"BAGHDAD — In the Iraqi government’s fight to subdue the Shiite militia of Moktada al-Sadr in the southern city of Basra, perhaps nothing reveals the complexities of the Iraq conflict more starkly than this: Iran and the United States find themselves on the same side.
The causes of this convergence boil down to the logic of self-interest, although it is logic in a place where even the most basic reasoning refuses to go in a straight line. In essence, though, the calculation by the United States is that it must back the government it helped to create and take the steps needed to protect American troops and civilian officials.
Iranian motivations appear to hinge on the possibility that Mr. Sadr’s political and military followers could gain power in provincial elections this fall, and disrupt the creation of a semiautonomous region in the south that the Iranians see as beneficial........
But the two sides are making nice on the issue of fighting Mr. Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite clerics. As Iraqi government soldiers took control of the last areas of Basra from Mr. Sadr’s militia on Saturday, concluding a monthlong effort, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, took the unusual step of expressing strong support for the government’s position and described Mr. Sadr’s fighters as outlaws.
When it comes to which Shiite leader Iran and the United States want to see in power, at least for now they largely see Mr. Sadr’s ascendance as a common threat — nowhere more so than in Basra, the oil-rich capital of Iraq’s most populous region, the Shiite south.
Although there are many groups in Iraq — Shiite and Sunni, Turkmen and Kurd — it is a majority Shiite country, and in the end the geopolitical calculus of the United States and Iran has to do with what kind of Shiite government they want in control.
The party that Iran and the United States are backing, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, is a bitter rival of Mr. Sadr’s political movement and has managed to play to the interests of both countries. Under Iraq’s Constitution, provinces can form regions with considerable independence from Baghdad. The Supreme Council advocates a large, semiautonomous region in the south, similar to Kurdistan in the north, made up of the nine southern provinces. And because many of the council’s leaders lived in exile in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iran has political ties to the group.
Coupled with Iran’s shared Shiite heritage, such a region would amplify Iran’s influence over the oil-rich area.
The American backing of the Supreme Council comes in part because the armed wing of the council, the Badr Organization, has never confronted American troops. As one American general said, “They aren’t trying to kill us.” The same cannot be said of Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, which the United States believes is behind some of the most sophisticated and deadly attacks on American troops.
Second, the Americans have treated the Supreme Council as an ally from the beginning of the fight against Mr. Hussein. Its members were guaranteed safe passage when they returned from Iran and were made charter members of Iraq’s first governing body after the American-led invasion toppled Mr. Hussein’s regime. Since then, the United States has backed the Iraqi government, which in turn relies on the Supreme Council to stay in power in the country’s parliamentary system....... "