Offensive against al-Sadr coming soon?

A “limited” offensive, according to senior Iraqi officials. Christopher Hitchens is distraught over Saddam’s execution for what are mostly good reasons, but I wonder if he’s missing the fact that it gives Bush and Maliki leverage to go after the militias more aggressively. Quote:

Several officials in the Shi’ite political parties that dominate Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s unity government also say they are losing patience with Sadr’s supporters and predict more raids like last week’s joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in which a senior Sadr aide was killed.

“There will be limited and targeted operations against members of the Mehdi Army,” a senior Shi’ite official told Reuters. “The ground is full of surprises but we think around January 5 there will be some operations. I can say no more.”…

“The Americans want a war with the Mehdi Army,” said a Western diplomat in Baghdad, who was not American or British…

But Maliki’s fragile authority among his fellow Shi’ite’s has been bolstered by Saturday’s hanging of Saddam Hussein, whose Sunni-led administration oppressed the Shi’ite majority.

Assuming Maliki really does want to neutralize Sadr instead of using him to ethnically cleanse Baghdad, this is his best chance. He’s got political capital to spend and a perfect excuse to unleash the military — reaching out to Sunnis who were alienated by the execution by targeting their chief persecutor. The timing also benefits Bush, who’s going to announce a troop increase either next week or later this month. If he can knock a few pillars out of the house of Sadr before then, it’ll be easier to sell a surge at home.

As for the logistics of the surge, if you want some sobering reading follow that last link to the WSJ and skip down to the graphic. Start there and just keep going. It sounds like the withdrawal’s going to begin next winter of necessity, no matter how things look on the ground.

In the meantime, the AP wonders why Americans are so upset by what are, historically speaking, shockingly low levels of casualties. Don’t be scared by the provenance; it’s a solid read.

Polling analysts believe Americans are more sensitive to casualties than in the past because they neither see vital interests at stake nor feel the “halo effect” from a clear prospect of success…

Greater wealth and smaller families make Americans even more protective of their children and more loath to send them into battle than they once were, some argue…

Reassured by official optimism and quick success in the invasion phase, Americans never expected to lose so many of their young in this war. In the first weeks, 80 percent of the public thought the final U.S. toll would not surpass 1,000, a Gallup survey found.

Some wonder if U.S. society, now populated by baby boomers who recall Vietnam and never knew the hardships of the Great Depression or World War II, has simply lost its stomach for great sacrifices. Or perhaps in a materialistic culture, priorities are simply elsewhere now.

The Iraqi government’s been measuring casualties on its side, too. According to the Lancet study, the number killed since the beginning of the war is in the neighborhood of 655,000. Reprisals were at their all-time worst this year, which means we can guesstimate from that figure that, say, 250,000 were killed in 2006. According to the government, the actual number of violent deaths was … 16,273. That figure’s not trustworthy either — compare it to some of the monthly figures for Baghdad alone — but could they really be off by a factor of 15? Or am I violating Boehlert’s first rule of journalistic ethics by questioning the Larger Truth here?