Iran shifts attention to brokering peace in Iraq
Details from a secret meeting between top Iranian and Iraqi officials signal Iran's aim to 'stop arming' militias.
ISTANBUL, Turkey; and BAGHDAD
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While the deal inked Monday was tested Tuesday as militants in Moqtada al-Sadr's Baghdad stronghold launched overnight attacks on US forces, Iraqi officials say that Iranian influence was key to reaching the deal with the anti-American cleric aimed at ending weeks of deadly fighting.
Iran's intervention comes as previously undisclosed details are emerging of a secret meeting between Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, other senior Iraqi officials, and the commander of Iran's Qods Force, Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in April, after clashes with Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra. In that meeting, General Soleimani "was deeply concerned" and "promised to stop arming groups in Iraq and to ensure that groups halt activities against US forces," according to a description given by a US official to the Monitor.
Soleimani gave Mr. Talabani a "message" for US Gen. David Petraeus, too. He noted that his portfolio includes Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon and that he was willing to "send a small team" to "discuss any issue" with the Americans.
Talabani and other senior Iraqi leaders told US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Petraeus that this "was an entirely different tone than we had ever heard from [Soleimani] before," and asked the Americans to "please take it seriously" and "test it," according to the official.
Mr. Crocker and Petraeus – who told Congress in April that Iran was waging a "proxy war" against the US in Iraq – expressed skepticism, noting how even the ambassador's Green Zone residence had recently come under fire from 240-mm rockets made in Iran.
The top two US officials in Iraq dismissed Soleimani's words as an Iranian bid to become an "indispensable power broker" in Iraq as part of a "brilliant tactical game" meant to keep the US and Iraqi governments "off balance" and to spread Iran's influence in Iraq, according to the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But Crocker agreed to wait and see if Iran had "truly made a strategic readjustment," according to this US account, adding that "actions need to be visible" and "we will know soon enough."