Thursday, July 27, 2006

New York Times Editorial - Iraq: A long, bad six weeks

New York Times Editorial - Iraq: A long, bad six weeks
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: July 26, 2006


Six weeks ago, President George W. Bush paid a surprise visit to Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, in Baghdad. U.S. forces had just killed the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Iraq's Parliament had just confirmed what was billed as a national unity cabinet. Maliki seized the occasion to announce a major military operation meant to bring security to the people of Baghdad.

This week, as Maliki returns the visit, things feel very different. In fact, the two men's brief encounter in Baghdad might turn out to have been the last good moment of the American experience in Iraq. Despite the elimination of Zarqawi and the new security drive, the daily carnage is increasing, especially in Baghdad and especially against civilians. Last month, for the first time, the nationwide civilian death toll exceeded 100 people per day. Despite the increased presence of Sunni Arabs in the new cabinet, the political and physical gulf between Sunnis and Shiites is wider then ever; the flight of frightened families from religiously mixed neighborhoods is further cleaving the country in two.

And despite Maliki's assurances that sectarian armies would be disarmed and their members integrated into the ranks of the national army and the police, Shiite militias continue to kill Sunnis with impunity.

One big reason why, sadly, is that Maliki has failed to overcome the great weakness he brought with him when he took office.
The main power behind his government comes from the armed Shiite fundamentalist factions that swept last year's elections and thereby dominate Iraq's Parliament. The Kurdish parties that inflate the Shiites' majority have never much cared about what goes on outside Iraqi Kurdistan, as long as their region maintains its de facto independence. And while the Sunni Arab parties participating in this government are courageously trying to woo their followers away from the insurgency, they are not getting the crucial support they need from the dominant Shiite parties.

Instead, these parties seem intent on pursuing a violent, divisive agenda that is inexorably leading toward civil war.
Maliki's visit comes at a time when the carnage in Lebanon and Israel has dashed the last remnants of hope that the invasion of Iraq might lead to an improved chance for peace between Arabs and Jews. The prime minister's own criticisms of Israeli actions have made it clear that Israel is unlikely to find any source of support in the new post-Saddam Iraq. And beyond that, Bush will have to figure out how to address the prime minister's bid to try U.S. troops under Iraqi law for crimes in Iraq.
But in the end, none of that will matter unless the president finds a way to give Maliki the spine to ignore people who make up so much of his political base. The dream of creating a government committed to the welfare and security of all Iraqis is slipping away, and it will take more than another good-will visit to get it back.

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