Next phase for Iraq: UN handover and/or negotiating with insurgents

The insurgent part isn’t big news. Not only are the British already talking to them, we’ve talked to them before ourselves. Plus, that’s only one part of a three-pronged strategy that Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker have devised going forward: protecting Iraqis in volatile areas, “building the government’s capacity to function” by negotiating with tribal leaders, clerics, and, er, insurgents (not including AQ, of course), and purging sectarian hardliners from the ministries. The one sectarian hardliner who apparently won’t be purged: Nuri al-Maliki. There’s not enough time left to install a whole new government, officials say, so we’re stuck with him. So much for my speculation about his successor, or the chances of convincing the Sunnis that the government isn’t being controlled by “Persians.” The wider reconciliation efforts appear already to have begun, though, if this is any indication.

And if that doesn’t work? UN time, baby:

The Bush administration is developing plans to “internationalise” the Iraq crisis, including an expanded role for the United Nations, as a way of reducing overall US responsibility for Iraq’s future and limiting domestic political fallout from the war as the 2008 election season approaches…

[A former senior administration] official, who is familiar with administration thinking, predicted Mr Bush would … ask Congress to agree a six-month extension of the surge after Gen Petraeus presented his “progress report” in early September…

Mr Bush will sweeten the pill by pursuing a series of steps intended to “hand off” many current US responsibilities to the international community, the former official said. The president would try simultaneously to placate congressional and public opinion by indicating willingness to talk about a future troop “drawdown”.

The plan calls for creation of a UN command, an influx of UN humanitarian organizations, a bigger role in policymaking for the Security Council and Iraq’s Sunni neighbors, with special emphasis given on Sarkozy’s France and Saudi Arabia, a drawdown of U.S. combat troops in favor of U.S. military advisors, and of course a peacekeeping force to be hopefully led by Muslim troops — all aimed at shoring up support at home for extending the mission, in however truncated a form. What could go wrong? (Answer: not much else.)