Reality Check III


The Beltway's conventional wisdom has long been that the war in Iraq is over. According to the partisan GOP blogs, Bush won the war last year. And yet, for all the many reports of a new calm in Iraq, and on the day that Tom Friedman buys into Maliki's hope that a new non-sectarian future is imminent, two massive car bombs reveal that security still needs a city divided by huge, concrete barriers, and American troops for investigation and clean-up. It's worth recalling that this is still happening even as over 120,000 US troops remain in the country. If this can happen when they are there in such vast numbers, what are the odds that Iraq will remain half-way peaceful and unified when/if the US leaves?

For those who believe the surge solved the Iraq problem, these are inconvenient truths. But the surge failed in its core task: to create an environment in which the three major sects in Iraq could form a national government, a national army, and a stable balance between the three major centrifugal forces in the country and in Baghdad. Maliki's bid for a post-sectarian polity rests fundamentally on his claim to have restored some semblance of security. But how easy it will be for that semblance to be wiped out by violence of the kind demonstrated today.

And how tempting it will be, after the Americans leave, for the largely Shiite Baghdad government to resort to force against largely Sunni insurgents. From there ... a short road back to 2006. Maybe the population is exhausted by civil war and will restrain these forces; maybe these blasts are the exceptions that prove the rule of growing normalcy. Or maybe they are warnings that violent forces of sectarianism remain at large, that they are close to impossible to stop, and that the lull is just that: a lull until the invading army leaves and the civil war can resume unimpeded.

This is not over; and any deliberation about moving vast numbers of troops into Afghanistan should grapple with the understanding that many may still be needed in Iraq for a decade or more if that ungrateful volcano is not to explode again and again and again.

(Photo: Smoke billow following a blast close to the Justice Ministry in central Baghdad on October 25, 2009. Twin suicide vehicle bombs blamed on Al-Qaeda blast the justice ministry and a provincial office in Baghdad, killing at least 99 people and sparking turmoil in the embattled Iraqi capital. By Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images)