At least that’s the analysis from ABC News, which reports with enthusiasm on the effects on Sadr City from Nouri al-Maliki’s imposition of central government authority. Commerce has returned to this poverty-stricken area of the capital, and deaths and injuries from fighting have all but disappeared. Maliki has brought normalcy to Sadr City just as he did to Basra, and the people have begun to trust that it will stay:

In Baghdad’s Sadr City today, once again, street vendors line the sidewalk with colorful shirts and shoes. Vegetable markets, once again, have fresh limes and produce. Family stores, once again, are back in business.

And in the local Ibn al Balad hospital, no more war wounds.

“There are no injured people in this hospital,” says Jabber Shanshal, an Iraqi nurse, drawing a stark contrast with the situation more than two months ago, when heavy fighting took place in the Shiite suburb of almost three million people.

Eighteen months ago, Maliki’s future looked very grim. ABC recalls the assessment then by Stephen Hadley that Maliki either didn’t know what was going on in his own country or was lying to cover up his impotence to change the situation. That analysis came as the Bush administration faced a choice of either changing strategies or changing horses in Iraq, or leaving the country to collapse in our wake.

Bush chose the surge, and Maliki chose to abandon Moqtada al-Sadr for alliances with Sunnis, Kurds, and Sadr’s enemies within the Shi’ite community. He also marked time while the US helped build a professional army for Iraq that could change the calculus of power in places like Sadr City and Basra. Both leaders made those changes with their backs against the wall, and perhaps the concurrent timing of those straits provided a dynamic that kept both committed to their new strategies.

Now Maliki has built himself a political coalition that only grows stronger as the central government establishes its sovereignty and frees Iraqis from the capricious rule of criminal gangs like the Mahdis. He is rapidly establishing himself as the Indispensable Man of Iraq, which few could have foreseen when he took office with Sadr’s backing. In the upcoming provincial elections, he may well sideline Sadr as the liberated voters in Basra and Sadr City have an opportunity to deliver a referendum on Sadr’s rule by militia.

The last eighteen months have provided a complete turn of fortunes for both Maliki and the US in Iraq. Unfortunately, while the Iraqis recognize it, many here still refuse to see the rapidly-stabilizing nation that Maliki leads as an Iraqi instead of a pastiche of factions over which Maliki prevails.