04/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Iraq Fighting Underscores Power Struggle

For once, George Bush's open-faced incomprehension - at Nouri al-Maliki's decision to set off a civil war inside Iraq's Shia community - seems entirely appropriate. When the American President admitted he did not know why the Iraqi Prime Minister had launched an offensive in Basra saying, 'I'm not exactly sure what triggered the Prime Minister's response', he was not alone.

The consequences of the decision to send 15,000 Iraqi troops, and as many policemen, into Basra has been the destruction of a nine-month-old ceasefire from Moqtada al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army. In just a few days it has swept back onto the streets in Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kerbala, Nasiriyah, and Diwaniya, as well as into Sadr City in Baghdad, where militiamen have been raining rockets and mortars on the Green Zone...

...Meanwhile, in Basra, British troops have been supporting the Iraqi troops who have been struggling to take ground against the Iranian-backed militia. American jets have been in action supporting the Iraqi army and there is even talk of US troops being sent south into what has been a British-run zone. The ceasefire with al-Sadr has been an essential part of the success of US general David Petraeus's 'surge' - the deployment of an extra 28,000 American troops into Baghdad and nearby cities. Assured of quiet on the Shi'ite front, US forces have been free to concentrate on battling al Qaeda and Ba'athist insurgents among the Sunni community.

Petraeus is due to testify before the American Congress in two weeks' time, where he was expected to show his favourite slide - a graphic illustration of the steady decline in fighting and terror attacks since the surge. A new slide will now have to be prepared, showing an upturn in violence.

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