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thedrifter
06-08-08, 09:44 AM
War news is better, but obstacles remain in Iraq
By SCOTT CANON
The Kansas City Star

No, this war didn’t go the way its advocates promised.

It didn’t turn up hellish weapons cached by Saddam Hussein, stir a Mideastern dash to democracy, instantly pay for itself with Iraqi oil.

Yet the news spilling from Iraq recently — with a few bloody exceptions — has been undeniably good.

Violence: down. Oil production: at a post-invasion high. U.S. troop casualties: the lowest in years.

So is the war now being won?

“The Iraq war is over,” said Charles Hill, a Yale University lecturer and veteran of the State Department and U.N. “Wars don’t end the way they used to with signing ceremonies … in Tokyo Bay. The success comes on gradually.”

Success? Seen from across a philosophical void, “Whether we’re winning now isn’t the right question,” said Phyllis Bennis, author of the upcoming Ending the Iraq War: A Primer. “The issue is the unacceptability of a permanent occupation.

“The violence is down now. But that won’t last.”

Consensus on progress in Iraq remains elusive. But as last year’s troop surge shifts toward a gradual drawdown, upbeat voices speak with new confidence.

They are among a group that sees the Iraq glass half-full and rising — moving to the brim of peace. They cite a strengthening of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, Sunni revolt against the insurgency, a drop-off in sectarian killings, and gains in reining in Shiite and Kurdish militias.

The war has turned, they say. Extremists are on the run. Iraqis now have the security to rebuild their country.

Others see the same Iraq glass as perhaps not half-empty, but on the verge of shattering into a thousand nasty shards.

“Compare the situation now to six months or a year ago, and it is much better now,” said Nabil Younis, a political scientist at Baghdad University. “But most people feel the progress is not real progress. They expect something to happen any day, any hour, any minute … and everything will collapse.”

Younis and others welcome the drop in violence that followed the 30,000-troop surge last year and the shift to the hearts-and-minds counterinsurgency of Army Gen. David Petraeus.

But they don’t have great confidence in the new security. After all, the surge aimed to improve security so that political reconciliation could be possible. The coming together of Sunni, Shiite and Kurd has yet to materialize.

If anything, they say, peace has been achieved precisely by a new post-Hussein segregation of religious and ethnic groups — often reinforced by Iraq’s ubiquitous concrete blast walls and endless checkpoints.

U.S. troop levels this summer will hit pre-surge levels. Shortly afterward, U.S. commanders will deliver another progress report. But even Petraeus has called for the drawdown to stop out of fear that security gains could collapse.

Still, optimists insist fresh evidence backs their side. Start with Anbar province. For much of the war, it marked the deadliest spot for U.S. troops and the gravest threat to a unified Iraq. But 2007 saw a pivotal reversal. Pentagon-funded Sunni “awakening councils” leveraged American military might and money to exploit local fatigue with insurgent violence.

Sunni tribes stopped helping al-Qaida. Instead, they became “Sons of Iraq” citizen groups turned against foreign terrorists, an alliance of convenience with U.S. forces.

“Now you see blast walls being taken down and Marines and local Iraqis able to run in a 5K run with minimal security,” said Eric Davis, the author of Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq.

To reach Scott Canon, call 816-234-4754 or send e-mail to scanon@kcstar.com.



Ellie