Administration officials have pointed to last week's fighting against Sunni insurgents in and around Baghdad's Haifa Street as a textbook example of the new strategy. Iraqi forces took the lead, American troops backed them up and the government did not put up any obstacles. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger concluded that the battle "looked like a successful test of unified [American-Iraqi] effort."
But did it? NEWSWEEK's Michael Hastings, embedded with an American advisory team that took part in the fighting, reports that no more than 24 hours after the battle began on Jan. 6, the brigade's Sunni commander, Gen. Razzak Hamza, was relieved of his command. The phone call to fire him came directly from the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite. Lt. Col. Steven Duke, commander of a U.S. advisory team working with the Iraqis, and a 20-year Army veteran, describes Hamza as "a true patriot [who] would go after the bad guys on either side." Hamza was replaced by a Shiite.
Joint operations against Shiite militias are far less likely, and not only because of political interference from the top. Groups like Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army don't generally start fire fights with the Americans or attack Iraqi forces. Their goals are different, quieter. Another U.S. adviser, Maj. Mark Brady, confirms reports that the Mahdi Army has been continuing to systematically take over Sunni neighborhoods, killing, terrorizing and forcing people out of their homes. "They're slowly moving across the river," he told Hastings, from predominantly Shiite eastern Baghdad into the predominantly Sunni west. If the 20,000 additional American troops being sent to the Iraqi capital focus primarily on Sunni insurgents, there's a chance the Shiite militias might get bolder. Colonel Duke puts it bluntly: "[The Mahdi Army] is sitting on the 50-yard line eating popcorn, watching us do their work for them."
SO we take out the Sunni militias (probably flattening half the neighborhood) behind the cover of Shia Iraqis. Then the "Iraqi police" show up and drag people from their homes (who later show up at the coroner looking like a dark version of a Home Improvement gag. That's sure to engage the Sunnis in the political process.