The Iraq Surge’s Political Success

In reading up on the recent violence in Iraq for a France 24 taping I did this morning (I’ll post the link when it goes live tomorrow), I found myself thinking that the Surge ultimately did achieve its second-stage objective of providing the space for political reconciliation. Not in Iraq, that is, but in the U.S.

And that might turn out to be just as, if not more, important. Because the Iraqi political accomodation the Surge was meant to facilitate was the one aspect of the strategy that was entirely out of our hands. The Surge — and here I mean the Surge writ large, to include the Sunni Awakening, the Sadrist ceasefire, Maliki’s Basra offensive and the SOFA — has effectively ended American ownership of the military outcome.

Now the U.S. emphasis, as John Nagl and Brian Burton argue in their WPR briefing, must turn to the diplomatic outcome. Here, the effort to create a regional context for stabilizing the country will suffer from the invasion’s original sin, i.e. the lack of mulitlateral legitimacy. But there are the first signs of a stirring, both regionally and further afield. Turkey just hosted Moqtada al-Sadr — significantly, one of the staunchest supporters of a centralized, non-federal Iraq that calms Ankara’s fears of an independent Kurdish state in the north. France’s re-engagement with Iraq, too, has taken on increased momentum.

As for the recent violence, it’s impossible to predict whether it is the harbinger of worse to come, or else the futile last gasp of a spent urge to violence. My sense from all that I’ve read is that no one’s very thrilled with the political status quo, which remains unstable and, as with any occupation, artificially maintained. But they are even less thrilled with the possibilities offered by further violence.

Nir Rosen’s piece on the Sons of Iraq paints a picture of resignation that comes of knowing the government’s got not only your name, address, fingerprints and iris scans, but also the serial number of your AK. Indeed, the consequences of Maliki’s — and hence our — betrayal of the SoI might be felt, not in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, where our efforts to apply the same tactic might now meet with wary skepticism.

Tom Ricks cites a correspondent who describes ways in which the intra-Shiite rivalry between Maliki’s Dawa party and ISCI might in fact be playing itself out in the ledgers of the Finance Ministry rather than in the streets of Basra or Baghdad.

Then there are bleaker assessments, like Jari Lindholm’s after spending two weeks in Baghdad.

Still, if civil war does engulf Iraq, my hunch is that it might very well come in places (the north) and forms (Kurdish-Arab violence over Kirkuk and oil contract autonomy) that we don’t expect and haven’t yet considered. And if they do occur, it will be a hard sell politically to get Americans to reinvest in stabilizing a country whose political landscape resembles a confusing matrix of nuclear reactors all built on an interlocking maze of seismic faultlines.

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