The US should invite Muqtada al-Sadr to the White House and help Iraq to resist Qassem Soleimani's manipulation of its election results last weekend, Tom Rogan called in an article published by Washington Examiner on Thursday.
The concern is relevant because Soleimani leads the external action unit of Iran's revolutionary guard corps and is now in Baghdad attempting to prevent Sadr from using his electoral victory to help form the next Iraqi government.
Sadr's parliamentary plurality allows him to decide which parties will form the next Iraqi government, but Iran fears that power. After all, while Sadr was once an Iranian puppet and insurgent leader against US forces in Iraq, he now leads an odd but popular nationalist coalition of secularists and Iraq-minded Shia Islamists.
That coalition preaches against foreign interference in Iraq but is more opposed to Iran that it is to the US Sadr is also hated by the Iranian hardliners because he embraces the Najaf, an Iraqi school of Shia theology rather than the Khomeini school in Qom, Iran. He thus represents a threat to Iran's existential mission: Shia theological hegemony.
In turn, to prevent Sadr from marginalizing Iranian influence in Iraq, Soleimani is trying to persuade current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to form a coalition government with his former party ally and the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
But while Prime Minister Abadi is a good leader, Maliki's influence in any coalition would be a disaster for Iraq. Maliki is now essentially an Iranian poodle who takes orders from Tehran. Were he to re-enter a position of power, Maliki's leadership would be even more sectarian than in 2013, when his aggressive harassment of Iraqi Sunnis helped birth ISIS.
The better alternative is Sadr being able to build a coalition defined by his movement and a collection of smaller Sunni and Kurdish parties. The U.S. should encourage Prime Minister Abadi to support that objective rather than kneel to Iranian interests.
Abadi's instincts are positive and multisectarian and incline him to listen to U.S. counsel here.
Thus, recognizing the odd fact that a former U.S. enemy is now Iraq's best chance for multisectarian governance, President Trump should invite Sadr to the White House. Sadr will probably refuse the invite, but that doesn't matter.
The invite will earn Sadr's respect behind closed doors and fuel a populist Iraqi perspective of distinction between the Iranians, who are trying to steal Iraqi democracy, and a U.S. government which wants to help save it.