Like many of us, I've been as surprised as I have been heartened by encouraging news from Iraq. If we can pass along a semi-stable semi-democracy, even the last eight years - while still a net negative for the US - could avoid the worst scenarios. But my worry all along has been that sectarian divides were dampened, not ended, by Sunni horror at Qaeda evil, by massive US bribes, by soaring oil revenues, and by what is still a bigger foreign semi-occupation force than at many times since the invasion. My worry has always been that a multi-sectarian government and army and police force was not guaranteed and that a Shiite-dominated government, once we left, would not be able to integrate enough Sunnis to avoid a new civil war - this time armed and trained and subsidized by seven years of American money. So this is a very distressing and ominous sign:

After months of promises, only 5,000 Awakening members just over 5 percent have been given permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces. Those promises were made last year when Iraq was flush with oil money. Now with Iraq’s budget badly battered by falling oil prices, the government is having trouble even paying existing employees, much less to bring in Sunni gunmen already regarded with much suspicion by the Shiite-led government.

If the Awakening is not integrated into the security forces by the time we leave, we have all but guaranteed a new civil war. Do not mistake a lull for a settlement. Which is another reason we need to talk to Iran. Bush gave us no other choice.

(Photo: Anbar tribal chiefs by Patrick Baz/Getty.)

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