(Al Jazeera) Iraq protests: All the latest updates spotlights a key player:
Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition had won the largest number of seats in last year’s elections, urged legislators to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions until the government responds to the protesters’ demands.
“Hurry to suspend your membership without delay,” he said in a statement issued before a parliamentary session on Saturday.
This is the same individual whose minions were one of the backbones of the insurgency that gripped Iraq between 2004 and 2008. Post that interval, he became the most adroit politician in Iraq, positioning as the “conscience of the nation” without being tarred by political office. His positions have gyrated between violence and conciliation. He has resided in Iran for indeterminate periods. The Iranian and Iraqi religious establishments have close ties, divided mainly by the issue of Velâyat-e Faqih, a very new invention which may in the near future be no issue at all. See Iran history II: two societies.
So I have long harbored the suspicion, which I cannot substantiate, that Muqtada al-Sadr is an Iranian mole, or with more grayness, a buyable personage. He’s not an ayatollah; he may lack the brainpower for the horrific memorization and declamation, but in return for delivering Iraq to Iran, Qom might judge more favorably than Najaf. Or he might enjoy being the ruler of a satrap. These are personal suspicions, unsubstantiated by anything in open source.
With Iraq on the verge of disintegration, a triangle of three forces provides a simple visualization. The corners of the triangle are patriotism, grievance, and oppression. The state of practically any nation can be represented by a dot inside the triangle, nearest to the forces most in play. In Iraq today, the dot is almost on the line connecting patriotism and grievance. If the dot moves all the way over to grievance, Iraq explodes.
Sadr is helping this along by riding the tide of grievance, and promoting the dissolution of the parliament. The fact of corruption characteristic to a tribal society is a boon to his machinations. He doesn’t have to manufacture anything.
If Sadr succeeds in disenfranchising Iraq’s civil administration, Iran may decide to lend a helping hand. Basra looks particularly juicy. It’s near Iran, the residents are well ahead of the curve of discontent. It provides a choke point on the Shatt al-Arab, extending influence well inland, to the entire drainage basin of the Tigris and Euphrates.
Iran’s strategic planners are at least gaming this out. An alternative, or adjunct, would be further strikes against Saudi facilities. At some level, oil starvation becomes less tolerable than compliance with U.S. sanctions. The result could be a general, willful disregard of U.S. sanctions, together with widespread dollar substitution, and weakening of the dollar as the primary reserve currency.
I’ve written about various ways the cookie can crumble. See:
- Iraq Headed for Another Civil War?
- Moqtada al-Sadr wins Iraq Elections
- The Kurd Referendum; Implications for U.S. Policy
- Speculation: Iran Takes Over Basra; What to Watch For
The takeaway: In this region, we don’t have a winning hand, but:
- Stick tight with Saudi Arabia.
- Yemen has possibilities, which I won’t discuss here.
- Have a contingency plan for deployment of ground forces.