Movements In Shadow

While the US and international media fixates on other issues, the future of Iraq is being written behind the scenes as various factions jockey for power. Recently, US and Iraqi forces executed a raid against members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army near Baghdad. al-Sadr is, to be expected, crying foul. He’s been trying to play kingmaker for some time, and his Mahdi Army militia gives him more leverage than he would have normally.

At the same time, Bill Roggio notes that SCIRI is pushing for Abdul al-Mahdi to become the new Prime Minister and Ayatollah Sistani is calling for the swift formation of a new government. The good news with al-Mahdi is that he is favored by many Shi’ites, the Kurds, and Allawi’s secular Sunni list. The bad news is that SCIRI has some troublesome ties to Iran – but then again, so does al-Sadr, and at least al-Mahdi would be much more effective than the weak al-Jaafari, who’s al-Sadr’s pick for the position.

If al-Mahdi can form a government using the power of the Kurdish list, the Sunni lists, and breakaway factions of the UIA Shi’ite list, it will be a positive step towards stability in Iraq. al-Mahdi has promised to a “law-and-order” candidate who will crack down on militias and terrorist groups alike. It’s almost certain that al-Sadr is a stooge of the Iranians, and while SCIRI’s Iranian ties are troubling, he’s no theocrat, and he could garner the support of the Sunnis and Kurds, which would help keep Iraq together.

The next few days and weeks will be crucial. The violence in Iraq has spiked recently, which has strained everything from the political process to reconstruction. Getting control of the situation will require a coordinated effort on all sides, which al-Mahdi could pull off better than the weak-willed Ibrahim al-Jaafaari. If SCIRI and other members of the UIA’s somewhat fragile coalition break off, al-Sadr’s little game of kingmaker could be over very quickly – which would be a very good thing for the future of Iraq.

UPDATE: The Belmont Club has much more on the situation, including the observation that the political wing of SCIRI has been largely separated from the Iranian-controlled Badr Brigades. If so, a government in which SCIRI plays a strong role may not be such a bad thing. Given a choice between SCIRI and the al-Sadr – who is undoubtedly an Iranian stooge – the former is far more preferable for the stability of Iraq.

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