While I still maintain that the evidence shows that the Fallujah situation is being badly mishandled, there’s much good news coming from the Shi’a south. While the fighters in Fallujah are hardcore terrorists, Sadr’s Mahdi Army is basically a group of low-life thugs – and the Shi’a population has shunned them as such. While it would be tempting to have gone after Sadr, isolating him in this way has made sure he won’t be a martyr that would rally more Shi’a to his cause.
I have much more on this, but little time to put it all down… so I’ll be hitting on some of these points later.
UPDATE: Here’s what I wrote about Sadr a month ago:
The idea that we shouldn’t turn Sadr into a “martyr” is the typically leftist reaction du jour. The problem being that by nature a guy in a cell or dead can’t exactly plan terrorist attacks. These movements are based around the concept that Sadr can challenge the coalition and win – if that mystique is shattered Sadr’s popularity will drop. As Osama bin Laden himself noted, when people see a strong horse and a weak horse they will naturally support the strong horse over the weak. Right now Sadr is trying to make us the weak horse – our job must be to take him down several notches so that his followers know who is in charge.
Now, I was partially right and partially wrong on this. My assumption was that the only way to break Sadr was to arrest or kill him. It’s clear that the coaltion found a third way – isolate him. Right now Sadr isn’t that "strong horse" – he’s an isolated radical who is defiling Shi’a holy sites by turning them into armories. The Shi’a have very wisely decided that Sadr is just a thug, and they’re turning against him. Shi’a groups have even gone so far as attacking and killing members of Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
This is a very good thing, because it shows that the Shi’a are willing to fight against extremism. They’re not part of the insurgency, they’re part of the critical mass of Iraqis who want to see some kind of Islamic democracy rather than an Iranian-style theocracy as Sadr wants. If Sadr had gained support, we would be in serious trouble – yet for all Irans attempts to support Shi’a theocracy, the Iraqi Shi’as are rejecting it. That’s a very good sign in the long term.
As for Sadr, my guess is that we’ll continue to fight his forces along the fringe but leave Najaf alone and let the Shi’a take care of him. Eventually he’ll be so isolated that he’ll end up either fleeing or being taken by the Shi’a and killed or turned over to the coaltion. It would be preferable for Sadr to be barred from ever returning and formenting another revolution in the future, but for now his future as an insurrectionary leader in Iraq is pretty well over.