Just in time for the start of the hot season in Iraq, we see Maliki cranking things up a notch in his ongoing feud with Sheikh Moqtada al-Sadr:
Iraqi leader warns Sadr movement
from the BBC
Nouri Maliki told CNN that the cleric's movement would not be allowed to take part in elections unless it disbanded its militia, the Mehdi Army.
The prime minister and major Iraqi parties had already called for militias to be dissolved as the government waged a security campaign against the groups. But it was the first time that Mr Maliki had singled out the Mehdi Army. "A decision was taken... that they no longer have a right to participate in the political process or take part in the upcoming elections unless they end the Mehdi Army," Mr Maliki said...
Wow. I did not expect this. My expectation was that after the ugliness in Basra and the realization that the Sadr's forces are quite strong relative to the "government" forces (Badr Brigade with Iraqi Army patches on their shoulders) that a quiet deal would be reached in a backroom somewhere in the Green Zone and things would calm down heading into the elections.
Looks like Maliki's Dawa party, along with Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (who holds the leash on the Badr Organization) and I'm sure a variety of smaller tribals and gangs, plus the biggest gang of all in Iraq, the U.S. military, has decided it is time to force a show-down and break Sadr. I could be wrong here and an accomodation could be reached, but they obviously want him neutered.
I guess I should wish them luck. It disgusts me to watch U.S. forces support scum like the Badr Organization (any outfit with roots in fighting against their own countrymen on the side of the Iranians makes me want to puke) but Iraq is a messy place and I guess the bright boys and girls in the Green Zone have figured that Sadr has to go first. Plus, reinstating strongman rule, even if it is just in the South and in Baghdad, must seem preferable to the track that is being followed at the moment - a road that leads to something as ugly as the Lebanese Civil War.
I wish them luck in trying to damp down the violence, but considering the many cross-currents among gangs, tribes and political factions, this kind of crackdown could end very badly.
Prediction: For what it is worth, my guess is that U.S. forces will enter into the fray on the side of the "government" according to the press releases that will be issued. Initial success will probably carry over into the early summer, with a lot of folks declaring "victory" against Sadr until a break point is reached and Sadr is either killed or he decides it is time to go into full resistance mode and then we can expect massive infrastructure attacks, interdiction of supply convoys coming up from Kuwait and a potential wholesale bloodbath by August or September.
Wish for best, prepare for the worst.