What happened
Iraqi forces continued Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s campaign to restore order this week by launching a crackdown on Shiite militias in the southern city of Amara. Maliki has already sent the Iraqi army, with U.S. support, to confront militia fighters loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad and the southern oil city of Basra, and al Qaeda Sunni Arab insurgents in the northern city of Mosul. (Reuters in the International Herald-Tribune)

What the commentators said
The real test of strength against Sadr will come at the ballot box, said Barry R. Posen in The Boston Globe. If Sadr sympathizers do well in October provincial elections, “the current U.S. scheme for reconciling Shiite and Sunni will likely run out of steam;” if Maliki backers do well, the argument for keeping U.S. soldiers around will grow stronger. A “murky draw” will leave the next president to “substitute his own judgment for the ambiguous facts on the ground.”

So far, neither Barack Obama nor John McCain has come up with a “realistic” alternative, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. Obama wants to “pull out the troops,” and McCain wants to stay the course until “military victory.” But the “right way out,” according to counterinsurgency expert and retired Australian army officer Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, is continuing a more sustainable long-term presence, using special operations forces to fight al Qaida and train Iraqis without the crushing expense of a massive occupation force.

Let’s hope the next president will give Iraq a “fresh look,” said Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. The U.S. public has “rendered judgment” and determined that the “price we have paid in Iraq” far exceeds the benefits so far. But it’s also true that the “reality on the ground” is “no longer an “unremitting horror story,” although reconciliation “has not reached a point where Iraq’s stability is self-sustaining.” Salvaging a decent outcome at an acceptable cost will be “one of the most excruciatingly difficult challenges ever handed from one president to another.”