U.S. begs Iraqi government to seize the moment before it passes

The paradox of the surge: it began as a way to help the central Shiite government bring stability to the Sunni (and mixed) areas and it ends with an attempt to bring the stability generated by the Sunnis on the ground in Anbar to the central Shiite government. 70,000 Sunni police recruits are standing around awaiting orders and letting the disgruntlement build; the Sadrists and SCIRI are sizing each other up in the south for the possible Shiite civil war to come; and in Baghdad — jack.

Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government’s failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but “it’s unclear how long that window is going to be open.”…

[An] Army officer who requested anonymity said that if the Iraqi government doesn’t reach out, then for former Sunni insurgents “it’s game on — they’re back to attacking again.”

They’re counting on two things to change the situation: Iraq’s Sunni neighbors increasing their presence in Baghdad to show support for the Maliki government, which will in theory be reciprocated with greater government funding of Iraqi Sunnis, and the holding of provincial elections to increase the Sunnis’ representation. The problem with provincial elections, though, is that they’re also likely to increase Sadr’s representation, an outcome SCIRI is trying to prevent by lobbying to postpone them. Nor is it clear that having more Sadrists and fewer SCIRI-ites in the government would be a bad thing: according to one think tank, the U.S. is strengthening Iran’s hand by backing SCIRI over Sadr’s slate.

The WaPo article about the military’s frustration with Maliki doesn’t mention any plans to remove him but those rumors have swirled for months, with the argument against doing so being that things were too unstable to try to install a new government on top of it. That excuse is less persuasive now and there are already stirrings in Congress on the Republican side to try to nudge Bush into action. The GOP can’t afford to let Maliki ride this incipient momentum down to disaster, and they certainly can’t afford to be seen as sitting by while he does so. Consider Graham’s legislation a shot across Bush’s bow, then, that if things don’t get moving in Baghdad then he might start seeing Senate defections to the Democrats’ side, and soon.

Here’s the man himself crediting Iraqis — the same ones he’s so wary of in Anbar — for having broken Al Qaeda. Click the image to watch.

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