Now, to substance. Note this:
“We have received a shipment of Strela antiaircraft rockets,” Abu Sajad boasted to a Sunday Times reporter.“We intend to use them to prove to the world that the Mahdi Army will not allow Basra to be turned into a second Falluja."
This could get bad, especially if the Sadrists can be as good at shooting down helicopters as that NOIA outfit in early 2007 were. Anyway, the last dispatch is that far from the Iraqi government offering anyone mercy in exchange for surrender, Moqtada al-Sadr has just issued an official Leave It, Daz, He's Not Worth It order to his army to stop beating them. I can't see any evidence of this being due to imminent government triumph, so I reckon it's a mix of an exercise in contemptuous indulgence and a renewed assault on the moral high ground.
Think of that; officially at least, the Sadrists have been on ceasefire, more sinned against than sinning, acting only in self defence, but they've also kicked the shit out of the Iraqi government, and now they're looking to exit the confrontation on their terms. The question about this is of course whether the big red stop button will work; Sadr has historically had only coarse control of his army, basically a choice between STAND BY and BURN SHIT DOWN. It's quite possible that the political dynamic will get out of hand, though, and there are signs of this round taking on a life of its own.
For example, it is reported that the Mahdi Army in Baghdad has been going after the usually ex-NOIA, Sunni "Awakening Councils"/"Sons of Iraq", even to the point of attacking Sunni territory; apparently, their outposts are being rolled up into more defensible concentrations, which would mean at least a temporary disruption of the US counter-insurgency strategy, and at worst the enduring loss of territorial control and a major NOIA counteroffensive, probably (if you want a guess) in Diyala. Policemen are deserting in droves of up to battalion strength. It may be that this round of violence, like all the others in Iraq, is breeding its own army; 2004 gave us the original Mahdi Army and the NOIA, 2005 the SCIRI fake policemen, 2006 the ex-NOIA countergangs, 2007-8 the Mahdi Army 2.0?
There's more evidence of renewed sectarian war here. Brief thought; has anyone else noticed that as well as improving its coverage, the Times has started referring to Moqtada al-Sadr as Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr? This shows both greater respect, and significantly improved spelling. (So has the US Army.)
Finally, let's all be thankful the Mahdi Army mortarmen missed Tariq al-Hashemi, this blog's favourite not-quite-an-insurgent Sunni politico and Iraqi vice president. Because that probably would have been the starting gun for the various Awakenings to turn.
Update: I spoke too soon. Someone tried to assassinate the governor of Diyala earlier today.