Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened Wednesday to quit the government to protest the prime minister's lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, according to a statement.No one talks about this, but the fact is if the Iraqi government asks us to leave, we will simply have no choice but to do so. We're not near that point yet, but it bears remembering that the Iraqi government largely represents the interests of Shiite political parties, and that as soon as the disadvantages of our presence outweigh the advantages to them, there will be pressure for us to leave that the Maliki government will have trouble resisting. The hardliners among the Shiites-including Sadr-see our forces as an obstacle to their consolidation of power and their ability to wield a free hand against the Sunnis.
Such a pullout by the very bloc that put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office could collapse his already perilously weak government. The threat comes two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give al-Maliki's government room to function.
The unfortunate fact about the "surge" plan currently in motion is that it reflects an old understanding of Iraq, that more forces on the ground can beat back the insurgents, increase security, and give each side a chance to take a step back from greater conflict. It's doubtful the surge can even achieve that limited purpose, but the reality is that there are those on the Sunni and Shiite of the conflict who have no desire to give up their struggles for power. Only forces sufficient to control the entire country, and a radical shift in the political situation to full-on occupation could bring an end to that, and we have neither the troops nor the political will to carry such a plan out (nor any promise that it would work even if it did.) That grim political reality is why we should seriously consider a strategy that aligns our interests more closely with moderate Sunnis.