US and, increasingly, Iraqi officials accuse Iran – through its elite Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – of setting up networks inside Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein to exercise a "malign influence." The US charges Iran with backing militants of all stripes, including Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and breakaway Shiite gunmen that the US calls "special groups." The US also alleges that Iran provides lethal roadside bombs that have taken "hundreds" of US lives.
Two weeks ago, an Iraqi delegation sent to Iran by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned with promises that Iran would support Mr. Maliki's Shiite-led government and lean on Sadr to reach a truce.
Iran "committed to acting more positively, and we are now awaiting evidence of that commitment," says Haidar Abbadi, a member of parliament from Maliki's Dawa Party. The Sadr City cease-fire is a "good sign" that shows the Iranians "putting pressure on the militants there."
"The Iranians have a direct role with the Mahdi Army," says Mr. Abbadi, "and the Iraqi government has decided it won't accept that role at this point."
Prior to that visit, in late March, Soleimani intervened with Sadr to halt the fighting in the southern city of Basra, stopping the violence just one day after a personal face-to-face request from Talabani.