"Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say" according to the headline writers, but what Tom Ricks is really doing in his Washington Post analysis of the situation in Iraq is exposing exactly how ephemeral the "progress" that's been made. Notably it's not progress toward our ostensible policy goal of producing some kind of decent Iraqi state capable of running the country:
The U.S. military approach in Iraq this year has focused on striking deals with Sunni insurgents, under which they stop fighting the Americans and instead protect their own neighborhoods. So far about 70,000 such volunteers have been enrolled -- a trend that makes the Shiite-led central government nervous, especially as the movement gets closer to Baghdad. [...]
The year-long progress in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq could carry a downside. Maj. Mark Brady, who works on reconciliation issues, noted that a Sunni leader told him: "As soon as we finish with al-Qaeda, we start with the Shiite extremists." Talk like that is sharply discouraged, Brady noted as he walked across the dusty ground of Camp Liberty, on the western fringes of Baghdad.
It's good, of course, that October was a low casualty month for US troops just as it's terrible that 2007 was the deadliest year yet. But if our goal is reducing American casualties we can easily accomplish that by leaving. Paying Sunni rebel groups opposed to majority rule in Iraq to not attack our troops so that they can use the funds to more vigorously prosecute a war against a corrupt and militia-ridden Shiite-dominated Iraqi government isn't adding anything of value to American security.