Iraqi Shiite politicians and religious leaders are meeting in Najaf this weekend in the hope of overcoming factional differences and reaching agreement on at least a temporary halt in violence by their militias. The key figure in the negotiations is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shiite spiritual leader who lives in Najaf and who was recently reported to be furious with the record levels of attacks by Shiite Muslim militia and Sunni insurgents. Sistani, who hardly ever makes public pronouncements, was recently reported as calling for a joint effort by Shiites, Sunni, and Kurds to halt Iraq’s sectarian strife. […]

TEHRAN, Iran — On the way down from Tehran’s main ski hill a few days ago I hitched a ride with two 22-year old university students and asked them whether they were planning to vote in the coming elections. “What elections?” they asked. Then, after they had phoned a friend to confirm that a nationwide vote is indeed to take place on Dec. 15, they said the same thing I have heard from almost every Iranian I have spoken to over the past month, from millionaires and pop stars to pastoralists and kebab sellers: Of course we won’t vote, we’re […]

In Middle East Diplomacy, the Silent Treatment Goes Both Ways

Of the 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report that came out recently, the one that got the most attention — even before the report’s release — was the recommendation that the U.S. government talk with Iran and Syria. That recommendation has also met with broad approval in the Arab world, not so much out of affection for the two countries but out of a conviction that dialogue will yield better outcomes than an effort at isolation. Indeed, the Gulf governments’ response to more strident voices in Tehran over the last 18 months has not been a 1980s-style isolation […]