McClatchy provides a lot of important detail about Sunday's surprising developments regarding the fight between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army. A parliamentary delegation from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's own coalition (mainly now the Da`wa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) defied him by going off to the holy seminary city of Qom in Iran and negotiating directly with Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr and with the leader of the Quds Brigades of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Brig. Gen. Qasim Sulaymani.
As a result of those parleys, Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to stand down, though I read his statement as permitting continued armed self-defense, as at Basra where the Iraqi Army is attacking them and the US is bombing them. Significantly, he calls on the Mahdi Army to stop attacking the HQs of rival political parties. That language suggests that the parties are suffering from such attacks and are worried that party infrasture is being degraded ahead of the October 1 provincial elections. The southern parties have essentially defied al-Maliki and Bush to make a separate peace.
The entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq. The Iranian government had called on Saturday for the fighting to stop. And by Sunday evening it had negotiated at least a similar call from Sadr (whether the fighting actually stops remains to be seen and depends on local commanders and on whether al-Maliki meets Sadr's conditions).
From that, it sounds like this didn't have Maliki's backing at all. I'd say this is a major loss for the Iraqi PM, and if he plays it right, a win for Sadr.
More on the possible resolution to Shi'ite violence. From TPM.
Consider: with Maliki's campaign stalled, a parliamentary delegation from Maliki's own coalition went off to Iran to broker a deal with Sadr. And the terms of that deal, which involves the release of hundreds of detained Sadr followers and the return of his followers displaced by raids and violence, will surely strengthen Sadr's political position. That's assuming, of course, that the deal holds and the fighting actually stops. All of the papers report that fighting has not stopped in Baghdad and Basra. And while it's unclear whether the deal will actually last, it's crystal clear what the deal means for Maliki.
To summarize: a play by Maliki that was supposed to weaken the Sadrist's hand in the coming elections blew-up in his face and instead strengthened them. Meanwhile, the United States is spending inordinate amounts of money to a) fight for Iranian proxies and b) shore up a country where Iran is more influential than we are.
In short, we have over a hundred thousand troops there, but Iran is calling the shots.
(posted by: Ewan)