Rod Nordland reports that General Petraeus has held meetings with several of Muqtada al-Sadr's top deputies.

"U.S. commanders say that the Mahdi Army's quiescence is a significant factor behind the recent drop in attacks in Baghdad—by a third compared with six months ago, according to one estimate. And they say they now share a common enemy: rogue Mahdi Army units, known as "special groups" and allegedly funded by Iran, who have declared they will not obey the ceasefire. Sadr loyalists have formed an elite unit called the "golden battalion" to go after these rebels; the Americans are hoping to encourage the more moderate leaders to distance the Mahdi Army even further from its "irreconcilable" wing. "Those elements, such as the special-group, extremist elements, have in fact dishonored Sadr's pledge of honor," says Boylan."

I think this tracks pretty well with what Bartle Bull has written about Muqtada deciding, over a year ago, that it was in his interest to cooperate, however implicitly, with U.S. security efforts in Baghdad as he consolidated his power and guided his movement away from street politics. This, of course, will not prevent the usually parties from crediting the surge for developments that predate the surge.


"U.S. commanders think the 36-year-old cleric has temporarily relocated to Iran. But a source in the Shiite holy city of Najaf who also asked to remain anonymous says Sadr's gone underground there. He claims that Sadr is cracking the books, hoping to elevate himself to the level of hojat olIslam—one step below ayatollah."

According to some accounts, Muqtada has already achieved the level of hojjat al-Islam ("proof of Islam"), and this is frequently an honorific used for him in Arabic-language media. Given his well-known enthusiasm for video games (in his early school days his instructors mockingly nicknamed him "Mullah Atari" for his tendency to play instead of studying, but they probably eased up with that around the time he got his own militia) another possible explanation for his silence is that he's gone into seclusion to concentrate on beating Halo 3.

--Matthew Duss