by Eric Martin
Over at QandO, Bruce McQuain treats a Wall St Journal Editorial as a go-to source in terms of assessing the implications of the recently signed truce between the Sadrist trend and the Iraqi government (a truce, it should be pointed out, that has yet to fully take hold). McQuain reacts to the editorial's claim that, despite early press reports that called the truce a draw, Maliki was the big winner:
A draw? A draw, at least where I come from, doesn't have one side imposing restrictions on the other side. This is dictating terms with the caveat that if they're violated, the destruction of the other side will continue as it was before.
IOW, this "truce" says to the Mahdi Army, accept these conditions and stick with them or well [sic] give you no choice at all.
That interpretation is a bit one-sided (a shock, I know, considering how fair and balanced the WSJ editorial page usually is). First of all, the Sadrists won concessions as well: as the editorial mentioned, there is to be less targeting of Sadrist members, requirements for police warrants prior to arrest, and provisions for limiting the use of US military personnel in Sadr City (more below). Further, both sides, not just Maliki's, are issuing warnings and caveats. According to the only statement issued to date by Moqtada al-Sadr himself, the Mahdi Army's compliance with the truce is contingent on a few factors:
In the event of commitment by this government to the clauses that have been signed by the brothers assigned by us under the seal of this office, then the faithful should commit to what is contained therein and comply with it. However [or "provided that"] there is formed a supervisory council for the implementation of the agreement, so as to protect the power [or honor] of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi resistance.
So if the government lives up to its end of the bargain, and a supervisory council is formed, the Sadrists will comply. Sadr also contends that the truce limits use of the US military:
Where the above points [legitimate law-enforcement, searches and so on] require it, the government is the relevant party for determining what Iraqi force is required for the extension of security in the city, avoiding recourse to foreign forces.
The Sadrist current is also allowed to keep its small arms (and, in effect, its heavy arms too unless the Iraqi government forces can find and seize the heavier stuff - easier said than done). All in all a mixed bag, with uncertainty surrounding the implementation, acceptance and durability of the cease-fire. Not exactly the total victory advertised.
McQ also gets tied into knots by the editoria'l's claim that the truce signifies a defeat for Iran, as Iran was forced to accept Maliki as a "serious opponent" after it, allegedly, "invested heavily" in Sadr in order to take down Maliki:
As the WSJ points out, Iran had invested its interests in Sadr and the Mahdi Army. Iran, as it has discovered, backed the wrong horse. We're now supposed to believe that Maliki will...suddenly cozy up to the country which had, directly, been threatening his leadership.
Hmmm. You know, Iran has "invested heavily" in Maliki's Dawa Party as well. So much so, that it's extremely unlikely that they'd be trying to take him down. Some history:
The Dawa party began receiving direct support from the Iranian government at around the time of the Iranian Revolution. In 1979, facing pressure from Saddam's crackdowns (Saddam's response to Dawa-led uprisings) Dawa moved its headquarters to Tehran. During the Iran-Iraq War, Dawa actually fought, with Iran's backing, an insurgency against the Iraqi government (so, in a sense, Dawa fought on the side of the Iranians against Iraqis). In 1983 Dawa simultaneously bombed the American and French embassies in Kuwait and several other domestic and foreign targets in Kuwait (but now, we're BFFs!). Most leaders of al-Dawa, including Maliki for a time, remained in exile in Iran until the US invasion.
So, any "cozying up" to Iran on the part of Maliki in the near future would not count as "sudden." Nor would the limited supply of arms and funds provided to the Sadrists by Iran qualify as a big investment relative to the decades-long investment in the Dawa party.
There's more to the story, though. Maliki's current control of the Iraqi government is entirely dependent on his close alliance with the ISCI party (Sadr's chief Shiite rival). It is ISCI and Dawa that are behind the anti-Sadrist operations in Sadr City, Basra and elsewhere - actions undertaken to weaken the more popular Sadrist movement ahead of elections, lest ISCI and Dawa lose political ground to their rival. But ISCI has an even cozier relationship with Iran than Dawa, and talk about heavy investment:
There is little actual doubt about who is Iran’s primary proxy in Iraq: The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), formerly the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI was founded in the early 1980s by exiled Iraqi clerical activists in Iran, with the blessing and support of Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) created and trained SCIRI’s armed wing, the Badr Corps (now known as the Badr Organization) [in Iran], for the express purpose of eventually serving as an arm of Iran’s Quds Force in Iraq. SCIRI was among the Iraqi exile parties with whom the U.S. worked in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, but maintained close ties to Iran. ISCI continues to receive Iranian funds, and many members of the Badr militia reportedly still receive pensions from the IRGC. Thousands of these Iranian-trained and indoctrinated militiamen have been incorporated into the Iraqi police and army. [emph. added]
But McQ and the WSJ would have us believe that Iran has been backing the Sadrists to the exclusion of ISCI and Dawa (the parties that it has spent almost a quarter century cultivating). And, thus, that the recent truce and weakening of Sadr is a blow against Iran. Uh huh. Quite the opposite. Iran (or large factions within Iran's regime) has an interest in the political ascension of ISCI and Dawa (the closest proxies of Tehran and propoenents of the preferred political platform - moreso ISCI in each respect). That being said, while the Iranian regime, overall, might prefer that ISCI/Dawa outperform Sadr at the ballot box, it doesn't want to annihilate the Mahdi Army (nor likely could it if it wanted to).
So an outcome that weakens Sadr ahead of the upcoming electoral contests, but that doesn't jeopardize the existence of the movement and militia, seems like an ideal outcome for Iran. Yet according to McQ and the WSJ, Iran is devastated by the truce it helped negotiate.
(cross-posted to American Footprints)