The first of two trip-related media appearances for the boss today, with the second to come this afternoon on “The Big Story.”

Captain Ed shares her newfound optimism and points to this NYT report on the arrest of more than 400 Mahdi army members since October, among them several dozen leaders. I’ve said before that I think Sadr’s sudden quiescence is a ruse engineered by him and Maliki to accelerate an American withdrawal, but it’d be sweet to be wrong:

Iraqis who live in the neighborhoods where the Mahdi Army is strong say the primary motivation for avoiding full-scale confrontation with the Americans is money. Members have grown rich on political channels of financing from Iran as well as from Iraqi government ministries, the residents say, and the militiamen do not want to fight the Americans directly for fear of losing their newfound status.

Ali, the merchant, said the reluctance to fight could be summed up in two words: “Italian shoes.”

It sounds like the surge offensive might bypass Sadr City entirely and focus instead on cutting off the neighborhood while targeting JAM elsewhere in Baghdad. Containment, in other words.

Don’t miss Bob Novak’s column today about Norm Coleman’s meeting with Iraqi NSA Mowaffaq al-Rubaie. Rubaie, you’ll recall, was one of the (Shiite) eyewitnesses to Saddam’s execution who was “really proud” of how it was handled. Then the cell phone video leaked and suddenly he was “disgusted” by the taunting. He told Coleman that the real threat in Iraq isn’t ethnic cleansing by the Shiites but AQ and those pesky Baathists who are trying to take over the country. Coleman reacted exactly the way you’d expect him to.

Update: Maliki’s claiming that the 400 Mahdi army fighters were arrested over the past few weeks.