Fouad Ajami writes from Baghdad:
There is a growing Shia unease with the Mahdi Army--and with the venality and incompetence of the Sadrists represented in the cabinet--and an increasing faith that the government and its instruments of order are the surer bet. The crackdown on the Mahdi Army that the new American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has launched has the backing of the ruling Shia coalition. Iraqi police and army units have taken to the field against elements of the Mahdi army. In recent days, in the southern city of Diwaniyya, American and Iraqi forces have together battled the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr. To the extent that the Shia now see Iraq as their own country, their tolerance for mayhem and chaos has receded. Sadr may damn the American occupiers, but ordinary Shia men and women know that the liberty that came their way had been a gift of the Americans.
The young men of little education--earnest displaced villagers with the ways of the countryside showing through their features and dialect and shiny suits--who guarded me through Baghdad, spoke of old terrors, and of the joy and dignity of this new order. Children and nephews and younger brothers of men lost to the terror of the Baath, they are done with the old servitude. They behold the Americans keeping the peace of their troubled land with undisguised gratitude. It hasn't been always brilliant, this campaign waged in Iraq. But its mistakes can never smother its honor, and no apology for it is due the Arab autocrats who had averted their gaze from Iraq's long night of terror under the Baath.
Speaking of the Sadrists’ pitiful demonstrations, Sadr’s aides were hoping to gather a million marchers for yesterday but all they could manage were less than ten thousand, even when they bussed people from Baghdad and Basra.
The Arabic-speaking al-Alam Iranian channel [and the BBC] claims the number was “hundreds of thousands” but that’s just al-Alam, other channels and the footage we saw all put the number between 5 and 10 thousand. I have personally been to a demonstration of 10 thousand once and what I saw yesterday was definitely smaller.
Flying Iraqi flags in large numbers is another cheap trick combining methods from both Hezbollah and Saddam. Replacing partisan sectarian banners with the national flag was likely inspired from Hezbollah’s rallies in Lebanon. Both movements desperately try to show themselves as patriotic movements because they realize others see them as Iran’s tools.
On the other hand the way the flags were gathered is a trademark of the Ba’ath work; the flags that were carried during the demonstration as well as the flags that were seen hanging on walls in Baghdad were not donated by NGO’s, nor bought with Sadr’s money.
Elements of the Mehdi army paid visits to hundreds of shops and stores in several neighborhoods in Baghdad and “asked” the owners for money to buy flags; 6,000 dinars ($5) from stores on main streets and 2,000 dinars from stores in the alleys. This is exactly what the Ba’ath thugs used to do; using intimidation to steal hard-earned money from hardworking Iraqis to decorate their false demonstrations with posters and portraits.
And here's Gateway Pundit:
Of all of the 1,800 plus articles published yesterday on the Al Sadr Anti-US-occupation protest in Najaf, Iraq, not one mentioned that the turnout was way below what was expected and hoped for by the media and the pro-Iranian Muqtada al-Sadr.