I agree with many, but not all, of the conclusions Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon reach in this NY Times column, but you really can’t write a piece about the wae in Iraq and devote only two sentences to the political situation, which is disastrous and, as Petraeus has said, will determine the success or failure of the overall effort.
It could be argued that what the U.S. military is now accomplishing is clearing the field of foreigners–i.e. the Al Qaeda in Iraq foreign fighters–so that the indigenous Sunnis and Shi’ites can go at each other in a full-blown civil war, complete with Srebrenica style massacres. (Although a precursor to that civil war is the internecine Shi’ite battle between the Hakim and Sadr militias that is about to take place in Basrah. If Sadr wins that fight, he will control Baghdad and the southern oil fields–and will be the de facto leader of Shi’ite Iraq.) I see absolutely no evidence that the majority Shi’ites are willing to concede anything to the minority Sunnis, and there are significant signs that Baghdad is being ethnically cleansed.
Yes, progress has been made in the fight against the most extreme jihadis (AQI), but that should not be extrapolated into anything resembling optimism….And if we manage to put a major hurt on AQI–which is Bush’s (current) rationale for us being there–what rationale remains for us staying there if the Iraqis themselves are intent on slaughtering each other?
Update: One thing I just realized–Pollack and Hanlon seem to have visited only Sunni areas–Ramadi, Tal Afar and Mosul, the Ghazaliya neighborhood on the west (Sunni) bank of the Tigris River. And that’s where the progress, such as it is, has been made, with the tribes moving against the jihadis and toward us. But Iraq is primarily a Shi’ite country–and we’re not doing so well with those guys, especially the most prominent of them, Muqtada al-Sadr.
I should also note that their optimism about the Iraqi Army might look a bit different if they went to mixed areas like Diyala province, where a corrupt Shi’ite-dominated Army is going to have to deal with a police force that is being recruited from former Sunni insurgents. There certainly are a few excellent, mixed units in the Iraqi Security Forces, but the majority of units are local, sect-specific and awful.
Update 2: Commenter PVA makes an excellent point–
I’m glad you have of late begun noting the Shiite internecine fighting in the south. I think you should be aware, however, that this is not only about to happen but is in fact ongoing – it may not have blown up completely yet, but the internecine fighting between Sadr, Hakim, and the Fadhila organization (which you consistently and inexplicably fail to mention) has been occurring for at least a year.
Fadhila is a presence, mostly in Basrah, but intelligence sorts seem to think that it doesn’t have the military capabilities that the Mahdi Army and Badr Corps have.