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Baghdad / Obelisk: The struggle of the Shiite leaders for leadership in Iraq is a test of Tehran's ability to intervene to defuse the crisis, just as it represents a test for Turkey and the Gulf states in a crisis that requires clear positions from the Sunni and Kurdish forces allied with it.
As Sadr's supporters sit in parliament and his opponents protest in the streets, a row over forming a new government has put more pressure on a political system wracked by crises since US-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein two decades ago.
The crisis exacerbates the unrest in a belt that includes fragile Arab countries, namely Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, all of which have suffered from the scourge of conflicts or major crises over the past decade, including a bloody battle with ISIS.
For Iraq, where the balance of power tilted in Iran's favor after the US invasion in 2003, the conflict has exacerbated divisions in a country that also has a history of competition between Sunni Arab and Kurdish groups that control the north.
So far, neither side appears willing to back down an iota in the 10-month standoff that began when al-Sadr scored well in the October elections and then sought to form a government on his terms, but his efforts were stymied by his opponents.
At the moment, it seems that the two sides, armed to the teeth, are avoiding violence, knowing the impact on the country and on the Shiite majority that rose to power within the framework of the political system established by the United States after the overthrow of Saddam the Sunni.
But with the dramatic events in Baghdad as Sadr's supporters overran the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to many state headquarters and embassies earlier this week, many Iraqis are concerned about the potential for violence.
According to Reuters, Iranian officials are in contact with the parties to the crisis.
The crisis also comes at a difficult moment for Iran in another country, where the armed group Hezbollah and its allies lost a parliamentary majority in Lebanon in May, although they still wield significant influence.
Al-Sadr is a descendant of a prominent clerical family who fought against the American forces after the invasion, and has long opposed outside influence in his country.
The risks increased in June, when he directed deputies from his parliamentary bloc to withdraw from parliament, ceding dozens of seats to rival currents. The steps that these currents later took towards forming a government without al-Sadr are what prompted his supporters to storm Parliament.
Al-Sadr's recent call for unspecified amendments to the constitution may indicate that he wants to turn the entire existing system upside down.
However, some analysts doubt his real desire to change a regime that came to serve him well, as Sadr and his followers dominate most parts of the state.
“Al-Sadr is not a revolutionary,” said Toby Dodge, a professor at the London School of Economics. He wants the system to continue, but to be in a position to gain greater dominance.”
Dodge described the crisis as "a quarrel within an elite whose popularity is waning" in a country where poor governance and corruption have caused frequent power and water cuts, poverty and unemployment, despite the country's huge oil wealth.
"There may have been miscalculations and mistakes," Dodge said. But it seems to me that at every stage of that process there is one party or the other that takes steps to avoid violence.”
The researcher, Adnan Abu Zeid, said that Tehran, through its secret channels, sent urgent messages to the leaders of the crisis in Iraq, that it would not allow the situation to deteriorate into chaos, and that it warns against dismantling the current political system, because that means dividing Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish states.
Tehran advised the Shiite forces to reform and discipline, and to nominate state institutions and parties from the remnants of the corrupt and failed, instead of the coup that complicates the regional political map.
The Iranian leadership has been informed that it is observing the situations with utmost care, and it has informed its friends, including the Sadrists, that the Shiite-Shiite fighting is a high level of danger to its national security and to the Shiite influence in the world in general.
The United States maintains about 2,000 troops in Iraq to fight ISIS remnants, far fewer than the 170,000 deployed there at the height of the occupation.
According to Iraqi officials, US officials who were involved in secret agreements related to government formation in the past have not interfered to a large extent in these matters in recent years.
Iraq does not appear to be a high priority for the United States, said Vali Nasr, an expert on Middle East affairs at Johns Hopkins University for Advanced International Studies in Washington.
He added, "(Iraq) has not been treated as a game-changing factor for the region, and it may end up in this case if it loses the little stability it enjoys."
He added, "It is too early to consider this a loss for Iran, as it may end up as a loss for everyone, and then the question becomes: Who will restore things to normal after that."
The US State Department did not respond to questions regarding this matter.
The US embassy urged calm and called on the Iraqi parties to avoid violence and work peacefully to resolve their differences.
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