"Iran wants U.S. forces to leave Iraq and assumes that a friendly Shiite government would then protect Iran's interests. Tehran has looked to Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, to manage its strategy of supporting Shiite unity and resisting American occupation. But these efforts do not go hand in hand. The first means supporting stability and state-building and working with Iraq's government; the second involves building violent militias that undermine government authority.
It was easy for Tehran to do both when a sectarian war united Shiites against a common Sunni enemy. But sectarian violence has largely ceased, and Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda are no longer imminent threats. Throughout 2007, militias challenged the government as they terrorized neighborhoods in southern Iraq, disrupting commerce and assassinating clerics as well as government and provincial officials. The situation came to a head in August when Mahdi Army gunmen killed several pilgrims in Karbala. Tehran intervened; Sadr agreed to a truce with government forces and rival Shiite parties and ordered his militia to stand down."
It is a frequent refrain in Washington that the United States needs leverage before it can talk to Iran. In Iraq, Washington is getting leverage. America has the advantage while Iran is on its heels. Engaging Iran now could even influence who wins the Iraq debate in Tehran.
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