sadr as an anti-American agitator, ie. our enemy. But according to this analysis by Babak Rahimi on the Jamestown Foundation site, he just might be our best shot at averting a worst-case scenario in Iraq. Because while SIIC has advocated for a Federalized Iraq with a powerful Shiite region in Basra, al-Sadr used his reappearance yesterday to call for a broad Shiite-Sunni "reform and reconciliation project":

'I say to our Sunni brothers in Iraq that we are brothers and the occupier shall not divide us. They are welcome and we are ready to cooperate with them in all fields. This is my hand I stretch out to them,' he said.

His call came a few days after Shiite leaders from Sadr's east Baghdad stronghold met with Sunni tribal sheikhs from western Iraq. Both sides promised to work together for national reconciliation and against extremism.

This is the very kind of coalition that the Maliki government has been unable to create in anything but name only. Should al-Sadr succeed, he'll have managed to endrun not only Maliki and SIIC, but also Petraeus and Bush.

There's still a lot standing in his way, not least of which is al-Sistani's contempt for his firebrand style and political ambition. But keep your eyes on this. It's the next big story that could still come out of Iraq.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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