From this morning’s Late Edition. Pay attention to what he says about having good relations with every country in the region except one and later on to his dry aside about the unnamed forces who are funding sectarian propaganda. If the U.S. is serious about rolling back Iranian influence inside Iraq, he’s probably their best bet: a Shiite ex-Baathist who’s chummy with the Saudis and whose core plank for the past several years has been separation of mosque and state. How he plans to inculcate that value at this stage of the game is mystifying, but better to have someone who’s at least trying than someone who isn’t. And speaking of mystifying, I’m mildly encouraged by the fact that it’s Democrats like Hillary and Carl Levin and socialists like Kouchner who are getting in Maliki’s face. That suggests some meat to their claims that they’re not interested in hasty withdrawal; if they were, they wouldn’t much care who’s in charge. Which would leave in the same boat as the L.A. Times.

Even if nothing comes of it, Allawi’s PR offensive is doing some good. Amazing how conciliatory Maliki can be when the pressure’s on:

Iraq’s top Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders announced on Sunday they had reached consensus on some key measures seen as vital to fostering national reconciliation…

Iraqi officials said the five leaders had agreed on draft legislation that would ease curbs on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party joining the civil service and military.

Consensus was also reached on a law governing provincial powers as well as setting up a mechanism to release some detainees held without charge, a key demand of Sunni Arabs since the majority being held are Sunnis.

Don’t expect much, if any, follow-through.

Finally, and very much relevant to the Maliki-Allawi standoff, read David Ignatius’s take on how Iran foolishly overplayed its hand and pushed the U.S. to the brink of replacing the amenable sectarian Shiite now in charge in Iraq with an anti-Iranian secularist while earning a terrorist designation for the Revolutionary Guard. The left made a lot of noise, understandably, about the news last year that Iran wanted to make a deal in 2003 after the invasion but was spurned by Bush. Now it’s Tehran’s turn to make that mistake:

Though the Iranians appear strong in this new alignment, the reality is that they have missed a golden opportunity to consolidate their power. Where they once stood to gain tacit American acquiescence to their regional hegemony, they now confront growing American resistance. It’s an Iranian mistake that’s likely to have lasting consequences, reminiscent of the Islamic Republic’s failure to consolidate its gains in the initial years of the Iran-Iraq war…

America’s modest price for working with the Iranians was spelled out by Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had to stop shipping deadly weapons to Shiite forces in Iraq that were destabilizing the country and killing American soldiers. U.S. officials had intelligence resources to monitor whether Iran complied with this basic demand. “We’re not seeing it,” says the senior State Department official.

Read this excellent L.A. Times piece on the Revolutionary Guard, too. You already know the basic details but it’s the best report I’ve seen about the tremendous, near-monopoly power the IRGC currently has over both the public and private spheres in Iran. How tremendous? “Chances are, Iranians who go in for laser eye surgery are being treated by the employees of the Revolutionary Guard, which operates a major hospital in Tehran and several dental and eye clinics.”

Tags: Democrats