Shiite first, Iraqi second. I don’t know where we go from here, except maybe home.

One of Iraq’s most influential Shiite clerics has rejected a U.S.-backed proposal to isolate Shiite extremists in the national government, saying Iraq should govern and police itself with the help of anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada Sadr, according to those who spoke to him today…

Ali Adeeb, another member of the Dawa party, said Shiite leaders, including the prime minister, will resist U.S. efforts to block Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

They’re already resisting. Maliki told Gates a few days ago that the militias aren’t the problem. His plan for ending the violence involves us hammering the Sunnis while he restrains the Shiites, which presumably means giving them a free hand to continue pushing the entire Sunni population of Baghdad out of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood:

As the United States debates what to do in Iraq, this country’s Shiite majority is already moving toward its own solution.

In a broad power grab in Baghdad Shiite militias are pushing Sunnis out, forcing them to flee to an increasingly embattled territory in the western part of the city. At least 10 mixed neighborhoods have become almost entirely Shiite this year, say residents, local officials and U.S. and Iraqi military commanders…

Shiites are seizing power broadly. The Shiite-dominated government is demanding more control over the Iraqi security forces, but militias have settled deeply within their ranks and the Sunni public is terrified at the prospect…

Using the unlikely analogy of Saddam draining the marshes in southern Iraq to destroy the marsh Arabs, [Shiite minister Hadi al-Ameri] talked about plans to encircle Baghdad using a network of rivers, a dam and several highways to choke off supply lines of Sunni militants.

“He divided it, drained the water and within two to three years it was a desert,” he said. “I believe Baghdad will be like this.”

It’s ethnic cleansing in slow motion, presumably to advance to full speed once we’re out of the way. I wonder if the popular image of Maliki as timid and ambivalent is totally wrong; maybe, like the Iranians, he’s just stalling to give his side the time it needs to carry out a task. Gen. Casey said today he’s had a change of heart and now supports a surge (coincidentally after talking to Gates), but the plan du jour calls for the new troops to clear and hold mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad. Maybe Maliki’s strategy is to make sure there’s none left by the time we get there. That’ll basically leave us no choice but to focus on the Sunnis, particularly with Sistani having now lent his moral authority — again — to Sadr. If we go after him and the Mahdi Army in earnest, it could lead to a Shiite uprising.

Meanwhile, you would think the Sunnis might have enough common sense to support an anti-Sadr coalition and agree to whatever demands are asked of them in hopes of protecting themselves. But of course, you would be wrong.

Update: Reader Aceyore e-mails to say that Andy McCarthy was pushing the Machiavellian view of Maliki last week at the Corner.

To me, Maliki is a Dawa apparatchik Islamic fundamentalist. The organization of which he was a high-ranking officer bombed an American embassy (in Kuwait) in 1983. Even though he was an implacable foe of Saddam’s regime, he opposed the U.S. invasion in March 2003. He supports Hezbollah. He favors closer Iraqi ties with Iran and Syria. His alliance with Sadr is not an accident. And, for all the blather about how he is reluctantly deferential to Sadr, I actually think it’s Maliki who is using Sadr, not the other way around.

Maliki’s Dawa party is more adept and just as anti-American as Sadr, but because of Sadr’s blatant opposition to us, Americans have not focused on the history and creed of the Dawa party — indeed, most Americans don’t even realize that there is a Dawa (the “call to Allah”) party, or an Iranian supported party called SCIRI (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq). Americans have been focused on Sadr and his Mahdi army. Meantime, Sadr is not even the most important Shiite opposition to the U.S. in Iraq, much less the whole problem.