04/02/2008 11:10 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Basra Cease-Fire Shows Talking to Iran Could Save Lives Immediately

Soon Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are expected to testify before Congress about Iraq. This is the prelude to what may be the last major battle over funding of and conditions on the Iraq War in the current Administration. When Petraeus and Crocker testify, Members of Congress should press them on why the United States isn't seriously engaging diplomatically with Iran to facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

This past weekend we had a powerful demonstration of what dialogue with Iran could accomplish in Iraq. A major escalation of conflict between Iraqi government forces and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia was halted when Iraqi parliamentarians from the government coalition negotiated an agreement with Sadr. This agreement was negotiated not in Annapolis, but in the Iranian city of Qom. The head of Iran's Quds force - which the Bush Administration, at the urging of Senator Clinton, has designated as a terrorist organization - helped broker the agreement, McClatchy News reports.

The consequences of the agreement were swift. Following Sadr's statement, fighting fell dramatically.

There are people in Basra and Baghdad who are alive today, who would not be alive today if those Iraqi lawmakers had not traveled to Iran and negotiated that agreement - perhaps 100 people, judging from the casualty figures in Basra and Baghdad reported yesterday in the Los Angeles Times. And it is likely that there are U.S. soldiers who are alive today who would not be alive today if Iraqi lawmakers from the government coalition had not gone to Iran to negotiate an agreement - attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq "soared" in response to the Basra offensive, the Washington Post reports today.

If the goal of the United States is to reduce violence and stabilize the country so that U.S. soldiers can withdraw, why aren't we talking to Iran? If Iraqi lawmakers from the government coalition can talk to Iran, why can't we do it?

One suspects that it's because the goals of the Bush Administration are different from what we've been told, and have more to do with trying to control the political future of Iraq than with reducing violence. Indeed, the Bush Administration embraced and participated in the Iraqi government offensive. It was Iran that took steps to de-escalate the conflict.

But the fact that the Bush Administration's motivations are likely different from their stated goals is no reason not to challenge them today on their policies of escalation. Even if it turns out to be true that the withdrawal of U.S. forces will not take place until the next Administration, saving Iraqi and American lives can begin immediately. Congress should pressure the Administration to engage in real dialogue with Sadr, and with Iran. And it should pressure the Administration to forswear actions like the Basra offensive, which would not have taken place without U.S. support, and which killed many for no reason.