Iranians help reach Iraq cease-fire
Iranian officials helped broker a cease-fire agreement Sunday between Iraq’s government and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to Iraqi lawmakers.
The deal could help defuse a wave of violence that had threatened recent security progress in Iraq. It also may signal the growing regional influence of Iran, a country the Bush administration accuses of providing support to terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere.
Cleric suspends Shiite militia’s fight in Basra
The negotiations with Mr. Sadr were seen as a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who had vowed that he would see the Basra campaign through to a military victory and who has been harshly criticized even within his own coalition for the stalled assault.
Last week, Iraq’s defense minister, Abdul Kadir al-Obeidi, conceded that the government’s military efforts in Basra have met with far more resistance than was expected. Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.
A civil war Iraq can’t win
Even if American and Iraqi forces are able to eliminate Al Qaeda in Iraq, there are still three worrisome possibilities of new forms of fighting that could divide Iraq and deny the United States any form of “victory.”
One is that the Sunni tribes and militias that have been cooperating with the Americans could turn against the central government. The second is that the struggle among Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other ethnic groups to control territory in the north could lead to fighting in Kirkuk, Mosul or other areas.
The third risk — and one that is now all too real — is that the political struggle between the dominant Shiite parties could become an armed conflict.
The Bush administration is coming to a crunch point soon in the two biggest conflicts in the Middle East — the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate and the struggle to create a stable Iraq. In each case, we can see the limits of military power in combating the “bad guys” who the administration believes are obstructing the path to peace.
The conundrum in Palestine is how to deal with Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza. By firing rockets into Israel and provoking a punishing Israeli response, Hamas has nearly torpedoed the Annapolis peace process. It is a ruthless and unyielding organization but has strong support in Gaza, and, as Israel has discovered, it has been impossible to destroy militarily.
So what to do? Last week, Vice President Cheney and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert repeated the conventional line that Hamas is a threat to peace and that Israel should not negotiate with its representatives. But Egypt is holding talks with Hamas with the aim of negotiating a cease-fire — and I haven’t noticed either Israel or the United States demanding that the Egyptians stop their mediation.