A sure sign of the weakening power of Moqtada al-Sadr is that his militia is just a shadow of its former self. The Iraqi army, backed up by a much smaller number of US troops, are rousting the militia out of their hiding places and the once feared fighters are running like dogs:
The significance of this is dramatic. I think we can conclude that law and order is coming to Iraq and that the bad guys know it. A psychological turning point may have been reached where the forces of civilization may be gaining the upper hand.
They came at dawn, thousands of Iraqi troops and US special forces on a mission to reclaim a lawless city from the militias who ran it.
By the end of the day, al-Amarah was under Iraqi Government control - without a shot being fired.
The city had been taken over by the Shia al-Mahdi Army two years ago after British troops handed it to an ill-prepared Iraqi Army. "We can't say al-Amarah was entirely bad, there are good people here, poor people. But the city was controlled by the al-Mahdi Army, and these people are all backed by Iran," said Captain Hussein Ali of the Scorpion police brigade, one of the Iraqi units drafted in to take part in Operation Omen of Peace.
Yesterday the city's streets - unpaved, dirt tracks between grubby, low brick houses - were crawling with Iraqi security forces. Soldiers searched houses as police manned checkpoints and Soviet-era tanks guarded bridges over the Tigris River.
The flood of troops, who had moved into position outside the city a week ago, had encountered no resistance as they moved in yesterday. The leaders of the Shia militias that once ruled as crime bosses and warlords were either gone or in hiding. Even the police chief fled a week ago, fearing arrest for his affiliation to al-Mahdi Army, while the mayor, a member of the Sadrist movement, was arrested.
There is still plenty of time for this to change for the worst. We're not out of the woods by any means. But slowly and surely, the Iraqi government and army are asserting what any nation state must do in order to gain the confidence of the people; they are proving their right to govern.