One of the more disturbing articles, in a spate of almost nothing but disturbing articles, about Iraq lately is Joshua Partlow’s front-page dispatch in the Oct. 8 Washington Post, reporting the widespread view among Baghdad politicians that “reconciliation”—the prospect of a unified national government—is an illusory goal.
“Iraqi leaders argue that sectarian animosity is entrenched in the structure of their government,” Partlow writes. (Italics added.) He quotes Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih as saying, “I don’t think there is something called ‘reconciliation,’ and there will be no reconciliation. To me, it’s a very inaccurate term. This is a struggle about power.”
Two inferences can be drawn from this story, each dismaying, the two together more dismaying still.
First, the “surge,” at least as originally designed, seems hopeless. The idea of the surge, recall, was to provide enough security in Baghdad to give Iraq’s political leaders the “breathing space” to reconcile their differences. Yet if there simply is no way for the leaders to settle their disputes—if sectarian animosity is not merely rife but “entrenched in the structure of their government”—then the surge has no strategic purpose. (It may reduce civilian casualties, and that’s a notable accomplishment; but unless it makes Iraqis feel secure, and unless that facilitates political order, it’s like plugging a few leaks in a wall riddled with holes. It’s not a sustainable mission.)
However, the Post story also casts doubt on the proposition, advanced by many critics of the war, that if the United States merely sets a timetable for withdrawal, Iraq’s political leaders would realize that they had to get their act together. The Post story suggests there is no act. [complete article]