TSR: "Nuri al Maliki has little but words and some influence. Real power rests elsewhere."

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Wolf shows Nic Robertson's piece from an embed with American and Iraqi troops, and then talks to Michael for a reality check: who owns the streets of Baghdad, Nuri al Maliki or Muqtada al Sadr?

WOLF BLITZER: Fresh violence in Baghdad today as U.S. and Iraqi troops go after Shiite militias who've been raining rockets down on the heart of the capital. Another U.S. soldier was killed and Iraqi officials say at least 18 Iraqis died, nine of them, they say, in a U.S. air strike. The U.S. military says none of the casualties appear to be civilians.

CNN's Nic Robertson is with the troops in the sprawling Baghdad slum known as Sadr City.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As gunfire erupts, American soldiers take cover.

CAPT. LOGAN VEATH, U.S. ARMY: Is he on the ground or is he on the rooftop?

ROBERTSON: Captain Logan Veath must find the gunman, stop the attack.

VEATH: We've got one or two shooters located, they've PID'd them, or positively identified where they're at. They're being signaled on the rooftops by a couple guys with flags.

ROBERTSON: For the past ten days, U.S. and Iraqi forces have been trying to take control of these neighborhoods; neighborhoods militias have been using to fire rockets at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad's allegedly secure green zone, militias turning the people against the U.S. troops.

LT. COL. DAN BARNETT, U.S. ARMY: They turn us into the guys that move forward and shot innocent women and children deliberately. And that didn't happen.

ROBERTSON: U.S. forces can patrol barely one-fifth of Sadr City because of Iraqi government restrictions.

About 800 yards, about half a mile up the road here is the vast majority of Sadr City where U.S. troops are only allowed to go on very rare occasions. It's become, they say, an effective safe haven for the militias, from where they're able to plan and prepare their attacks.

But there's one more problem here. U.S. troops must let Iraqi soldiers take the lead in fighting the militias. Captain Veath must convince his Iraqi counterpart to go after the gunmen and it's not going well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told me he has little forces.

VEATH: Little forces? He's got as many people on the ground as I do. There is no reason that you cannot do this. We are behind you 100 percent. But you need to move forward.

ROBERTSON: The gunmen are still shooting, the Iraqi captain reluctant to lead.

VEATH: We can provide support, but we need you to action it.

ROBERTSON: Just when it's all agreed...

VEATH: Now is not the time. It is to move out. I need you to get your forces over to the mosque and to isolate it.

ROBERTSON: They discover the Iraqi troops have gone to lunch. Fortified with food, they head off around the corner to take on the gunmen. The shooting intensifies. Captain Veath follows, ready for backup. Breaking into a store for cover, he loses contact with the Iraqi captain.

VEATH: We're hearing a lot of volume of fire. I got to figure out what's going on, if they're taking it or if they're giving or receiving. Over.

ROBERTSON: Ten minutes later the Iraqi troops return. Three soldiers are injured. They say they killed one of the gunmen.

VEATH: I'm proud of your men and what they've accomplished. I swear you have my -- our support.


BLITZER: Nic Robertson reporting for us from Sadr City in Baghdad.

As the Democrats push for a withdrawal and John McCain digs in on the war, let's get an Iraq reality check. Joining us now, our own Michael Ware who has been covering the war from the beginning in Iraq. He's joining us now from New York.

Michael, thanks for coming in. Welcome back to the United States.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Great pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: Quick question, we just heard Nic's report from Sadr City. Can the Iraqi forces loyal to the prime minister Nuri al Maliki crush these Shiite militias in Sadr City with U.S. military help?

WARE: Well, first, Wolf, I think you'd have to find which of these Iraqi units actually have soldiers loyal to Nuri al Maliki. Because let's bear in mind, much like the government itself, the Iraqi security forces are comprised of and drawn from the militias themselves. Now, whilst you do have other recruits who've just shown up for a paycheck, a the end of the day, the troops on the ground are drawn from the militias, are drawn from the political factions. These are the building blocks of Iraqi political power. And Nuri al Maliki, the prime minister, doesn't have a militia and given that guns, the barrel of the gun is still the currency of political power in Iraq, Nuri al Maliki has little but words and some influence. Real power rests elsewhere.

So it's no great surprise to see a commander not wanting to go into battle. My first question would be what's his name, where's he from, what's his sect, and you can roughly figure out what militia he was probably dragged from -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Who's more popular in Iraq among Iraqi Shiites, would it be Nuri al Maliki the prime minister or Muqtada al Sadr, the anti-America Shiite cleric?

WARE: That's something very hard to gauge. But I can tell you now my gut instinct would say that Muqtada would have it hands down. Certainly he's got the more vocal support. In so many ways Muqtada owns the Shia street.

Now Nuri al Maliki is seen as someone who's tried but failed to deliver on security, basic goods and services, and any kind of stability. Now, Muqtada on the other hand is seen as a rallying point. Now, his militia command structure and his militia military structure has been eroded away, chipped away primarily by the Iranians. And from Muqtada's militia, they've built new, harder-lined, better-trained organizations called the Special Groups who are directly linked to Lebanese Hezbollah. So Muqtada is under political and militia attack as they burrow out from within him. Nonetheless, he owns the street. Who wields the mechanisms of power, Wolf?

BLITZER: We're going to be spending a lot of time talking this week. Michael, thanks very much.