AMARA FALLS TO THE INSURGENCY….This summer, British forces returned two southern provinces to Iraqi control. A third, Maysan province, was effectively abandoned when troops in Amara, Maysan’s capital, pulled out of their main base at Camp Abu Naji after it came under heavy and unremitting attack. The plan? 600 troops would “disappear into the marshlands and desert” in order to disrupt arms smuggling from Iran. A military spokesman denied they were being forced out:

“We understand the militias in Maysan province are using this as an example that we have been pushed out of Abu Naji, but that is not true. It was very rare for us to take casualties.”

That may be the official line, but the militias know better. Today, Amara was overrun by the Mahdi Army, a militia nominally controlled by the anti-American firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr:

The takeover of Amara by the militia, the Mahdi Army, was a broad act of defiance against the authority of the central government, which has been trying to impose order and curb sectarian violence. The incident also raised questions about whether Iraq?s militias can be reined in.

….A message from Mr. Sadr was broadcast from police cars and ambulances, calling on gunmen to lay down their weapons, but it appeared to be disregarded, Mr. Muhammadawi said.

Sadr may be playing a double game, encouraging attacks privately while denouncing them publicly, but it’s more likely that he’s genuinely lost control of at least parts of his militia. In other words, not only don’t we control Amara, and not only does the central government in Baghdad not control Amara, but apparently even Sadr doesn’t control Amara. That may change depending on how the fighting goes, but the bigger picture is clear: When militia leaders dismiss even Moktada al-Sadr as too moderate and timid, where does that leave us? What’s the next step?