POLITICS IN IRAQ….Laura Rozen passes on the following Reuters dispatch:

Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will consult senior religious leaders and disband his Mehdi Army [JAM] militia if they instruct him to, a senior aide said on Monday.

….Senior aide Hassan Zargani said Sadr would seek rulings from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric, as well as senior Shi’ite clergy based in Iran, on whether to dissolve the Mehdi Army, and would obey their orders.

That effectively puts the militia’s fate in the hands of the reclusive Sistani, 77, a cleric revered by all of Iraq’s Shi’ite factions and whose edicts carry the force of Islamic law, but who almost never intervenes in politics.

Laura quotes a friend who speculates that if Sistani orders the Mehdi Army disbanded, “It could be bloody couple of months, especially if the movement splinters into a thousand violent pieces in the context of impending provincial elections.” No question about that. But if I had to guess, I’d say that Sadr would be doing this only if he felt pretty confident that no order to disband will be forthcoming. That would be a tacit approval of keeping JAM armed and intact, which in turn would be a pretty effective answer to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s calls for Sadr to disband his militia and lay down his arms. Maliki said yesterday that political parties maintaining militias wouldn’t be allowed to take part in October’s elections — an announcement pretty clearly aimed solely at Sadr — but he’ll be unable to make that stick if Sistani doesn’t take his side. Sadr and JAM could easily come out of this stronger than before.

Or maybe this is all a big nothing. Maybe no ruling is seriously being pursued, and maybe the clerics will continue to stay out of internal Iraqi politics. But it’s an interesting game of cat and mouse being played out right now.