Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been complaining to anyone willing to stand around and listen that his ill-conceived attack on rogue cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Medhi Army in Basra was carried out under orders from Dick Cheney, who had visited Baghdad the week before the fighting started. Per al-Maliki, Cheney told him that the time was right to crush al-Sadr as the latter was studying religious texts in Qom and the Mehdis were reported to be in disarray. If today’s New York Times is to be believed, al-Maliki is more than likely doing damage control because he was the one who wound up looking bad when the assault failed. Per the Times, the Iraqi army action was not well coordinated with General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker only found out about it when al-Maliki headed south to help stamp out the “criminal gangs” running the city. Al-Maliki wanted to make sure that al-Sadr’s criminal gangs were replaced with his own criminal gangs who would steal the city’s oil exports for his benefit. In any event, Cheney does not appear to have been involved. Or was he? President Bush called the internecine fighting a “defining moment” for Iraqi democracy, which rather suggests that somebody was blowing smoke somewhere. Or maybe it was just a “misspoke” moment.