The word you do not get on the nightly news is the the Iraqi Army is now effectively engaging the illegal militias in the heart of their own territory, Sadr City. The New York Times wrote that the Iraqi Army supported by US assetts effectively split Sadr City in two. Now what "in two" means I'm not quite sure, but the good news is that the Iraqi forces continue to put the wood to the Mehdi militia.
Counterinsurgency operations continuously evolve. If I have learned a few things over the last year of study, it's that one of the major points of COIN (counterinsurgency) is overwhelming organized armed resistance. I suppose in simple-speak that means having armed independent militias competing with you for the people's affections might be a bad idea. You should just wipe them out, simple. Right?
Wrong, at least up to now. It is difficult to broach the subject of Iraq's tribal underpinnings without writing a dissertation. For some reason all the smart folks at the highest levels of strategic communication have not figured out a great explanation either.
The entities now referred to as "illegal militias" were allowed to exist largely because they were the lesser of two evils when compared to al Quada in Iraq. The militias sprung up largely due in part to the security vacuum after the fall of Baghdad mainly from Shi'a need for self-preservation. In al Sadr the militia had a bona fide spokesperson, not necessarily a shining beacon of reason we all craved, but a negotiable quantity nonetheless.
It is no longer a secret that Iran is providing huge amount of support to the militias in what's becoming their proxy war against the US. (Personally, I believe the relabeling of the Mehdi Militia as an "illegal militia" is a brilliant step.) The militia is doing the smart thing and pushing that support to the people and the people return the love in kind. Given all the Shi'ites serving in the military, police and national leadership (ahem... PM), it is understandable that the Iraqi government was hesitant to put the smack down on the militias.
That appears to be changing as indicated by the firing of over 300 soldiers and police who were unwilling to participate in the crackdown. Though an Iraq with scary-close ties to Iran might be a foregone conclusion, the elimination or at-least mitigation of the illegal militias is a welcome step forward.