The House of Representatives voted to insist that any U.S.-Iraq security agreement be submitted for congressional approval. According to the Congressional Progressive Caucus:
Today, by bipartisan a vote of 234 to 183, the House adopted Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act requiring congressional approval of any agreement between the U.S. and Iraq making commitments related to Iraq’s security. ...
"If prior review and approval is good enough for the Iraqi Parliament, it is essential for the Congress," said Lee.
That's good news. But I'm starting to doubt that the U.S. and Iraq will agree on anything, so it might be moot.
The "quietist" cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has told followers (who number in the many millions) that it is permissible to kill American troops in Iraq. This is being reported by AP. THie gist of the report says that Sistani, who met Prime Minister Maliki in Najaf yesterday, issued the fatwas "verbally and in private" to a "handful of people." He is considering a public call for "jihad" against the U.S. occupation, and he is opposed to the disarming of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Write AP reporters Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra from Iraq:
In the past, al-Sistani has avoided answering even abstract questions on whether fighting the U.S. presence in Iraq is allowed by Islam. Such questions sent to his Web site — which he uses to respond to followers' queries — have been ignored. All visitors to his office who had asked the question received a vague response.
The subtle shift could point to his growing impatience with the continued American presence more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Then there is this, more ominous note:
A longtime official at al-Sistani's office in Najaf would not deny or confirm the edicts issued in private, but hinted that a publicized call for jihad may come later.
"(Al-Sistani) rejects the American presence," he told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to media. "He believes they (the Americans) will at the end pay a heavy price for the damage they inflicted on Iraq."
And finally, this, on Sadr:
In perhaps another sign of al-Sistani's hardened position, he has opposed disarming the Mahdi Army as demanded by al-Maliki, according to Shiite officials close to the cleric.
Disarming the Mahdi Army would — in the views of many Shiites — leave them vulnerable to attacks by armed Sunni factions that are steadily gaining strength after joining the U.S. military fight against al-Qaida.
From the Jerusalem Post, an obviously biased but still worth-passing-on take on Bush and Iran:
US President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran in the upcoming months, before the end of his term, Army Radio quoted a senior official in Jerusalem as saying Tuesday.
The paper says Cheney's for an attack, and Rice and Gates are against it. And it says Bush told Israeli officials that it's not worth challenging Iran in, say, Lebanon over Hezbollah. Bush supposedly said: "The disease must be treated - not its symptoms."
In my view Obama got by far the best of this exchange.
Iran, Cuba, Venezuela –- these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we're going to wipe you off the planet.
Obviously, Iran isn't a superpower and doesn't possess the military power the Soviet Union had. But that does not mean that the threat posed by Iran is insignificant. On the contrary, right now Iran provides some of the deadliest explosive devices used in Iraq to kill our soldiers. They are the chief sponsor of Shia extremists in Iraq, and terrorist organizations in the Middle East. And their president, who has called Israel a 'stinking corpse,' has repeatedly made clear his government's commitment to Israel’s destruction. Most worrying, Iran is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
It seems pretty obvious that Obama gets it, and McCain doesn't. In fact, McCain's entire campaign rests on the idea that he can inflate Iran into such a big monster that voters will flock to him to defend them against it. Meanwhile, if Iran is such a menace, according to McCain, doesn't that make it even more important to talk to Iran?
The Iraqi delegation that went to Iran got its head handed to it by the Iranians:
On Monday, the hard-line Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-e-Eslami accused al-Maliki of lacking backbone in talks with Washington, which include the long-range status of U.S. military operations in Iraq. The daily, which is considered close to Iran's ruling clerics, claimed Washington wants a "full-fledged colony" in Iraq.
It was a rare public jab at al-Maliki, a Shiite. But it was mild compared with the closed-door recriminations during the high-level Iraqi visit, according to accounts by Shiite politicians close to Iraq's prime minister.
The five-member delegation sought to pressure and cajole the Iranians into cutting suspected support for Shiite militias that have battled U.S. and Iraqi forces. But the Iraqis mostly received a scolding, the politicians said.
"The Iranians were very tough and even angry with us," said one of the delegates in the Tehran talks. "They accused us of being ungrateful to what Iran has done for the Shiites during Saddam's rule and of siding with the Americans against Iran."
Iran is worried that (1) the Maliki government might make a deal to authorize a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq through the Bush-Maliki accord that is supposed to be signed this summer, and (2) that the war against Muqtada's JAM has gone a little too far. To understand this tangle, I'd look at the emerging possibility that the Iraqi government itself is split: that Maliki is increasingly opting for a pro-American stance, while the hard-core pro-Iranian ISCI faction around the Hakims is more willing to align itself with Tehran. Problem is, Tehran isn't willing to make a choice between Sadr and Hakim.
So first of all we have Gates sounding dovish on Iran:
We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage with the Iranians and then sit down and talk with them. ... If there is going to be a discussion then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the 'demandeur' with them not feeling they do not need anything from us.
Pretty intelligent stuff, coinciding as it does with suggestions from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the world powers negotiating with Iran ought to give Iran some incentives:
I think the 'Six' could make the following step: directly put concrete offers on the negotiating table, give Iran security guarantees and ensure a more distinguished place in negotiations on the situation in the Middle East. I am convinced that this is an effective way of relieving tensions in the region and regulating the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear problem.
Even more sensible. Does this mean something is going on? I continue to argue that the United States is not going to war with Iran: not now, not later this year, and not in 2009 (unless Senator McCain is president). That doesn't mean that tensions with Iran won't rise in 2008, especially if the White House wants to use escalating tensions with Iran to boost McCain's electoral prospects.