Monday, August 20, 2007

"We Have Not Asked For Iran's Help"

The radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has given an interesting and rare interview to the Independent, in which he denies claims Iran has been arming and helping his private militia army in its battle against the British and Americans in Iraq. He also tells the paper his Mehdi Army has played "an important role" in forcing British commanders to realise it's a war they can't win.

It's difficult to believe his denials about Iran. Although it's certainly in Washington's interests to try to paint the Iranians as among the villains in Iraq, there seems to be compelling evidence that elements within Iran are helping the Mehdi Army and others build the bombs that regularly kill and maim US and British soldiers.

But al-Sadr has two other interesting things to say, that could point to a better future for Iraq. First, he seems to suggest al Qaeda is as much an enemy of his group as the US. He says those Shias who've stood against the terror network in Ramadi have "written their names into our history books." Any hopes al Qaeda might have to turn Iraq into the sort of haven it used to enjoy in Afghanistan therefore seem far-fetched.

Then there's his remarks on the UN, saying: "if the UN comes here to truly help the Iraqi people, they will receive our help in their work." Whatever happens in Iraq once the Americans and British have gone home, a much bigger role for the UN is clearly essential.

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