April 22, 2008

Common Ground Between the U.S. and Iran Over Iraq?

Yesterday I took on Michael O'Hanlon for pushing for U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq, but expecting them to fail. I argued that there was more room for successful negotiations with Iran over Iraq than his op-ed suggested, but only in the context of the U.S. initiating negotiations with the Iraqi government to establish a time horizon for a phased American withdrawal.

Another piece from yesterday's Times strengthens this claim. Notice that the U.S. and Iran have discovered a mutuality of interest in combating Sadr/JAM in the south, yet the Iranians appear to be continuing support for Sadr/JAM in Sadr City (Baghdad). What gives? Well, down south, the fight is mainly an intra-Shia conflict, Iraqi forces are in the lead, and Iran has an interest in strife not escalating to the point of destabilizing the oil-rich region or triggering an all-out intra-Shia civil war. But in Sadr City, where U.S. troops have taken a prominent role in military operations, Iran is still working to inflict pain on U.S. forces.

This provides some additional evidence for my basic point: the U.S., Iraqi, and Iranian governments probably have a shared interest in preventing Iraq from becoming a failed state in the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal . . . but the Iranians also have an incentive to continue to support groups that attack us as long as we're there. This is not an argument for a rapid American departure in the face of Iranian attacks. It is an argument for engaging in meaningful, and open, diplomacy with the Iranians over Iraq as we chart a responsible redeployment.