Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr has returned to Iraq and held a mass rally of supporters in which he called for support for Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's new government (of which Al Sadr's party is an active coalition member). This was good news and it reinforces the growing political agreement that Iraq's new government has to be made to work.
But most of Al Sadr's speech focused on the necessity of getting the American forces out of Iraq, and this is where the radical leader was able to let rip and stir the crowd into fury, with open calls for resistance to the American forces. But by focusing his fury solely on the American presence in Iraq, Al Sadr is pushing at an open door.
No one wants the US forces to stay. On December 28, Al Maliki told the Wall Street Journal that he wants no more US troop presence in Iraq after December 2011, pointing out that this will end eight years of invasion, occupation and military action by the US.
Al Maliki also has the huge political advantage that he has forged a parliamentary consensus for his new government. In addition, he benefits from the improvement on the ground as opposition from Al Qaida and the Sadrists has been pacified, but not eliminated, through a combination of different proportions of military defeat and political reconciliation.
But Al Maliki's confidence comes from a very fragile base, and the political unity achieved so painfully around the new government could easily fall apart. The government's feebleness was brutally shown up by the fact that Al Sadr, a government supporter, is able to give a speech apparently endorsing attacks on US troops, at a time when the US troops are his own government's allies.