An Interesting Analysis
by Gareth Porter
".....State Department spokesman Ian Kelly expressed concern that the five Iranian detainees being released were "associated with" the Quds Force of the Iranian and could endanger U.S. troops in Iraq. The idea that the Quds Force was fighting a "proxy war" against U.S. and Iraqi troops was the justification for the George W. Bush administration's decision in late 2006 to target any Iranian found in Iraq who could plausibly be linked to the IRGC.......
Iraqi officials also rejected the idea that the IRGC's Quds Force itself was hostile to the Iraqi regime. They had personal relationships with the Quds Force commander Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and they acknowledged that he had ties with all the Shi'a factions in Iraq.
They knew that Iran had trained officers of Shi'a nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and provided some financial support to Sadr. But they also believed that the purpose of that relationship was to exert influence on Sadr in the interest of peace and stability.
After Sadr declared a unilateral ceasefire in late August 2007, the Maliki regime, including Kurdish foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, argued publicly and privately to Bush administration officials that Iran had used its influence on Sadr to get him to agree to such a ceasefire. They used the argument to urge the Bush administration to release the Iranian detainees........
In December 2007 the State Department's coordinator on Iraq, David Satterfield, went so far as to agree publicly that the Sadr ceasefire "had to be attributed to an Iranian policy decision". But Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, strongly resisted that conclusion, insisting that it was U.S. military operations against Sadr's Mahdi Army that had brought about the ceasefire. The internal debate was resolved in favour of Petraeus, and the five Iranian detainees were not released.
A series of events in 2008, however, showed that the Iraqi regime was much more comfortable relying on personal relationships with of the Quds Force than on U.S. military might to deal with the problem of the Mahdi Army.
First, Maliki refused in March to allow U.S. ground forces to participate in an operation against the Mahdi Army in Basra. Then, only a few days into the battle, the government turned to the Iranian Quds Force commander, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, to lean on Sadr and broker a ceasefire in Basrah only a few days into a major battle there. Iraqi President Talabani met with Suleimani Mar. 28-29, 2008 at an Iran-Iraq border crossing and asked him to stop the fighting in Basra. Suleimani intervened to bring about a ceasefire within 24 hours, according to a report by McClatchy Newspapers Apr. 28, 2008.
And in a second meeting a few days later, revealed by Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor May 14, 2008, Suleimani called Sadr the biggest threat to peace in Iraq. The Quds Force commander vowed support for the Maliki regime and referred to "common goals with the United States".
In a gesture to Washington, Suleimani asked Talabani to tell Petraeus that his portfolio included not only Iraq but Gaza and Lebanon, and that he was willing to send a team to Baghdad to "discuss any issue" with the U.S.......
But Petraeus understood that Suleimani had indeed achieved just such a position of power in Iraq as arbiter of conflict among Shi'a factions. "The level of their participation, centrality of their role, should give everyone pause," Petraeus told journalist and author Linda Robinson. "The degree to which they have their hands on so many lines was revealed very starkly during this episode". ......."