It was supposed to be, as President Bush called it, "a defining moment in the history of Iraq." And it might just be. But certainly not in the way that Bush meant it. Instead, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's offensive in Basra and Baghdad against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's forces has confirmed his government's essential weakness.Maliki has conceded to Sadr and Iran, and his forces couldn't dislodge Sadr's people, even with US support. This is not a promising sign.
Consider: with Maliki's campaign stalled, a parliamentary delegation from Maliki's own coalition went off to Iran to broker a deal with Sadr. And the terms of that deal, which involves the release of hundreds of detained Sadr followers and the return of his followers displaced by raids and violence, will surely strengthen Sadr's political position. That's assuming, of course, that the deal holds and the fighting actually stops. All of the papers report that fighting has not stopped in Baghdad and Basra. And while it's unclear whether the deal will actually last, it's crystal clear what the deal means for Maliki. The New York Times sees no upside.
A fighter from Sadr's Mahdi Army in Baghdad, speaking to The Washington Post, sees things similarly: "The fighting has proved they have learned a lesson. The government is dead from our point of view."