Moqtada al Sadr is dangerous. He is attempting to build a pro-Iran state within the state of Iraq.
And now a "new" Shia militant group--completely separate from anything touching Sadr, of course--is making threats to kill Sunni Arabs:
The fliers began turning up at Sunni households in the Iraqi capital’s Jihad neighborhood last week bearing a chilling message: Get out now or face “great agony” soon.
The leaflets were signed by the Mukhtar Army, a new Shiite militant group with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. “The zero hour has come. So leave along with your families. ... You are the enemy,” the messages warned.
So what is going on? Iran has a tame Shia scholar to set up their own Hezbollah political wing. Having a "separate" military wing is an obvious complement.
During the insurgencies and terror campaigns, Iran and Syria essentially sent in their proxies to start a religious war. Iran sent in the Shia death squads. Syria sent in al Qaeda suicide bombers. Iraq's Baathist Sunni Arabs worked with al Qaeda in Iraq and hoped that the sectarian conflict would cause the Sunni Arabs to rally to them out of fear of the Shias.
Syria and Iran just wanted to defeat America and drive us from Iraq, assuming that they'd deal with what followed better than they could deal with an American ally in power in Iraq.
But what about now? The old reasons to start a sectarian war don't make sense, do they? Iran has means to influence Iraqi policy without starting a sectarian civil war. Not only can they use Sadr's group, but they can exert pressure directly on Iraq's government in the absence of America's presence.
The revolution in Syria changes things, of course. Iraq's Sunni Arabs are backing the rebels against Iran's ally Assad, despite the Shia-dominated government of Iraq's assistance to Iran in helping Assad. Iraq is no friend of Assad, given the death that Assad dealt to the Shias during the insurgencies and terror campaigns. But Iraq's government no doubt feels it has no choice but to give in to some of Iran's demands.
Maybe the Mukhtar Army is a threat by Iran to sow violence unless the Iraqi government does more to help Iran assist Assad. Or maybe the threats of violence are to pressure Iraq to shut down Iraq's Sunni Arab assistance to the Sunni Arab rebels.
Or does Iran want a unified Iraq at all, even if Iran has greater influence than it has now?
Could Iran want to break off Iraq's Shia south under the rule of a friendly Hezbollah-type organization, using the Mukhtar Army as the core of a defense force, without the Sunni Arabs and Kurds messing up Iran's designs in a unified Iraq? Iran would then have a direct shot at Kuwait and an easier overland route to Saudi Arabia.
And a much weaker Iraq. Iraq did invade Iran in 1980 and inflicted a lot of casualties on Iran in that 8-year war. With American arms and training, in time Iraq will be militarily stronger than Iran. Would Iran rather fragment Iraq to avoid that future? A future where Iraqi leaders no longer have to give in to Iranian demands out of fear?
But that risks the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq linking up with a new Sunni-run Syria, doesn't it? Would Iraq want a stronger Sunni Arab Syria quite hostile to Iran?
Does Iran just want enough chaos in the mostly Sunni Arab world to keep the more numerous Arabs from ganging up on Persian and Shia Iran?
Or is there no deeper purpose other than the fact that Iran has long mucked around in Iraq, even before Iraq invaded Iran in 1980? And even before Iran was run by the nutball mullahs, for that matter.
Iran is still mucking around in Iraq. That at least is clear. But what is the reason, now? And we chose not to be there to resist Iran, whatever Iran's designs are.
This is still called "responsibly ending" the Iraq War, if you'll recall.
UPDATE: If we still have 25,000 troops in Iraq, would the Iraqis be so keen to protect the Assad regime because that is what Iran wants?
Turkish and Qatari support for Syrian insurgents is tantamount to a declaration of war against Iraq, which will suffer from the fallout of an increasingly sectarian conflict next door, an Iraqi Shi'ite politician said.
Remember, Assad's regime is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis (mostly Shia). Yet a Shia Iraqi government official can say they fear the results of the overthrow of Assad and would prefer to keep him in power.
But the Obama administration chose not to pursue options to keep our troops in Iraq after 2011. So I have sympathy for the position that Iraq is in.
This is what happens when we get "smart" diplomacy. I'm sure Secretary of State Kerry will give us more of it--good and hard, I'm sure.