US interest in keeping close ties with the Iraqi government got a lot more difficult with this month’s elections, in which cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s political bloc won the plurality. The US has historically portrayed Sadr as an enemy, and had nothing to do with him.
Top Sadr aide Dhiaa al-Asadi says that’s changed since the election. Since Sadr’s victory, US officials have been using intermediaries to open the lines of communication with the major new political bloc. Right now, it seems the focus is on finding out what Sadr’s position is on the US military presence in the country.
Officially, the US has 5,200 troops in Iraq. In reality, they have in excess of 7,000 troops there, far beyond the level Iraq’s government has agreed in the past to allow. Sadr, a long-time opponent of Iraq being beholden to foreign interests, is unlikely to let that continue.
Asadi confirmed s much, saying there is “no return to square one,” and that the Sadrist bloc doesn’t intend at this point to have any military force in the country other than Iraq’s own military. That’s probably not going to sit well with the US, though it remains to be seen if there might be room for keeping US trainers in the country.