This, of course, will and should be a week to try to figure out what is actually happening in Iraq, and what our sanest course of future action is. It now seems clearer what happened last week: the Maliki government impetuously decided to move against Sadrist militias in Basra and Baghdad, over-shot the mark badly, and had to negotiate some kind of truce. There are credible reports that the Iranians were involved in negotiating the terms of the truce, as well as indications that Iran was also involved in the fighting itself.
It also seems clear that Maliki was not doing this entirely as a consequence of asserting the authority of a national government, but as a way to use the military force of the state to target political rivals in the forthcoming elections. Although violence is obviously down, the intra-Shiite tensions, the unstable truce in Diyala, terrorism in Baghdad, yesterday's inconclusive attempt to get control of Sadr City, and difficulties in keeping Awakening tribes bribed well enough all point to continuing instability, teetering on the edge of potential breakdown. And that's with troop levels maxed out, and the soldiers themselves, many on fourth tours, showing the signs of stress that such draining assignments will exact.
We should listen closely to Petraeus this week, but it's hard not to avoid the conclusion that, as a new report states
political progress is "so slow, halting and superficial" and political fragmentation "so pronounced" that the United States is no closer to being able to leave Iraq than it was a year ago.
There has been no national reconciliation in Iraq; there have been cease-fires, aborted battles, political jockeying, bribing and re-arming. I truly cannot see what more we can ask of the troops trying to keep a fragile truce there from disintegrating. I cannot see a lasting settlement unless the various factions actually fight their way toward it. I cannot see a way to avoid Iran's dominance of a large swathe of Iraq whether we stay or leave. My view, therefore, is that our policy should be to find as prudent and as swift a way to leave as possible. But if Petraeus can explain why this would be the worst option, I'm all ears.