Friday, May 25, 2007
By Mahan Abedin
"The success of Iran's policy in Lebanon, where the Islamic Republic exerts extensive influence through its local ally Hezbollah, has raised the question of whether Iran can repeat the same experience in war-torn Iraq.
If the Islamic Republic is seeking to create a Hezbollah-style ally in Iraq, its best partner would be the Sadrist movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr. But re-creating the Hezbollah experience in Iraq is a daunting task that is likely to take many years to bear fruit. The ill-disciplined and fragmented Sadr movement is worlds apart from the iron-clad discipline and sophistication of Lebanon's Hezbollah. And Muqtada is no Hassan Nasrallah.
But despite these challenges, the Sadr movement can be used by Iran to consolidate its influence in a steadily fragmenting Iraq and to manage hostilities with the United States. The Islamic Republic excels at developing and using non-state actors in unstable countries, and war-torn Iraq provides Iran with plenty of motivation to mobilize its unique skills and resources for this purpose.......
As this scenario unfolds, the Iranians will give more importance to their relationship with Muqtada and the different components and factions of his movement. While Iran would prefer to exert influence in a unified and stable (albeit weak) Iraq, it can still manage an extensive network of patronage and influence in an unstable and bloody situation.
In the final analysis, the Sadr movement will likely play an important role in how Iran and the United States manage tensions and eventually reach some kind of broad understanding, without necessarily normalizing relations. While tension is unlikely to escalate into a shooting war, the Mahdi Army still gives the Islamic Republic potent leverage in the increasingly aggressive positioning that is likely to precede any significant breakthrough in the Iranian-US cold war."