It’s a tad more complicated than that, according to the Times’s report, but read it and ask yourself what it means that Iran is the biggest supporter of Iraq’s Shiite militants while Syria, Iran’s closest ally, is positioning itself as the biggest supporter of Iraq’s Sunni militants. We’ve heard ad nauseam from the left and the guilty parties themselves that they have a mutual interest with the United States in tamping down the violence in the country lest it spill over and cause chaos in the region; that’s the jumping-off point for “dialogue,” from Baker-Hamilton to Pelosi on down. And yet if the Times is right, the two countries we’re supposed to be chatting with are playing both sides of the sectarian conflict.

You should read the stuff at the end about Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, in particular, to see the split that’s shaping up within the insurgency itself. Al-Douri allegedly wants nothing to do with Syria precisely because they’re so close to Tehran; Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, another former Baathist and al-Douri’s rival for control of the movement, is living in Syria and aligned with Damascus. Assad is going to use him as his lever of power over the movement, which makes me wonder if it won’t force al-Douri back into an alliance with Al Qaeda to oppose the al-Ahmed/Syrian faction. Either way, what’s making it all possible is eroding support for the war in the United States:

“The Syrians feel American power is much weaker in Iraq than in the past,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, the Damascus bureau chief of the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Hayat. “Now they can take a bold public initiative like helping Iraq’s opposition organize without much fear, especially since President Bush has become a lame duck.”

The must-read companion piece to this is the Times of London’s interview — in Syria, of course — with three suicide bombers planning their final missions in Iraq. They’re all educated and, alarmingly, at least two of them were radicalized inside Iraq prisons by Saudi-influence Wahhabist clerics after they’d already been detained as insurgents. Read it all, but I can’t resist sharing this little love vignette from the bowels of Islam:

Speaking at his elegant, traditional home in a town we agreed not to identify, Abu Ibrahim, whose family owns two wholesale fruit businesses bringing in $500 a day, explained that he had become engaged two months ago to an educated young woman. “She loves me and I just adore her,” he said. “I am crazy about her.”…

“She begged me to let her come along so that we could carry out a joint mission,” he said proudly. “She told me that would be the best honeymoon, in heaven together.”

As the cherry on top, here’s the United States’s best ally in Iraq, secular liberal Mithal al-Alusi, patiently explaining for the thousandth time who’s responsible for the country’s current condition. Click the image to watch.

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Update: Whether Syria’s more or less successful in its plan will depend, of course, on the tribal leaders in Anbar. For the moment, they’re hanging tough.

“They thought when they killed [Anbar leader Abu Rishawi] Sattar, security would collapse, but now it is better than before,” Albu Quod said.

Tribal leaders, police and Iraqi civilians have been galvanized to be more vigilant, he said. “We lost just one Sattar. We now have 1,000 Sattars.”…

Among ordinary citizens, there is no love for a foreign army, nor for the predominantly Shiite Muslim government it protects in Baghdad. But residents here express gratitude for the security that has allowed them to return to work, school and socializing.

Early each morning, the central market comes alive with vendors laying out colorful displays of fruit, clothing and trinkets. In Jazeera, Hayes showed off a new adult education center, where women in colorful sequined skirts and shawls mixed with others wearing somber, cloak-like black abayas.

“My God, I cannot believe that I am going with my students to school every day without fear,” said Salma Jasim, a Ramadi teacher. “I feel it is like a dream. We’ve started going to markets and going out at night after iftar to visit our relatives.”