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I doubt that the military operation ‘Knights’ Assault’ in southern Iraq was aimed at enforcing security and state control since it appears that the party that once utilized al Sadr’s forces has decided to dispose of them today and grant authority to the pro-Iranian government.

Today, the Iraqi government is talking about the financial and arms support that the militias in the south have been receiving from neighboring countries. And if geography does not mislead us, which it doesn’t, then this neighboring state is Iran.

We are presently confronted by a similar model to that of the fall of Amal movement and the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since his retirement, isolation or exile, Muqtada al Sadr’s departure to Iran to study – according to the rumor – indicates that the stage in which Tehran utilized al Sadr has ended.

Muqtada al Sadr is a mighty but reckless force; he is not as intelligent as Hassan Nasrallah and does not speak the language of politics, however he was an important factor in enforcing the Iranian influence at the moment in which Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. Today, it appears that Tehran no longer needs al Sadr – so long as it has control over Iraq within the political framework.

Nouri al Maliki’s regime, with its political prowess as opposed to the Sunni political crudeness, has managed to win over Washington – or neutralize it – as well as bring about American-Iranian rapprochement over the Iraqi issue. This was achieved whilst taking advantage of the political situation in Washington in light of US President George W. Bush’s weakness following the Democratic victory in Congress and at time when the US has entered into a state of political paralysis as a result of the upcoming elections.

Iran no longer needs Muqtada al Sadr but rather wants a sophisticated model that is even more progressive than Hezbollah’s in order to take over Iraq. A government in control is much better than an opposition whose only possession and demands are the right to disrupt – such as the case in Lebanon.

The importance of the ‘Knights’ Assault’ operation does not lie in American participation but rather in the outcome of Ahmadinejad’s most recent visit to Baghdad since it is impossible to target the Mehdi army – the same army that Muqtada al Sadr declares cannot be dismantled except at the orders of the Imam himself, and without Iran’s blessing.

Al Sadr’s talk about the Imam dismantling the Mehdi army was circulating at the time when Iyad Allawi’s government had besieged Najaf in an attempt to vanquish the Mehdi army. After that we witnessed how persecution charges were leveled against some figures in the government leadership for corruption, among other accusations, because it had dared to raise arms against the Sadr forces.

Today at a time when Muqtada al Sadr receives a blow Iran remains tight-lipped, same as the Shiaa clerics and all this is because there is only one control button and it belongs to Tehran. Clearly the opportunity is convenient for Iran to tighten its grip on Iraq and to exploit the US desire for Iraq’s stability at any price before the US elections take place. After the elections a new US president will arrive at the White House to find himself/herself obligated to deal with a reality that enforces itself upon Baghdad. Even if people change in the next Iraqi government, it will still continue to orbit around Iran.

If the ‘Knights’ Assault’ operation was aimed at protecting the whole of Iraq, then there would have been grounds for genuine reconciliation between the multitude of sects in Iraq through Nouri al Maliki’s government. When Iyad Allawi’s government laid siege to Najaf so as to pursue the Shia Mehdi army, it was also simultaneously crushing the terrorist Sunnis in Fallujah – the situation then is very different from now. This is why what is taking place in Iraq today can be summed up as one party trying to get rid of the competition, however they are all under the same umbrella and it is executed in a manner reserved for Mafia movies!

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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