What happened
American forces battled Mahdi Army militiamen in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City on Thursday, as the U.S. was drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched this week in the southern city of Basra. (The Washington Post, free registration)

What the commentators said
“Well, no one ever said it wasn't a war,” said the New York Post in an editorial (free registration). The assault came as a surprise, but it’s “encouraging"—and not just because it could end the threat from Shiite militias once and for all. “As Coalition commanders are quick to point out, the Basra offensive was decided upon, planned and executed almost entirely by Iraqis—a fact that by itself speaks volumes to progress wrought by Gen. David Petraeus' surge strategy.”

The fact that Iraq's leaders are committing their own troops is indeed a “good sign,” said The Dallas Morning News in an editorial (free registration), but this fresh “turmoil” shows that last year’s surge of U.S. troops didn’t solve all our problems. “Political bickering still impedes efforts to unite Iraq's sectarian factions,” so the key now is to “fight smart—with fewer American troops”—and “let Iraqis fight Iraqi battles.”

Helping Maliki in what is essentially a push to crush his chief Shiite rival—the “nationalist cleric” Moqtada al-Sadr—is a particularly “a dangerous venture,” said The Boston Globe in an editorial (free registration). If it provokes Sadr to call off his “crucial ceasefire,” Iraq will be plunged “back into the maelstrom of a many-sided internecine civil war.” President Bush is repeating “the sort of missteps that have haunted" the occupation; we need a president who understands that success depends on resolving the “power struggles” behind the fighting.