The Center in Iraq

Whatever the temporary advances or setbacks of an actual counter-insurgence strategy in Iraq, no one doubts that there can be no decent outcome there without a political reconciliation at a national level. We have three recent indicators of that likelihood. We have the news that Maliki may be protecting the Shiite militias from the brunt of "national" forces; we have the recent withdrawal from the government of leading Shiite figures under the sway of Moqtada al Sadr; and we now have the major Sunni bloc threatening to withdraw its ministers from the cabinet as well. Just in case we are under any illusions about the Iraqi elite's interest in urgently finding a way forward, the parliament is also set to recess for two months this summer, while, at the current rate, two hundred young Americans will die to keep the Iraqi politicians' options open. In 2006, meanwhile, terror attacks increased by a staggering 91 percent in the country. Those are some "last throes."

There is clearly some progress in al-Anbar; al Qaeda's brutality may be backfiring finally; and, as with any mob, there was also a recent boss-hit that is gratifying (if finally confirmed). But the basic reality still faces us: there is no national government in Baghdad and no functioning state apparatus for keeping that country together for the foreseeable future. We have until September to make a final judgment. But I see slivers of hope, and deep, structural pessimism beneath them.