I think it’s safe to say now that the countersurge has begun.

A U.S. general on Friday said suicide attacks and car bombings soared 30 percent since the start of a security crackdown in Iraq last month, and that insurgents had used a child in a second suicide attack last week…

According to the general, a teenage boy was used in a suicide bombing in Haditha on March 21.

Barbero said Iraqi police were pursuing a suspicious vehicle. As the police drove past a 12- to 14-year-old boy on a bicycle, a bomb in the teenager’s backpack detonated, killing him instantly, he said.

All eyes are on Sadr City to see if all the bombings have made the fat man hungry for revenge. He issued a statement today that was read after prayers in Kufa calling for a nationwide protest on April 9th, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad:

“You, oppressed people of Iraq, let the entire world hear your voice that you reject occupation, destruction and terrorism,” he said in calling for the April 9 demonstration.

“Fly Iraqi flags atop homes, apartment buildings and government departments to show the sovereignty and independence of Iraq, and that you reject the presence of American flags and those of other nations occupying our beloved Iraq. Keep them there until they leave our land,” he said.

He issued a similar statement on March 16th that brought the Shiites in Sadr City out into the streets. I take it as a sign that he’s going to continue to lie low and operate through political measures like demonstrations. But maybe that’s naive in light of what the WashTimes is reporting today about JAM starting to reappear on the streets of Sadr City. And not just any JAM either:

Shi’ite militiamen, who melted away from Baghdad when U.S. and Iraqi troops began their security crackdown seven weeks ago, are rolling back into the city with fresh Iranian training, Iraqi and other officials said.

It is not clear whether the radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is in control of the newly trained group, which some Iraqis describe as a “secret army” trained and equipped by Iran…

Videotapes and other evidence of Iranian propaganda have been found on people recently detained in Sadr City, said a member of one of the multiple Iraqi and U.S. security forces trying to return security to Baghdad…

“This is a special group, used for special operations, not controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr. This is a secret army,” said the Iraqi, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. “They work for Iranian intelligence. They have good weapons, good salary.”

The group’s objectives are not clear, but the Iraqi said he thought the goal was to exacerbate simmering strife between Sunnis and Shi’ites

U.S. forces are encouraging Iraqi security forces — some of whom have personal ties to the neighborhood and are followers of Sheik al-Sadr — to take the lead in the area as they go on joint foot patrols and visit with families on the outskirts of the area.

Needless to say, this is neither the first report of JAM reappearing in Baghdad nor the first reference to Iranian-trained “rogue” Mahdi Army militiamen that we’ve encountered lately; the latter were the focus of that bombshell story the AP dropped a week ago. Like the WashTimes article says, the question remains whether they really are a splinter group or whether Sadr’s working hand in hand with Iran now a la Nasrallah and Hezbollah. There’s no good reason for him not to be working with Iran: however nationalist he might be, he knows SCIRI’s militia, the Badr Brigades, is close to Tehran and stands to benefit from their largesse to his detriment after the U.S. leaves and Iraq enters Iran’s orbit fully. Giving the mullahs a piece of his action gives him more leverage in Baghdad in return. His problem is that it’s hard to imagine two Hezbollahs existing side by side in the same country, which means eventually Tehran’s either going to choose of its own accord or tensions between SCIRI and the Sadrists will force them into doing so.

Interesting related tidbit: we caught a guy today in Sadr City wanted for trafficking in EFPs. Not only is that further evidence of Iranian influence inside the neighborhood (given the alleged Iranian pedigree of the device), but it corroborates the report last week about the EFP network we busted led by Sadr’s former deputy. As you’ll recall, he’s accused of being the leader of the “rogue” Mahdi Army wing that’s training in Iran. Some of the intel we got from the bust must be starting to pay off.