Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that "we can't quite decipher" what is going on. It's a question, he said, of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why Maliki decided to act now.
Really? The Iraqi Army had U. S. air support pretty quickly in their operations. It seems unlikely that they would have begun their attack without arranging things with the American military.
More importantly, Dick Cheney was in Iraq just nine days ago. If one accepts that al-Maliki launched his assault on the Mahdi Army without consulting the Bush administration, that means that Maliki didn't breathe a word to Cheney about their plans while he was in Baghdad?
But why wouldn't he? It's not as though either Dick Cheney or George Bush would have rejected an aggressive approach to al-Sadr or an attempt to take over Baghdad. In fact, Cheney would have been a lot more enthusiastic about this kind of idea than most people in the Iraqi government.
Perhaps Cheney suggested the idea to Maliki himself.
In fact, it seems likely to me that the Bush administration pushed the Iraqis to make a big move now in order to help John McCain win in November. Likewise, I think that the Bush administration fully expected that American forces would quickly move in to confront Sadr after the Iraqi Army initially wilted.
And that's what's happened.
In this sense, the Bush administration would have goaded the Iraqi government into precipitating a showdown with al-Sadr to create a pretext for the American military to confront and hopefully destroy the Mahdi Army as a way to help McCain. If the assault succeeds, McCain could build his campaign around a real structural accomplishment in Iraq. If the assault fails, there's still almost eight months for McCain to dissassociate himself from the mess.
Of course, it may turn out that the American public really doesn't want to be reminded of the Iraq War. But the Bush administration has always had a "go for broke" mentality. It's not hard to see them taking one last shot at destroying Sadr and subduing Shiite resistance to the American idea of a "non-sectarian Iraq."