Today is Friday here in Iraq; for Muslims it's akin to the western Sunday, when people have the day off from work and attend religious services with their families. It's also the end of the ultimatum given by Prime Minister al-Maliki for the Shi'a-based Jaysh al-Mahdi militia, better known as the Mahdi Army to lay down its weapons. That is not expected to happen which now brings the Coalition-backed government of Iraq in direct confrontation with the Iranian backed-Shi'a militias.
What occurs in the next 48 hours could very well decide the fate of Iraq for many many months to come. Prime Minister al--Maliki can no longer tolerate having the gun of the al-Sadr's followers, and those of Iran, put to his head.
This is it, game day for the Iraqi Army. The U.S. forces are expected to provide top-level intelligence and operational guidance, but this will be Iraq's problem to solve, and the U.S. military must be seen as being a very distant player if al-Maliki's government will have it's legitimacy.
The Iraqi police force is completely out of the picture, as most of its ranks side with the militias anyway. Baghdad's streets have been noticeable devoid the last few days of the roving band's of blue-clad "police". The joke has been that they're off manning mortar points and lobbing rounds back and forth at each other or into the Green Zone.
Finally, the upcoming fight may be looked at as the litmus test for the "Patraeus Doctrine", i.e., the many months of preparing Iraq's security forces to stand on their own and take positive control of their country outside of major U.S. support. I personally believe that the Iraqi Army is up to the task, but it won't be pretty and most of all we may not like some of the techniques that will likely be employed. At the end of the day, it's their country and the Iraq security forces will have to live with the results and the ramifications of their actions, win, loose or draw.