That the U.S. is winning the gun battles against Shiite militiamen in the south is fairly obvious from the numerous reports of carnage coming out of the area ? and from this Washington Post story reporting a withdrawal of members of Muqtada al-Sadr?s Army of the Mahdi from Karbala and Kufa.
But is this really the point? In the end, the Shiites would still seem to be the main American allies in the Iraq project (a project which American officials lustily appear to be demolishing), and a legacy of butchery ? even against a hostile (but also a remarkably pitiable) force ? is very hard to overcome. At the same time, be assured that the ?arrangement? in Falluja has brought little of what the U.S. is looking for in Iraq: the latest news is that two Marines were killed there on Sunday, and today?s Al-Hayat reports that an Islamist group, the ?Mujahidoun of Falluja? has started implementing Islamic law in the town ? whipping people found with alcohol and parading them in the streets.
Muqtada is a thug and a murderer, but American success in Iraq doesn?t hinge on the bloody crushing of his forces. It?s up to the Iraqis to make him irrelevant. The Post observed, somewhat guilelessly:
The sudden withdrawal over the weekend of Sadr?s forces has perplexed some military officers after weeks of deadly street-to-street fighting. The insurgents, numbering in the hundreds, abandoned their refuge near the sacred shrines of Abbas and Hussein in Karbala. The streets remained calm for the second consecutive day after U.S. forces withdrew from a strategic mosque in the city center. In a time-tested guerrilla tactic, Sadr?s forces had vanished.
That could have been because the Shiite tribes in the area essentially told Sadr?s supporters to get out of the holy cities, or else. Somehow, it would help for the Americans to understand such methods, rather than to display the thick-headedness of this U.S. officer, on whom the subtleties of subdued negotiated solutions (so essential in the Middle East) seemed lost: ?There was no cease-fire, no deal made in Karbala ?We do not and will not make deals with militias or criminals.?