Thursday, September 13, 2007

No Pressure for Progress

Those who favor withdrawal or drawdown from Iraq argue that no political reconciliation will take place among the disparate parties without the threat of a removal of U.S. forces. Robert Reid, reporting for the AP from Iraq, finds this assessment to be largely correct: Baghdad, there's been little sense of alarm or urgency among the Iraqi politicians who would have the most to lose if the United States decides to begin a major pull back.

Both Sunni and Shiite leaders have been largely convinced for weeks that President Bush would press to keep forces in Iraq until he turns the White House over to a successor.

That has set up one of the grand ironies of the troop build-up that began early this year.

...the signals this week of just modest troop withdrawals ahead — perhaps back to pre-surge levels of about 130,000 — mean the Shiite-led government feels little pressure to accelerate work toward true political reconciliation.

Instead, they are focusing their energy on shoring up their positions: outflanking political challengers, leaning on more-radical Shiite factions to behave and flirting with Sunni sheiks to build personal alliances.

Iraq's national security adviser was asked Wednesday to explain why the government has been so slow to enact power-sharing agreements that Washington deems necessary for lasting peace. He had nothing new to offer.

"Of course we want to do it, but they are so complicated," Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said.

Many Shiite leaders clearly believe they have little to lose by offering the Sunnis only limited concessions. The Shiites outnumber Sunni Arabs three to one and dominate the ranks of the army and national police.

Sunni leaders, meanwhile, hold on to the hope that their fellow Sunni Arab neighbors such as Saudi Arabia will rally to their side as counterweights to Shiites with close ties to powerful Iran.

Many ordinary Iraqis are no less frustrated than American officials by the stagnation and standoffs. But there is little they can do but suffer on.

In other words, the surge in Iraq is hampering political progress. Why? Because the Shiite dominated government feels no need to make to concessions to the Sunni insurgents, as they can largely rely on American forces to preserve the status quo and keep them in power. So, the surge is helping to prevent the reconciliation that it is meant to encourage. The phrase "breathing space" has been used repeatedly to refer to the idea that as American troops tamped down the violence, Sunni and Shiite politicians would be freer to cooperate with each other. This theory has no basis in reality in Iraq. As the U.S. has squeezed the Sunni insurgents and the Mahdi Army, their opponents al Maliki and the Dawa party have felt even less desire to reconcile given that they feel secure in their primacy in Iraq. The rise of Sunni tribal leaders willing to cooperate the U.S. cannot solve this central conundrum.

Withdrawal will motivate the national government to deal with other parties. That may not be enough as this point, and so there's no reason to believe that withdrawal or a drawdown will further chances for peace in Iraq. But the surge defeats itself, and provides no hope for peace and stability as it can bring neither political reconciliation nor enforce peace by military might.

UPDATE: Note this news:

A carefully constructed compromise on a draft law governing Iraq’s rich oil fields, agreed to in February after months of arduous talks among Iraqi political groups, appears to have collapsed. The apparent breakdown comes just as Congress and the White House are struggling to find evidence that there is progress toward reconciliation and a functioning government here.

Senior Iraqi negotiators met in Baghdad on Wednesday in an attempt to salvage the original compromise, two participants said. But the meeting came against the backdrop of a public series of increasingly strident disagreements over the draft law that had broken out in recent days between Hussain al-Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister, and officials of the provincial government in the Kurdish north, where some of the nation’s largest fields are located.

You can draw your own conclusions.

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