If you believe that "victory" has somehow been achieved in Iraq, that we have done much more these past few months than keep the lid on a smoldering failed state, or that we can start withdrawing at any point soon without watching the whole thing go up in smoke again, a cautionary read in the NYT today is well worth your while. Pacifying the country by dismembering and dealing with local tribes and militias is fine as long as we are there in force for ever. But the minute you have to allow the Shiite government to take over, you could have another outberak of hot civil war. Only this time, the US will have ensured, by arming and training the Sunnis, that the war will be more brutal, longer and protracted than it might otherwise have been.

I don't want to be gloomy at this time of year, and Petraeus' extraordinary efforts to achieve a miracle deserve support and hope. But equally, we need to keep our eyes open. If we do, I fear this is only getting us in deeper, or leading to something even darker.

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