Yesterday morning, Iraqi cabinet members allied with militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr withdrew their support from the provisional government. This move was designed to protest the decision of the Iraqi prime minister to meet with President Bush.
What does it mean? The Washington Post's David Ignatius offers his take:
... in truth, Sadr was never really in this supposed "government of national unity" in the first place -- except to grab off the spoils of power.
... Sadr's move will surely take Iraq deeper into its civil war. Indeed, one of the markers that senior U.S. commanders have been using to argue that we weren't yet quite all the way to civil war was that sectarian leaders such as Sadr had not bolted from the government.
So now, if he's really gone, we need to stop the semantic games. This is a a civil war.
By leaving the government, Sadr forces his Shia Muslim followers -- and Prime Minister Maliki himself -- to answer the gut question: "Which side are you on?" The United States has been pressing Maliki and other Iraqis for clarity on this issue. Will they stand up for Iraq? Will they disband sectarian militias? Will they work with U.S. troops to end the violence?
Here is a loud, blunt answer from a man who unfortunately probably has the greatest "street credibility" in Iraq -- "No!"
Sadr has been the biggest winner in the power vacuum of Iraq. A senior U.S. intelligence analyst told me this week that Sadr's forces are eight times larger than they were in August, 2004. If provincial elections were held today, the intelligence official said, Sadr's party would win in every Shiite province of Iraq but one.