It's a bit hard to focus on the war in Iraq while at a wedding, but as Kevin Drum wonders "what happens if the Mahdi Army beats the government forces and wins the Battle of Basra?" I have to wonder about the reverse. Maliki's hopes of a swift victory are obviously through, but what if Iraqi government forces, given enough time and Anglo-American support, manage to first crush organized armed resistance in Sadr City and then swing south and take control of Basra? Do Sadrists wind up winning local elections this fall anyway? Or does ISCI use its newfound military supremacy to intimidate people away from the Sadrists?

Suppose Maliki winds up with a quasi-democratic mandate for a not-very-popular regime that we're now committed to supporting. Imagine the best case scenario here where over the next two or three years, US military, logistical, and financial support lets Maliki build an efficacious, pro-American, regime that's a bit lacking in the old popular legitimacy but that certainly manages to hold onto power. We've got a Mesopotamian Egypt or Saudi Arabia (or Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, etc). Maybe that's outrageously optimistic. And guess what, it's our support for regimes like that's the main driver of al-Qaeda terrorism.

And for that matter, what does happen if the Mahdi Army beats the government forces and wins the Battle of Basra? There don't seem to me to be any scenarios in either direction where expending huge amounts of further American blood and treasure looks like a good option.