This really is a defining moment in the young life of the Iraqi government. In going after armed criminals within Al-Sadr's militia, the Iraqi government aims to establish that the government is the one and only legitimate miliary force in the country. The US alliance backs up that notion. Established democracies achieve peace when holders of opposing viewpoints and agendas agree to compete for votes in free and fair elections rather than competing through violent conflict. The Iraqi government is in the process of determining whether it can demonstrate the ability to enforce this principal. Sadr's armed combatants aren't being persecuted for their beliefs, they're being persecuted for being armed combatants, as well they should be.
Meanwhile, on the political front, Al Sadr has ordered his people to stand down. He believes the conflict was politically motivated, although he concedes that rogue elements within his organization need to be weeded out. His party currenly has 30 seats in the parliament and they are hoping to add to that in the fall. He has called for a "million man" demonstration on April 9th to mark the 5th anniversary of US military presence and to protest against our continued occupation.
This could be a great opportunity for the Maliki government as well as the U.S. to get a fundamental point across to all parties. The U.S. and the Maliki governments should try to coordinate with Al-Sadr's people so that each could have a spokesperson address the issue before the crowds. Both the U.S. and the Maliki government share the desire for a substantial draw down of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Both could explain their view of how best to get to that goal. Primarily, it involves the acceptance of the principal stated earlier, that all parties agree to settle disputes at regular intervals, through free and fair elections. We don't have to agree, we just have to agree on how we're going to go about disagreeing. Having opposing spokespeople participate in the demonstration, even if only given very limited time, would be a demonstration of how to conduct a civil debate on an extremely divisive issue, in public, in daylight, among large groups of people, and nobody has to die.