To say a bit more about the situation in Iraq, the details remain murky but the broad outline is that we're continuing to see conflict between the exile party ISCI, which has been cooperating with the US and Iran in post-war Iraq, and the domestic nationalist Shiite movement associated with Muqtada al-Sadr, which has received some backing from Iran and been mostly hostile to the United States. From the point of view of American interests, this seems to be a fight in which we have no dog. Our main interest in this rivalry ought to be simply that it not turn into a bloody fight that leaves our troops in the crossfire.
But that, of course, is exactly what's happening. Why are we letting ourselves get dragged into this? Spencer Ackerman explains:
Here's an answer. As long as Maliki is in the prime minister's chair, and as long as we proclaim the Iraqi government he leads to be legitimate, Maliki effectively holds us hostage. "I need to go after Sadr," Maliki says. "The situation is unacceptable! In Basra, he threatens to take control of the ports, and in Baghdad, he's throwing my men out of their checkpoints. Would you allow the Bloods or the Crips to take over half of Los Angeles?" And as soon as he says that, we're trapped. It simply is not tenable for Petraeus to refuse a request for security assistance from the Prime Minister to deal with a radical militia.
This is, of course, a big part of the problem with making an enduring American military presence in Iraq a key strategic priority of the United States. To do that, we need to make ourselves useful to some politically powerful horses in Iraq. But to do that we need to get sucked into our favorite horses pet political disputes. So now we're there to provide backup and air support for the Badr Brigade as they try to liquidate their foes in Sadr's political party. And if it doesn't work, we may need to find a new Iraqi politician (remember Iyad Allawi? Ibrahim Jafari?) to be our special friend.