Under pressure from the Congress, Arab states and Sunni Iraqi leaders, the US administration on Tuesday set the stage for "major" political changes in Iraq.
The changes will be in "the structure, nature and direction of the Iraqi state," a senior American official in Baghdad was quoted by AP as saying.
He did not give out details, but the plan is expected to be high on the agenda of a 'crisis summit' which would be attended by key Iraqi leaders who seek to save the crumbling national unity government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.
What change? A new government? A new constitution? New elections? A coup? Or is this unnamed official merely overselling a plan for the future of Iraq? Who knows, but they've got their work cut out for them:
About 50 political leaders had "a friendly meeting" over lunch yesterday at the Baghdad residence of President Jalal Talabani, but the meeting was overshadowed by a suicide attack which killed 10 people in the Iraqi capital.
Also, a key player and one of the most senior Sunni Arabs in the government, Vice-President Tariq Al Hashemi, failed to attend Talabani's luncheon.
According to one of the participants, this meeting was no more than a "luncheon with cold cuts." Also, Laura Rozen links to William Lind, who makes this claim:
Some of the decline in violence in Baghdad is due not to US troops but to the fact that the Shiites have completed the ethnic cleansing of mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods.
He might be onto something. Here's an excerpt from the McClatchy article I linked to this morning:
One bright spot has been the reduction in the number of bodies found on the streets, considered a sign of sectarian violence. That number was 44 percent lower in July, compared to December. In July, the average body count per day was 18.6, compared with 33.2 in December, two months before the surge.
But the reason for that decline isn't clear. Some military officers believe that it may be an indication that ethnic cleansing has been completed in many neighborhoods and that there aren’t as many people to kill.
One officer noted that U.S. officials believe Baghdad once had a population that was 65 percent Sunni. The current U.S. estimate is that Shiites now make up 75 percent to 80 percent of the city.
In other words, the Shiite militias seem to have affected a "major shake-up" of their own, in driving the Sunnis out of Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods. Note that this is something we have been unable to prevent, even with the addition of 30,000 troops to our forces in Iraq.
Also, at the beginning of the surge I predicted that casualties would rise as American forces turned their guns on Iraq's Shiite militias, specifically the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr. This has proven to be true, and they've risen on both sides as U.S. engagements have left Shiite civilians dead in the wake of battles with the militias (via Juan Cole.) This turn against the militias has left us in the strange position of battling forces that are supposedly linked to our enemies in Iran but at the same time support the politicians that our are allies in the Iraqi government.
Let's not forget about that situation in northern Iraq with the PKK, who are now making threats towards Turkey and the Iraqi government.
Oh, then there's this story about 200 people who were killed in a coordinated suicide attack in Sanjir close to the Iraq-Syria border.
And nine U.S. military personnel died in the last two days.