The larger aim of the new strategy is creating an opportunity for Iraq's leaders to negotiate a political settlement. These negotiations are underway. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is attempting to form a political coalition with Amar al-Hakim and Kurdish political leaders, but excluding Moqtada al-Sadr, and has invited Sunnis to participate. He has confronted Moqtada al-Sadr for promoting illegal militia activity, and has apparently prompted this so-called Iraqi nationalist to leave for Iran for the second time since January.
“So-called Iraqi nationalist”? Sadr is unique among Shi'i leaders in that his nationalist credentials are not in any serious dispute. His representatives relentlessly hammer at the fact that while many other Shi'i leaders, most notably the Hakims, chose the safety of exile, the Sadrs stayed in Iraq, and were executed for their activism. This is one of the main sources of Muqtada's political strength: He stayed and suffered with his fellow Iraqis. SCIRI was renamed SIIC and realigned away from Khameini and toward Sistani for exactly this reason, to make up for its nationalist deficit vis a vis Sadr, and combat the perception that it is an Iranian instrument.
I don't know how I can say this any more clearly: There will be no settlement in Iraq without Sadr. It's almost comical how many times Muqtada has gone to ground, and the usual suspects have declared him politically dead, over, dealt with. After four years of trying to marginalize Sadr, crowing every time he suffers a perceived setback, and running home for dinner every time he returns, stronger, more defiant, with bigger crowds, and even more juice than before, we must understand that A) Muqtada al-Sadr represents a genuine and extremely formidable Iraqi constitutency, one with organizational roots that go back decades, B) The survival of the Iraqi government, and probably of the Iraqi state, depends to a great extent on the government’s accommodation of that movement, and C) After four long years, the people defending Bush's Iraq policy apparently still don’t know very much about Iraq.