Iraqis crack down on al-Sadr; on Iranians, not so much

They arrested one of the fat man’s top aides this morning. He’s on the run, or so he says. I want to believe but this rings false:

In an interview with Mr Sadr, published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica today, the cleric said 400 of his men had already been arrested.

“For this reason, I have moved my family to a secure location. I even have had a will drawn up, and I move continuously in a way that only few can know where I am,” he was quoted as saying.

“But even if I were to die, Mahdi would continue to exist. Men can be killed. Faith and ideas cannot,” he said.

Mr Sadr said his men would not fight during the Islamic month of Muharram, which marks the death of Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, but that afterwards “we’ll see”.

For Islamist blather, that’s awfully light on bravado and heavy on apprehension. Not something you’d expect within a strong horse/weak horse paradigm unless he has good reason for wanting to communicate weakness right now … like feigning quiescence to encourage the U.S. to declare victory and start withdrawing sooner. It’s a hudna, in other words, and like all hudnas, it’s just a temporary tactical measure designed to lull the enemy while you figure out how to win. He wins here by doing two very simple things: being patient and not fighting.

Now that we’ve got his aide, will we hold him? There was probably some pressure to make a major arrest with Gates in the neighborhood, and judging by how the Iraqi government has responded to the seizure of the Iranian “diplomats” in Irbil, there’ll probably be some pressure in a few weeks to let him go. And speaking of those “diplomats,” the Iraqis still want them released — except that there’s one little catch:

The raids have deeply embarrassed Iraqi officials, who say that the United States did not consult with them before it detained the Iranians, who were properly accredited visitors to this country. At the same time, Iraqi officials have been put in an awkward position by their neighbor, as the Iraqis concede that at least some of the Iranians appear to have been working with Shiite militias, just as the Americans claimed.

As a result, Iraq has decided to tighten diplomatic controls on Iranian officials, insisting on detailed itineraries for their missions here, closer coordination with Baghdad and pledges that the officials will not work with armed groups outside the government, said Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister.

If they’re serious about tightening the leash on Iranians, though, then why expand their diplomatic credentials?

As part of its review, the Foreign Ministry plans to turn the liaison offices in Iraq into consulates, giving them official diplomatic status, he said. He added that it was unclear how many of the liaison offices there were around the country, but said that they operated openly.

One intel official told the New York Sun that the Iranians pinched in Irbil were linked to al-Sadr. Reason enough to hold them? Not according to our State Department:

On one side of the bureaucratic debate are the CIA and the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs Bureau. According to one administration official familiar with the debate, they argue that the prolonged detention of the suspected Quds force operatives will provoke a further escalation with Iran and scuttle the Iraqi government’s plan to help secure Baghdad with American soldiers. On the other side of the debate are the Pentagon’s special operations office, the Marines, and the Army — which have pleaded that the captured Iranians are too great a danger to American forces to return to Iran.

Krauthammer says it’s time to stop jerking around with Maliki and give him an ultimatum about his double-dealing:

We need to find a redeployment strategy that maintains as much latent American strength as possible, but with minimal exposure. We say to Maliki: you let us down and we dismantle the Green Zone, leave Baghdad, and let you fend for yourself; we keep the airport and certain strategic bases in the area; we redeploy most of our forces to Kurdistan; we maintain a significant presence in Anbar province where we are having success in our one-front war against al Qaeda and the Baathists. Then we watch. You can have your Baghdad civil war without us. We will be around to pick up the pieces as best we can.

I don’t want to leave you with no hope on a Friday, so read this encouraging report from the Telegraph about security in Mosul. It’s a major success story — and its architect, Gen. Petraeus, is now the new commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq. The Brits, meanwhile, are reporting little evidence of Iranian support for militias in the south, which is very good news if it’s true. Although it almost certainly isn’t.