We’ve pinched a lot of jihadis lately but not enough to stop the flow of car bombs. Iraqslogger‘s hearing rumors of JAM starting to reappear around Baghdad to protect Shiites, although the sourcing seems thin and it’s not clear if they’re hardcore Sadrists or just neighborhood watch types. Could be they’re Mahdi Army v2.0 — ideological confreres who adopt the mantle of the organization without actually having a formal connection to it, like Al Qaeda 2.0. The question is whether the U.S. will acquiesce or look the other way. Ambassador David Satterfield was emphatic last week about there being no role for Sadr’s goons in the new security plan, but Petraeus was more equivocal, acknowledging the usefulness of “auxiliary police forces” — if they’re unarmed, and, presumably, if they’re not being trained and equipped by Iran. To that end, Petraeus also told USA Today that the U.S. is negotiating with Sadrist politicians to disband the JAM, but popular support for that must be at ebb tide right now. Thanks, of course, to the Sunnis:

Neutralizing Shiite militias when Sunnis are launching attacks may actually strengthen al-Sadr’s position, said Vali Nasr, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future. “The Shiites have become more convinced they need the militias to protect them.”

“The Mahdi Army basically disappeared,” he said. Sunni insurgents “have mounted a surge of their own.”

Not just in Baghdad either. As the Marines clamp down in the city, the jihadis are spilling east into Diyala province, where they’re smoking Shiites out by lighting their houses on fire, among other niceties. According to the Times, the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq — the umbrella Sunni terrorist group in the country — is being openly flown in some villages. 700 U.S. troops from the 5th Battalion are now being redeployed to address the problem. Bush is also pressing Iraq’s Sunni neighbors to rein in the insurgents, but they’re loath to do so until they’re sure Maliki isn’t an Iranian puppet who’s going to hand the country to Tehran. Result: pressure on Washington on Maliki to show his good faith by reaching out more to Sunnis. That explains his surprise visit to Ramadi today. It also explains why both Iyad Allawi, who’s angling to replace Maliki as PM, and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani are in Saudi Arabia right now. From IHT:

“Allawi is there to enlist support for a new political front that rises above sectarian structures now in place,” the former prime minister’s spokesman Izzat al-Shahbandar told AP.

Barzani spokesman Abdul-Khaleq Zanganah said the two had met in Kurdistan before traveling to Saudi Arabia for talks on forming a “national front to take over for the political bloc now supporting al-Maliki.”

The jihadis are not pleased at the thought of Saudi influence increasing.

Maliki reportedly believes he has until July 30 to get the oil revenue-sharing law through parliament or he’ll be replaced. He may not even have that long: for the first time in CNN’s polling, a majority of the American public now believes the U.S. can’t win. What happens if things deterioriate and we have to go Plan B? Last weekend’s tete-a-tete with Iran should have given you a hint. We follow the James Baker blueprint:

American military planners have begun plotting a fallback strategy for Iraq that includes a gradual withdrawal of forces and a renewed emphasis on training Iraqi fighters in case the current troop buildup fails or is derailed by Congress…

A shift away from the buildup and toward a more advisor-based strategy would bring the administration more in line with the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel created by Congress to make recommendations on the war. The group called for a gradual reduction in U.S. combat forces. Kalev I. Sepp, a key advisor to the panel and an El Salvador veteran, was instrumental in getting the commission to back an expanded advisory effort.

“That’s exactly what I proposed to the Iraq Study Group, and that’s exactly what ended up in the report,” said Sepp, an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

Exit question: Why has the GOP decided not to filibuster Harry Reid’s Iraq timetable? Afraid to get on the wrong side of an increasingly anti-war public, or do they suspect it’s unnecessary because Reid doesn’t have 50 votes?