Video: Michelle talks Iraq with John Gibson on "The Big Story"; Update: U.S. task force hunting Iranian networks in Iraq

Before I give you the vid I’m going to give you a snippet from the latest Fox News poll, which leads nicely into the boss’s point about supporting the mission. You can thank my eagle-eyed pal Dean Barnett for catching it.

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Dean points to the no’s and don’t knows in the first question but I think the answers to the second are just as interesting, particularly the spread among Democrats themselves. Now, here’s MM.

Hitting the wires at just around the time she was chatting with Gibby was this piece from our pals at the AP: “Mahdi Army Expressing Siege Mentality.” I think the guys they interviewed are feeding them a load of crap that’s part of the ruse I mentioned this morning, but hope springs eternal.

Mahdi Army fighters said Thursday they were under siege in their Sadr City stronghold as U.S. and Iraqi troops killed or seized key commanders in pinpoint nighttime raids. Two commanders of the Shiite militia said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stopped protecting the group under pressure from Washington and threats from Sunni Muslim Arab governments….

The midlevel Mahdi Army commanders, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the group operates in secret, said at least five top commanders of similar standing were captured or killed in recent months, including one snatched in a night raid from his Sadr City hide-out on Tuesday. They refused to name him.

Two other key officials at the top of the organization were killed in raids last month…

The third commander, who also spoke anonymously to protect his identity, said U.S.-led raiding parties were now also engaged in massive sweeps, having rounded up what he said was every male old enough to carry a gun in south Baghdad’s Um al-Maalef neighborhood Tuesday night…

The Mahdi Army commanders said they were increasingly concerned about improved U.S. intelligence that has allowed the Americans to successfully target key figures in the militia.

“We’re no longer using cell phones except in emergencies. Some of our top commanders have not been home (in Sadr City) for a year because they fear capture,” one of the commanders said.

The AP speculates that al-Maliki finally had a “change of heart” when he met with Bush in November. Really? A month before he ordered Sadrists in ski masks to hang Saddam on the Sunni Eid?

Update: Here’s a shrewd analysis of Maliki’s “give us guns and you can go home” offer from the Times of London.

Update: If you missed Michelle’s Flickr page of Iraq photos, now’s your chance.

Update: Via Captain Ed, U.S. News and World Report gets a scoop:

The U.S. military has launched a special operations task force to break up Iranian influence in Iraq, according to U.S. News sources. The special operations mission, known as Task Force 16, was created late last year to target Iranians trafficking arms and training Shiite militia forces. The operation is modeled on Task Force 15, a clandestine cadre of Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force soldiers, and CIA operatives with a mission to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives and Baathist insurgents in Iraq.

Task Force 15 killed al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, last June.

The new classified directive is part of an escalation of military countermeasures against Iran, authorized by President Bush, to strike back at what military officials describe as a widespread web of Iranian influence in Iraq that includes providing weapons, training, and money to Shiite militias.

If the Mahdi army’s climbdown is for real, it might be partly at Iran’s behest. Why give the U.S. any more justification to pull up the roots Iran has planted in Iraq?