SADR CITY OPERATION BEGINS….About 10,000 Iraqi troops entered Sadr City today and met little resistance:

Despite the heavy military presence, residents said the district remained calm and no shots were fired at the troops. Sadr’s representatives in the neighborhood, which is named after the cleric’s revered father, wandered the streets, welcoming the Iraqi soldiers and presenting them with Korans, the Muslim holy book….U.S. forces were playing no part in the operation, the military said.

….Lt. Col. Steven Stover, spokesmen for U.S. forces in Baghdad, said he was “ecstatic” about today’s operation. “I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people,” he said. “And it will be because they did it, not us.”

This is, tentatively, good news. And it’s worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too. The conduct of the Iraqi troops was spotty and the Iranian influence in bringing the fighting to an end was obviously problematic, but in the end government forces did take control of most of the city and have restored relative peace.

Add to that today’s promising start to the Sadr City operation, the continued cooperation of the Sunni tribes, and the sustained reduction in overall violence, and Iraq’s prospects look better than they have for a while. It’s still true, among other things, that the status of Kirkuk hasn’t been resolved; that arming the Sunnis poses long-term stability problems; that Sadr’s intentions are murky and he may just be biding his time; that the Iranians seem to be calling a lot of the shots; and that Nouri al-Maliki still doesn’t really have a functioning government. Only an ostrich would pretend that prosperity is just around a bend in the Tigris. Still, there’s been some genuine progress over the past few months, enough to make me feel a bit of hope for Iraq’s future for the first time in years.

It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.