I'm a few days late to this, but if you haven't already read Michael Gordon's stunningly good New York Times Magazine article on our (aborted, at the behest of Maliki) attempt to foster a Shiite awakening in Iraq, you should. The piece is too deeply reported to summarize here, but these grafs offer a pretty good takeaway:

“The most prominent dividing line in Iraqi politics now is between the ‘powers that be’ and the ‘powers that aren’t,’ ” Sam Parker, an Arabic speaker who works for the United States Institute of Peace, a policy center in Washington, told me recently. “The ‘powers that be’ spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in open opposition to Saddam. Nearly all of these leaders spent substantial time outside of Iraq. They have well-organized parties but lack a strong social base and have an outsize degree of influence in the national and provincial governments. Because of their disproportionate dominance of the political process, they only stand to lose by any movement toward political openness.

“The ‘powers that aren’t,’ ” Parker added, “are fragmented and weak. What they want is in.”

Where does the U.S. stand? “They seem to be working hard for provincial elections,” Parker said, “which would make the system more inclusive and give the ‘powers that aren’t’ and the popular forces they represent an opportunity for a share of the power. But at the same time, the United States’ main priority appears to be buttressing the state security apparatus that belongs to the ‘powers that be.’ ”

In an ideal world the two policy imperatives would be balanced. The politics of inclusiveness would lay the foundation for the long-term stability of the country, while improvements in Maliki’s capacity to govern would lead to a state that could supplant the Hobbesian state of nature that has typified Iraq — and make it easier for the United States to reduce forces. Iraq, however, is far from an ideal world, and Maliki’s growing confidence in his own power leaves the U.S. steadily less able to shape events.

As they say, read the whole thing

--Jason Zengerle