EDITORIAL: Who’s really special?

Who’s really special?

Is George Bush, ever so slowly, inching towards détente with Iran?

If so, it’s probably something he won’t brag about. But what on earth could hint at such a possibility?

Consider these few things:

First, an interesting piece of speculation recounted by Sami Moubayed a few days ago in Asia Times:

One theory says that Imad Mughniya, the Hezbollah commander who was assassinated in Damascus in February, had been charged by Iran to restructure the Mahdi Army. He had been one of the architects of Hezbollah in 1982 and was asked to do the same to professionalize the Sadrists. While all of this was being done, Muqtada was asked to return to his religious studies so he could rise to the rank of ayatollah and therefore gain a much stronger role in Shi’ite domestics. He would then be authorized to issue religious decrees and answer religious questions related to politics – just like Hakim.

Then suddenly something went wrong, and last week Maliki (who is now equally close to the Iranians) went to war against the Sadrists. Some claim that an under-the-table deal was hammered out in Baghdad in March between the Americans, Maliki and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian leader would let the Americans have their way – and crush the Sadrists – in exchange for softening pressure on the Iranian regime. In return, Ahmadinejad would help them bring better security to Iraq through a variety of methods stemming from Iranian cooperation.

This would please the Americans, Maliki and the Iranians, who in exchange for Muqtada’s head would enter a new relationship with the Americans. This might explain why the only people who have been lobbying heavily with Maliki – to stop the war on Muqtada – have been those opposed to Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs, mainly Sunni tribes, ex-prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (who refused sanctuary in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war) and the Sunni speaker of parliament, Mahmud Mashadani.

On Sunday, in an interview with CNN, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki when questioned about Iran’s role in violence in Iraq said, “we understand this comes because of the background of the deep differences between Iran and the US and we are encouraging them to go back to the negotiating table with Iraqi mediation. We reject Iran using Iraq to attack the US and at the same time we reject the idea of the US using Iraq to attack Iran. We want to have peaceful positive relations with all sides.”

Maliki’s offer of mediation could be dismissed as political posturing, but it’s not hard to imagine that a prime minister who is not popular would be attracted by the idea of making himself indispensable. The role of mediation has never been dependent on strength, though if Iraq was to serve as a mediator between Iran and the US this would clearly benefit Iraq and especially the leader who had placed himself in such a pivotal position.

On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters, “We have received a new request from US officials through a formal note for holding talks on Iraq and we are looking into the issue.”

Then on Tuesday, after the main food market in Sadr City had burnt down and residents of the Shia district were fleeing American Hellfire missiles, Iran again issued another statement. Naturally it condemned US forces for indiscriminate bombardment of residential areas in Sadr City and Basra – but it didn’t stop there. It condemned attacks on the Green Zone and it praised “rightful measures taken by the Iraqi government to counter illegal armed groups.”

Could those illegal armed groups be the very same entities that have curiously been dubbed “special groups”?

What Maliki, Sadr and anyone else who might want a special relationship with Iran seems to discover sooner or later is that “special” does not mean “indispensable.” Iran, just like the United States, thinks first and foremost in terms of its national interest.

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