Iraq Forging Its Own Backbone

Smoke rises during clashes between the Mahdi Army and government forces in Basra, Iraq, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, March 26, 2008. At least 55 people were killed and 300 wounded in Basra and Baghdad in fighting that broke out Tuesday and spread to the capital's main Shiite district of Sadr City, according to Iraqi police. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani
This column was written by CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

Iraq, which had fallen off the radar of much of the news media, is very much with us again.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, so often under the gun for not doing enough to unify his country, took action this week to try to clean up the Shiite-dominated area of Basra. Now understand that al-Maliki is a Shiite, so his deciding to clean up the militias and Mahdi army forces loyal to Shiite strongman Muqtada al-Sadr is a big deal. A really big deal.

A good portion of the decrease in violence that Iraq has experienced for the last six months has come because of a cease fire declared by al-Sadr. It is his people who are now under the gun. This is a huge test of the Iraqi Army and of al-Maliki's mettle.

A real country has laws and is governed by elected officials, not warlords. If al-Maliki and the army can succeed, it will be an important step toward an Iraq that can stand up for itself.

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on many CBS Radio News affiliates across the country.