This John F. Burns piece in The New York Times has some useful information on what is going on in Iraq, and this from the Washington Post adds to it. The short of it is this: Sistani’s people (led by one of his sons and the Grand Ayatollah Sayed) are talking with Sadr and the situation is being diffused. Sadr violent reach for power and authority has failed. Politics follows, even though the guns are not yet silent. "The decision of the prominent clerics to intervene was a result of days of secret contacts, and a vindication, American officials said, of months of assiduous American courtesy toward Ayatollah Sistani. The aged cleric has been an increasingly shrill champion of Shiite rights in Iraq, but at the same time a restraining influence through his emphasis on the importance of settling the country’s web of ethnic, religious and political rivalries peacefully."
Unsurprisingly, Sistani is playing his cards, and we are backing him up. Al Sadr failed because of a combination of U.S. guns and Sistani’s prudence. He doesn’t want a repeat of the Shiite uprising against the Brits; it failed and brought the Sunni’s to power. A couple of things are made clear by all this. One, the elite media hyperventilates, even seems as if they are looking foward to the place falling into chaos; and they don’t inform. They continue to lose credibility. Over time, they will be less able to affect the outcome of events (this includes even the Arab stations).
Two, our tough military reaction to al Sadr’s gambit (which continues even as they talk), proved just the right combination of force and diplomacy. Doggedness and perserverance are good things, and this administration has them. Three, watch for the political solution to move at a much more rapid clip than heretore. The turnover to Iraqi rule will not be delayed, indeed, expect even earlier elections than have been talked about. Four, the calm during the Shiite holy days is another point in Sisteni’s favor; he has shown that he can control events, and do so with finesse and moderation. The Shiites have nailed down the massive fact that everyone has wanted to avoid saying publicly: they will rule Iraq, and, still to the surprise of most, will do it relatively moderately, partly because of their disposition and party because the new constitution will demand power sharing, and partly because they will still need to be backed up by our force. Other problems will arise, of course, but I remain optimistic.