Here's how complicated the Basra battle is: The Iraqi army is loyal to the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who represents the Shiite faction known as the Dawa Party. The army is fighting against Sadr's Mahdi Army, in some areas against the Badr Organization of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and against a hodgepodge of other local Shiite militias and gangs. To make matters more complicated, all three main combatants have some support from Iran.
Sadr is America's enemy, for now. But his power base among poor Shiites is as hard to eradicate as is that of Hamas in Gaza. And it's hard to imagine a stable future Iraq that doesn't have support from the poor Shiites who follow Sadr. A sign of their power is the rising last week in Shiite neighborhoods of eastern Baghdad. If the Shiite community en masse goes into the streets, the American mission is effectively finished; we can't fight 60 percent of the people.