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Declaring Victory

It's not something I've followed super closely, but it seems like a growing number of conservatives have basically declared victory in Iraq. See, for instance, Andrew Bolt today: "Iraq not only remains a democracy, but shows no sign of collapse. I repeat: the battle for a free Iraq has been won." That would, obviously, be good news if true, but is it even true?

Well, let's see. The Los Angeles Times took a long look at the decline in casualties over the past few months. Some military commanders call it proof that General Petraeus's strategy is working. Other evidence suggests that violence is dropping because the sectarian cleansing of various Baghdad neighborhoods is largely complete. (Yesterday, GAO officials told Congress that this might indeed be the case.) An ABC News report partly attributes the decline in violence to a lockdown that can't last forever: "Across the city Sunnis and Shiites live in sectarian enclaves, many walled off." And there are still four million Iraqi refugees, who constitute a crisis in their own right.

So where does that leave us? Everyone and their mother knows by now that the whole point of the surge was to facilitate some sort of political reconciliation so that when the U.S. military is finally forced to draw down—for logistical reasons, the surge can't go on forever—violence doesn't flare up again. The latest GAO report on Iraq suggests that the United States lacks a clear strategy for making that happen—or any clear strategy at all for Iraq. Is the GAO wrong here? I suppose we'll see what happens when the military pulls back from Diyala Province next month.

A few more links: Ilan Goldenberg rounds up evidence that reconciliation isn't happening (and that it's still possible that the recent U.S. alliances with the Sunnis, Mahdi Army, etc. amount to arming various sides of a coming civil war). Spencer Ackerman highlighted some of the more hopeful signs of political progress (setting aside what's going on with Turkey and the Kurds). Marc Lynch wrote a post arguing that Iraq appears to be degenerating into a warlord state, and the United States doesn't have a long-term plan for altering this state of affairs—only short-term tactics for reducing violence here and there (which makes it unclear why we should stay). If anyone has a better sense for where things are heading, by all means, chime in.

Update: See also this. Colonel Martin Stanton, the U.S. military official overseeing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, told reporters that a) there hasn't been a whole lot of progress on the reconciliation front, and b) if progress doesn't happen real soon, a great many Sunnis could decide to join the insurgency again...

--Bradford Plumer