Friday, February 19, 2010

Challenges--Not Doom

As we face the problem of helping the Iraqis carry out a new national election next month while coping with the problems of Sunni Arab resentment and possible over-exclusion from political life, Shia anger at past Sunni Arab atrocities and worry that the Sunni Arabs would love to run the show again, and Kurdish worry that any Arab regime--whether Sunni or Shia--might abuse them, let's not forget that we are a long way from fall 2006 when Iranian- and Syrian-instigated sectarian violence threatened to plunge Iraq into the chaos of a civil war:

[General Odierno] met with the secretary shortly after the publication of that front-page Washington Post story -- you know, the sky is falling; sectarian violence is about to break out again; we're going to have a repeat of 2005, 2006 in Baghdad -- and he just couldn't disagree any more strongly with the story and can point to any number of examples of why it is not akin in any way to the horrors that we saw in 2005, 2006.

I mean, fundamentally, let's remember the context. We are now a few weeks away from a major election in Baghdad -- in Iraq. This is -- as horrific as some of these attacks have been, it is -- it is not unexpected. This is the kind of pre-election tension and violence that had been anticipated. Frankly, it has not been to the levels that some might expected.

We are clearly heartened by the fact that unlike 2005, there is no credible call for boycotting these elections by any noteworthy politician. In fact, the leading Sunni politician, al-Mutlaq, is actually encouraging widespread Sunni participation in the election as a means to redress some of their concerns. I think all the major coalitions involved in the election understand the importance of trying to form a government as quickly as possible after the election, so that there is not this period of uncertainty and potential turmoil in the wake of it, and that they all recognize that it's going to have to be some sort of coalition that's built among competing parties.

I think -- and by any objective measure, the number of security incidents is down dramatically and that even ethno-sectarian violence remains extraordinarily low.

And we're always heartened by the fact that the -- that there is no evidence thus far that the Iraqi people are in any way losing confidence in their security forces or that Shi'a militias are starting up or that the Sunnis are turning to al Qaeda. And even if they were to, al Qaeda has been so decimated, they aren't in a position to undermine things to the extent that they -- that they did back in 2005, 2006.

So I -- yes, I come back to the same point we've made time and time again: that al Qaeda has been diminished to the point that they have to husband resources, ammunition, personnel and launch high-profile attacks with less and less frequency and attempt to reignite sectarian violence. And time and time again they have done it, and time and time again it has not resulted in the outcome that they had wished.

Having ended their war because they were losing and losing badly, the Sunni Arabs are in no position to re-start the war. They'd face complete expulsion from Iraq. They'd be fools to boycott another election. And they don't appear to be leaning toward that level of self-destructive behavior.

So worry about the challenges we face and continue to work the problems. But don't worry that it could completely undo our success so far.