"This is not a battle against the Jaish al-Mahdi nor is it a proxy war between the United States and Iran," military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said, using the Arabic term for the Mahdi Army. "It is the government of Iraq taking the necessary action to deal with criminals on the streets."(Link.)
This would be amusing if it were not so tragic. The US military, knowingly or not, is fighting Iran's wars for them in Iraq, not against Iran. SIIC and Da'wa (Iran's strongest allies in Iraq) are determined to retain control of the Shi'ite south, and the crackdown against the Sadrists, which caused them to revolt, is a feeble attempt to prevent them from taking over in the upcoming provincial elections. And to describe this ongoing intra-Shi'ite conflict as "the government of Iraq against criminals" is ludicrous at best, as the so-called "government of Iraq" had no problem in the near past when those hordes of criminals were taking to the streets cleansing Baghdad and the south from Sunnis with the active participation of "Iraqi security forces." But as we say in Arabic: 'If you know then it is a calamity. If you don't know then it is a greater one.'
This does not mean that the central government should not reassert control of Basra. It is not peaceful, it is a significant prize as a port and the key to Iraq's oil exports, and gang rule is no substitute for legitimate government. But it is far from clear that what is happening is now directed at serving the nation's interest versus that of ISCI and Al Dawa in the power struggle to come. It is equally far from clear that the transfer of security responsibility to Iraqi forces in the south is not being used by Maliki, Al Dawa, and ISCI to cement control over the Shi'ite regions at Sadr's expense and at the expense of any potential local political leaders and movements. Certainly, the fact that these efforts come after ISCI's removal of its objections to the Provincial Powers Act may not be entirely coincidental.
Is the end result going to be good or bad? It is very difficult to tell. If the JAM and Sadr turn on the US, or if the current ISCI/Dawa power grab fails, then Shi'ite on Shi'ite violence could become far more severe. It is also far from clear that if the two religious-exile parties win, this is going to serve the cause of political accommodation or legitimate local and provincial government. It seems far more likely that even the best case outcome is going be one that favors Iraqracy over democracy.