Michael Knights writes: As American troops were pulling out of Iraq in 2010, the U.S. effort to stabilize the country resembled the task of an exhausted man who had just pushed a huge boulder up a steep hill. Momentum had been painstakingly built up and the crest approached. Was it safe to stop pushing and hope that the momentum would take the boulder over the top? Or would the boulder grind to a halt and then slowly, frighteningly roll back toward us?
Now we know — and to be honest, the answer is hardly a surprise. Iraq is a basket case these days, and none of its problems came out of the blue. In the latest bout of sectarian and ethnic bloodletting, coordinated bomb attacks ripped through Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and also northern Iraq, killing more than 30 people. The spasm of violence followed clashes between the Iraqi army and Sunni protesters and insurgents last month, where the federal government temporarily lost control of some town centers and urban neighborhoods in Kirkuk, Nineveh, and Diyala provinces.
Negative indicators abound: Armed civilian militias are reactivating, tit-for-tat bombings are targeting Sunni and Shiite mosques, and some Iraqi military forces are breaking down into ethnic-sectarian components or suffering from chronic absenteeism. Numerous segments of Iraq’s body politic — Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia — are exasperated over the government’s inability to address political or economic inequities, and are talking seriously about partition. [Continue reading…]