It’s finally September. Rather than directly address the critics of his “troop surge” idea when he proposed it last spring, George W. Bush asked us all to reserve judgment until September, to “give it time to work”. Now that September has arrived, the analysis is exactly what we expected: “Progress is being made. We must continue doing what we’ve been doing.” Stay the course.
There does seem to be progress in some provinces of Iraq. Attacks on US troops in Al-Anbar province are measured in double digits per month, down from triple digits this time last year. Al-Anbar was once the most lawless and dangerous province, all but surrendered to insurgents, where today the locals are increasingly cooperating with the US ground forces.
US troops have been making deals with tribal leaders, providing supplies and weapons while backing off from the house to house raids and street sweeps that made them so unpopular in Baghdad. As hoped, the locals have largely turned against the remaining al-Qaida agitators in their midst, and violence across the board is down. But Al-Anbar is an almost entirely Sunni province. The few Shiites who once lived there have been driven away by the sectarian violence of the last few years, or been victims of it.
Like a hideous mirror image, Baghdad is now largely Sunni free for the same reasons. The Shia dominated central government is accused of covering up the actions of police and military death squads that roamed the streets targetting Sunnis in and around the capitol. The violence in Iraq is abating because the damage is already done, the ethnic cleansing already complete.
In the time since the interim government was set up, sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shia have overshadowed even the al-Qaida inspired attacks on coalition troops. As the dust settles from the Iraq invasion, we are beginning to see the future of the country, a geographical area sharply divided across cultural lines, with Shias controlling Baghdad and the east, Sunnis controlling the wide swaths of the west and the Kurds, who already consider their northern provice a separate state, keeping to themselves. Far from political reconciliation, in the wake of Saddam’s defeat, his subjects have carved up his nation and walled themselves in.