With things changing so quickly, I was hesitant to comment on the fighting in Iraq this week, but there is a point that needs to be made that I don’t hear enough: it is the Iraqi Army that is fighting al-Sadr’s forces.
"Dubbed Operation Knights' Assault, Iraqi security forces have gone on the offensive to wrest control of the strategic oil hub and Iraq's second largest city from Mahdi Army control."
I have heard more than one individual say that this “proves” the surge has failed, and that’s nonsense. The point of the surge was to give the Iraqi government enough time to stabilize, and to clear out certain regions that had been swamped with terrorists and insurgents. The fact that it is the federal Iraqi government that is now fighting al-Sadr’s militia is a positive development. Maliki’s government offered a very clear ultimatum to those who continue to fight them ("We are not going to chase those who hand over their weapons within 72 hours. If they do not surrender their arms, the law will follow its course..."), and something tells me they are going to live up to this threat.
As a number of commentators mentioned, the surge was also allowed to work because of the cease-fire with al-Sadr, but most also thought that Iraq would eventually have to face his group and its militia. I hope that the Iraqi government has the power and the will to overcome this struggle.
As David Price points out, “the Iraqis rate the IA as their most trusted institution, way ahead of the coalition and even farther ahead of the militias, which are increasingly blamed for the violence.” Regardless of ones political alignment, the democratically elected government needs the support we can give them at this moment. Price also makes clear:
“The Iraqi Army is so much larger than even the Badr Corps‘ most exaggerated self-estimate that they could not hold more than a small fraction of the ranks of the IA even were they attempting to do so while maintaining their Badr identity, which would be very difficult in any case because the Iraqi Army officer and NCO corps are heavily vetted and indoctrinated by their U.S. trainers. Claims that this is just a clash between militias are plainly ridiculous.