Here’s why…

The gun battles between soldiers and militiamen, who are all Shia Muslims, show that Iraq’s majority Shia community – which replaced Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime – is splitting apart for the first time.

Mr Sadr’s followers believe the government is trying to eliminate them before elections in southern Iraq later this year, which they are expected to win.

Emphasis mine there, and if this is true then get ready for continued bloodshed. Iraqi PM Maliki may think he can fight his way through this, but if we’re talking about a struggle for political power, this is the start of something much bigger.

Also, maybe this is why the U.S. is taking a back seat in this fight. Because if we’re involved on the ground, there’s no way they’ll be political reconciliation. However, we are providing air support, so that seems ill-advised if what we’re seeing is the start of a new civil war.

And to that point…

The supporters of Mr Sadr, who form the largest political movement in Iraq, blame the Americans for giving the go-ahead for Mr Maliki’s offensive against them and supporting it with helicopters and bomber aircraft. US troops have sealed off Sadr City, the close-packed slum in the capital with a population that is the main bastion of the Sadrists, while the Mehdi Army has taken over its streets, establishing checkpoints, each manned by about 20 heavily armed men. It is unlikely that the militiamen in Basra will surrender as demanded by the government. Sadiq al-Rikabi, an adviser to Mr Maliki, said those who kept their weapons would be arrested. “Any gunman who does not do that within three days will be an outlaw.”

We’ll see how this shakes out. The signs do not look good.

Politics Why Muqtada al-Sadr Won’t Back Down