When Nouri al-Maliki visited Basra, he launched a massive offensive against the Mahdi Army that eventually tore the city from the grasp of Moqtada al-Sadr. Today, Maliki visited Mosul for much the same reason, personally supervising the military offensive against the last bastion of al-Qaeda in Iraq. After the beheadings of almost a dozen police officers, the Iraqi Army appears poised to establish control across the entire nation:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday to supervise a military offensive against al-Qaida in Iraq in its last major stronghold, regional Gov. Duraid Kashmola said.

Maliki’s flight to northern Iraq mirrors a similar trip he took almost two months ago to the southern city of Basra, where government troops fought radical Shiite militias. That fighting spread to the Shiite slum of Sadr City in Baghdad, where a cease-fire to end those clashes was only reached on Monday.

The offensive, called Lion’s Roar, is the latest effort by Iraqi and U.S. troops to clear al-Qaida fighters from Mosul, the nation’s third largest city. Troops began sweeping though the city’s neighborhoods last week.

Mosul is considered the last important urban staging ground for al-Qaida in Iraq after losing its strongholds in Baghdad and other areas during the U.S. troop “surge” last year. American troops will support Iraqi forces when requested, the U.S. military has said.

The terrorists crossed over from Syria to conduct the attacks in Mosul, escalating the tensions before the fighting begins in earnest. They have conducted each abduction individually, which indicates that their strength is low in Mosul, but that they intend on holding the city. Targeting police and police recruits attempts to terrorize local authorities into either submission or outright retreat, which would give AQI effective control of the area.

Maliki’s presence sends a message to Iraqis in Mosul that the central government will not allow terrorists to create a state within a state. Having the leader of the elected government ride into Mosul at the head of a column of Iraqi soldiers gives AQI an answer to its terrorist attacks, which is that Iraq will not be terrorized into retreat. If Maliki can face down a native Shi’ite extremist like Sadr in Basra and Sadr City, he won’t get intimidated by a handful of foreign Sunni lunatics who kill more of their sectarian brethren than anyone else.

Over the last six weeks, Maliki has staged an impressive show of statesmanship and command. He has used his resources daringly and adapted well to changing conditions and tactical setbacks to liberate large swaths of his country from militias and thugs. If he can crush AQI in Mosul in the near future, he may well set Iraq on a path of unity and strength that could barely be predicted at the end of 2006.

Update: The Wall Street Journal rejects the American media’s Basra Narrative:

When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a military offensive against rogue Shiite militias in March, it was widely panned as a failure that was one more reason the U.S. needed to abandon Iraqis to their own “civil war.” Well, several weeks later the battle for Basra and Baghdad against Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army looks to be both a military and political success. …

However fitfully it began, the Basra campaign is a sign that Iraqis are in fact “standing up” for their own security. It is also a personal vindication for Mr. Maliki, who recognized to his credit that his government had to have a monopoly on violence in Shiite neighborhoods as much as in Sunni enclaves.

In the last year we were told first that the surge was a military failure, and later that it was a military success but that Iraq’s political class had not lived up to its end of the bargain. In fact, just as surge supporters said, the Iraqis have become more confident and effective the more they have become convinced that the U.S. was not going to cut and run.