Reconciliation Through Withdrawal
Earlier this week Marc Lynch wrote about the rising violence in Iraq and the inability of the Sunni Awakening forces and the Shiite central government to reach a reconciliation. He makes some important points:
Given all that uncertainty, it would be unwise to offer a confident assessment of what's really going on. But the emerging crisis surrounding the Awakenings and the uptick in violence do both seem to be primarily driven by the continuing refusal of Maliki and the Iraqi government to make meaningful political accommodations and their decision to move against at least some of the Awakenings groups at a convenient moment [...]
I'm obviously worried about all of this. I've been warning about the potential for trouble with the Awakenings project for a long time, and it would be easy to say that those predictions are now coming due. But I think it's way too early for that -- there is still time for these troubles to demonstrate the costs of political failure and to become the spur to the needed political action.
That's why it's really important that the United States not now begin to hedge on its commitment to the drawdown of its forces in the face of this uptick in violence. It is in moments like this that the credibility of commitments is made or broken. Thus far, the signals have been very good -- consistent, clear, and tightly linked to continuing pressure on political progress. President Obama reportedly pushed hard on the political accommodation front during his stopover in Baghdad last week, and General Odierno did very well to emphasize on CNN yesterday that the U.S. is firmly committed to removing its troops by the end of 2011. Maliki and everyone need to take deep breath and strike power sharing deals before things go south, and understand that they will pay consequences if they don't.
It's not just the crackdown on the Awakening forces, but the broad trends against human rights and freedom of the press that cause alarm. Maliki has been laying the groundwork for a strongman rule since last year, and it's starting to come to fruition. 25 gay men have been killed over the past two weeks, and newspapers are being harassed by the Iraqi military. This is very troubling all around, but I agree with Lynch that the United States must stay on its glide path to withdrawal, because that's the only way to force reconciliation between the sectarian factions. Ultimately, we can no longer be the backstop for internecine violence, acting as Maliki's proxy militia while he runs roughshod over his competitors. I hope we don't get cold feet on this.