"Mr Maliki has been under heavy pressure from the US to crack down on Shia militias ever since he took power last summer and the beginning of this year is widely viewed as his last chance to demonstrate that is serious about imposing the authority of a non-sectarian state, as opposed to helping the Shia to win a sectarian civil war.
The prime minister, whose government has in the past been accused of protecting leaders of the Sadrists’ Mahdi Army militia and blocking operations in their support base of Sadr City, has recently suggested that he may have authorized more wide-ranging operations against the radical Shia movement. Two days ago, he said that over 400 Mahdi Army fighters had recently been arrested.
The prime minister may be reluctant to explicitly declare an offensive against the Mahdi Army, which many Baghdad Shia have seen as their first line of defense against Sunni militants who have targeted Shia mosques, religious ceremonies and other civilian targets for the past three years.
The Sadrists for their part say that they are under a crackdown.
One resident of Sadr City said that the movement’s rank-and-file had largely disappeared from the streets, and that the leaders believed that they were being hunted and were keeping a low profile.
The Sadrists also say that they have received instructions from Moqtada al-Sadr, the young radical cleric who at least nominally commands the movement, not to resist or provoke the Americans." FT
"Recently?" How recently? Last week? Last month? Last year?
It is clear that Maliki understands that the Americans are now judging him in the matter of his willingness to act against Shia forces, any Shia forces.
Sadr knows that, and he has told his people to "lay low" and wait for the famously short "attention span" of the Americans to shift to something other than them.
At the same time Maliki has to agree and agree and agree with anything the American command suggests in the way of offensive action against the Shia militias. At the same time he knows that his political position will disintegrate completely if he is seen by his own people as a "servant" of the American occupier.
This must be very difficult for him. He says he did not want the job. I would wager that he really feels this way now.
It appears that the arrest of this man was designed by the US as a test, a test to determine just exactly who "owns" Maliki. There will be other tests. His fate and the future of American engagement in Iraq will be strongly influenced by the outcome of these tests. pl