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CNN: Iran helped broker ceasefire in Iraq
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Monday March 31, 2008

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It was reported on Sunday that Iranian officials had helped broker a ceasefire agreement in the recent fighting between Iraq's government and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iran has close ties to both al-Sadr's movement and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and representatives of two of the parties in Maliki's coalition traveled to Iran to finalize the talks.

CNN's Nic Robertson reported from Baghdad on Monday that the ceasefire appears to be holding and stores in Basra are reopening. Robertson also explained that the recent violence represented conflict among Shi'ite factions, which was why the Iranians were able to act as brokers.

"There's a broad alliance of Shia parties here in Iraq that have been sort of struggling and struggling to hold themselves together over the recent months," Robertson stated. "That alliance essentially broke down with this recent fighting, and it appears that Iran has wanted the Shias to remain united here, that they don't want massive violence right on their own doorstep."

"It also shows how weak the prime minister is here," Robertson continued. "He went to war against Moqtada al-Sadr's militia, failed to defeat them ... decisively, and the Iranians have stepped in to help him save face as well."

"The Iranians here are in a very strong position, influencing the government," concluded Robertson. "I think we can expect more of the same."

The San Francisco Chronicle offered a somewhat more detailed explanation of the conflict between the Iraqi government and al-Sadr's followers, noting that "Enmity has long festered between the two sides: one a ruling party that has struggled against the widespread perception that it gained power on the back of the U.S. occupation, the other a populist movement that has positioned itself as a critic of the new order."

"Since U.S.-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, the members of the ruling coalition have been viewed by many Iraqis as isolated returning exiles, backed by Iran or the United States. ... In contrast, the al-Sadr movement's foundations are built upon the legacy of al-Sadr's father, who challenged Hussein's rule in sermons before being shot dead in 1999. Its voice - fiercely anti-American and staunchly nationalist - has emerged as one of the few alternatives for Iraqis."

"The animosity also is rooted in a historic rivalry between the al-Sadr religious family, long seen as a champion of the underclass, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council's senior leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the son of a conservative grand ayatollah, whose family traditionally enjoyed the support of the country's Shiite merchant class."

This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast March 31, 2008.

Transcript via closed captions

:: we're also following other breaking news this morning. we're learning today that iranian officials helped broker a cease-fire agreement between muqtada al sadr. does the cease fire appear to be holding at this point?

:: reporter: it does appear to be. the armed militia members that were on the streets of some of the suburbs of baghdad and much of the city of basra are no longer in evidence today. the curfew is gone, some of the stores are opening in basra. this is a first indication that both sides have pulled back from the brink. it's also an indication of how much pressure the iranians have put on muqtada al sadr.

:: to that point, this is what idea of iran brokering a cease fire between these two factions? al maliki is the prime minister of iraq, shouldn't he be handling this? sfwlr there's a broad alliance of shiia parties here in iraq that have been struggling to hold themselves together more and more over the last few months. that alliance broke down with this recent fighting and it appears that iran has wanted the shiia to remain united here, they don't want massive violence right on their doorstep and iran has weighed in by bringing this alliance of political parties, the prime minister's political parties and muqtada al sadr to iran where muqtada al sadr is believed to be at the moment to get them around a table, to get a negotiated deal hammered out. it shows you how week the prime minister is here. the iranians have stepped in to help him save face as well. the iranians here are in a very strong position influencing the government right now, john.

:: what does that mean for the long-term, ned?

:: reporter: more of the same, everyone knows that the militias have been arming -- attacking u.s. forces here as well. that military involvement is well documented by u.s. commanders here. the u.s. american politicians here very much aware of iran's involvement in the politics here. this is the biggest manifestation we have seen so far. the fighting over the last six days is a new dimension to the war here that we have this shiia party fighting mojs themselves. this is ahead of elections coming up in october and we can expect more of the same.

:: nick, thanks very much.