The old war was primarily between the Sunni community -- which contested the American occupation -- and an Iraqi government dominated by the Shia in alliance with the Kurds. That conflict has not ended. But the most important battles likely to be waged in Iraq this year will be within the Shia community. They pit the US-backed Iraqi government against the supporters of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who represents the impoverished Shia masses of Iraq.
As the Iraqi army began to fail the Americans moved quickly to prop it up. Air controllers to marshal air strikes were sent to Iraqi army units. A team of senior American advisers was sent to Basra. This may explain why Muqtada agreed to a ceasefire. The Mehdi Army had already shown it could fight off the Iraqi army and police, but the Americans might be a different matter.
The statement was hypocritical: the Kurdish peshmerga and ISCI’s Badr Organisation are both militias that have been effectively incorporated into the Iraqi army and police. But the Sadrists were in a difficult position. Shia solidarity was breaking down. Muqtada has always been good tactician. He called a million person demonstration for 9 April, the fifth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein, to demand an end to the occupation. ‘He needs,’ an Iraqi observer said, ‘to show that his movement’s popularity is still as great as its military strength.’
Patrick Cockburn is the Ihe author of "Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq."