If you haven’t already, give David Ucko’s piece on the Sons of Iraq a read. I’m probably guilty of dismissing that particular aspect of the improved security situation too quickly. As Ucko makes clear, it’s risky and far from conclusively resolved. But it can’t be reduced to an effort to buy off guns to get them pointed in another direction, and doing so only ignores the significant opportunities it offers for real progress.
The catch, as always when it comes to progress in Iraq, is consolidating it into something that resembles a cohesive national government. Ucko puts his hopes in the upcoming provincial elections in October, followed by national elections in December 2009. In a way that makes sense. The Sunnis by and large boycotted the last elections, so this will really be their first go at the new Iraqi political process. But a lot still depends on the Shiites’ willingness to accomodate them. And the proof of the pudding will have to wait for the first time political power in Iraq changes hands from one faction to another, to find out whether that transfer ends up being a peaceful one or not.
I remain largely skeptical about the longterm durability of the progress in Iraq, and pessimistic about the chances that all of the broken bones will set in time for Iraq to be able to bear its own weight anytime soon. But now would seem to be the wrong time to precipitously remove the plaster cast (namely, American troops) that’s holding it all in place. I fear that we’re chaperoning a failed policy towards its ultimate demise. But I’m willing to admit to my own pessimism, and hope that it’s ultimately proven wrong.
Update: Behind the gimmick of comparing the SoI to the Sopranos, this LA Times story suggests that internal power struggles are already surfacing among the Sunnis as the American-Sunni partnerships (and the advantages they bestow) solidify. This doesn’t at all contradict the significance of the strategy that Ucko identifies, but it points out yet another potential faultline that must be navigated.