Iraq: A Mess?Or an Opportunity?

I've never seen anything like the reporting both on blogs and in the MSM about what is happening in Iraq.

I am absolutely dizzy from the spin. After years of complaining about the influence of the militias and the fact that the Baghdad government's writ doesn't run very far in Iraq, the left is now complaining that the government wants to reduce the influence of the militias and assert its authority in Basra.

I guess there's no pleasing some people.

The right isn't much better. Cheering this "opportunity" in Iraq is like rooting for a natural disaster to befall the country. Whittling the Mahdi Army down to size will be no easy task nor will it come without a cost in American and Iraqi lives. Not only that, the outcome may not be to our liking. A negotiated settlement may give Muqtada al-Sadr more power than we would wish.

As of now, the Iraqi army is barely performing adequately in Basra (at least they're not throwing down their weapons and running away) while American armor is about ready to move into Sadr City - the Mahdi stronghold in Baghdad - for the second time:

U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City, the vast Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad, as an offensive to quell party-backed militias entered its third day. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting.

Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army's AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.

The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, saying death squads, criminal gangs and rogue militias were the targets. The Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite rival of Maliki, appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks; fighting spread to many southern cities and parts of Baghdad.
Bottom line: We will not be winning any friends among the Shias by engaging in firefights in residential neighborhoods.

It can't be helped at this point. Prime Minister Maliki - for whatever reason - has decided to go after his rival al-Sadr. We will see over the next few days whether the Iraqi army is up to the challenge in Basra or whether Maliki is forced to negotiate a humiliating cease fire.