This assessment lent plausibility to the Nov. 8 memo National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley sent to President Bush. It said the United States should consider helping Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki "form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities." The idea was to liberate Maliki from political reliance on Sadr's bloc in the Iraqi parliament.
This would require getting Hakim to join with Sunnis in a new cross-sectarian coalition that would back Maliki. "Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) to support Maliki," Hadley advised.
Accordingly, President Bush met with Hakim on Dec. 4. Sitting beside Hakim in the Oval Office, Bush said, "I appreciated very much his eminence's strong position against the murder of innocent life."
Seventeen days later, U.S. forces raided Hakim's compound.
According to a Jan. 29 report in The New York Times, the two Iranians captured there were specifically discovered in the home of Hadi al-Ameri, who is both leader of the Badr Organization and chairman of the security committee in Iraq's parliament.
On Dec. 30, The Washington Post reported that the Iraqi government had allowed the two captured Iranians to return to Iran. One of the two, the Post said, was Mohsen Chirazi, a top commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Force, the unit that has armed and trained Lebanon's Hezbollah.
In a tightly controlled background briefing in Baghdad on Sunday in which Defense Department officials laid out evidence making their case that Iran is providing munitions, including EFPs, to anti-American fighters in Iraq, U.S. officials confirmed that one of the Iranians detained in December was indeed Chirazi.
"The raid at Hakim's compound netted Mohsen Chirazi, whom U.S. officials described as a high-ranking Quds Force operations chief, as well as documents with information about sniper rifles and mortars, the officials said," The Washington Post reported in its account of the Baghdad briefing. "The senior defense official said that when U.S. officials discussed the allegations with Hakim's representatives, their explanation was that 'it is normal for different groups to acquire armaments for protection purposes.'"
Appearing on CNBC's "Kudlow and Company" on Jan. 30, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns provided a different view. "We caught the Iranians red-handed just before Christmas inside a Shi'a headquarters with plans to attack American soldiers," he said.
So now that U.S. forces in Iraq must defend themselves against not only Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq, but also Iranian-armed Shiites, the question is which Iranian-armed Shiites pose the greatest threat: the extremists or the moderates?