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For some, the war is over, victory has been achieved, and the only task now is to elect a new Decider to conduct a victory parade. Sadly, this seems to me to be verging on clinical denial. There is no question that General Petraeus, for the first time, has instituted a competent, if ad hoc occupation, by doing pragmatic deals in local areas and regions, constructing massive walls in Baghdad to keep warring sects apart, effectively bribing other areas with new investments and providing sufficient troops in some places to maintain a lull in the massive bloodletting that the US invasion unleashed. But in the next few months, the troop levels will be reduced, or the US military will be broken. They key to sustaining a national peace in Iraq is some level of sectarian integration in the police and army, some reconciliation between national Sunni and Shiite political parties, some resolution of the remaining trouble spots in the north, such as Kirkuk, and some kind of political leadership able to reach across the bloody divide. It is very hard to see any of these things happening.

A salutary read today is Juan Cole's latest. I've learned to discount some of Cole's gloom, but his current analysis is factually crammed with data and news that suggest what we are experiencing right now is not peace but a lull. Much of the evidence suggests a deepening of the sectarian divide, not a lessening, despite some local cooperation:

UN polling among Iraqi refugees in Syria suggests that 78% are from Baghdad and that nearly a million refugees relocated to Syria from Iraq in 2007 alone. This data suggests that over 700,000 residents of Baghdad have fled this city of 6 million during the US 'surge,' or more than 10 percent of the capital's population. Among the primary effects of the 'surge' has been to turn Baghdad into an overwhelmingly Shiite city and to displace hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the capital.

Violence has indeed gone down dramatically since the peak of the hot civil war but it has not disappeared:

In the past 6 weeks, there have been an average of 600 attacks a month, or 20 a day, which has held steady since the beginning of November. About 600 civilians are being killed in direct political violence per month, but that number excludes deaths of soldiers and police.

I don't believe Iraq will be a minor issue in the coming election. It certainly shouldn't be. The burden of proof needs now to be overwhelmingly on those arguing against a swift withdrawal. Governing an ungovernable failed state for the indefinite future, when the U.S. is already facing the $32 trillion of extra debt president Bush has saddled us with in a scant seven years, is a luxury we cannot afford. Most Americans know this - most conservatives know this. The question is simply how vast and continuing will be the cost of denial.

(Photo: Iraqi soldiers look at human remains in al-Hedid, 10 kms away from the restive city of Baquba, 45 kms northeast of Baghdad, 26 December 2007. Iraqi forces found 17 unidentified bodies allegedly killed by al-Qaeda fighters. AFP/Getty Images.)

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