Sunnis return to Maliki government, and the NY Times notices

A week ago, I noted that the Sunnis that had left Nouri al-Maliki’s government last year in a huff had decided to return. A week later, the New York Times has reported on it, making it true. The Tawafiq has recognized the efforts of Baghdad to release low-level detainees and disarm the Shi’ite militias, two of their major complaints, although the Times just can’t seem to get over the Basra-defeat meme that has been so obviously disproven:

Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a nine-month boycott, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move.

The Sunni leaders said they were still working out the details of their return, an indication that the deal could still fall through. But such a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk. The principal group his security forces have been confronting is the Mahdi Army, a powerful militia led by Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. Even though Mr. Maliki’s American-backed offensive against elements of the Mahdi Army has frequently stalled and has led to bitter complaints of civilian casualties, the Sunni leaders said that the government had done enough to address their concerns that they had decided to end their boycott.

“Our conditions were very clear, and the government achieved some of them,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Tawafiq, the largest Sunni bloc in the government. Mr. Duleimi said the achievements included “the general amnesty, chasing down the militias and disbanding them and curbing the outlaws.”

The recently passed amnesty law has already led to the release of many Sunni prisoners, encouraging Sunni parties that the government is serious about enforcing it. And the attacks on Shiite militias have apparently begun to assuage longstanding complaints that only Sunni groups blamed for the insurgency have been the targets of American and Iraqi security forces.

For students of American Civil War history, Maliki could be compared to General Ulysses S. Grant, who stumbled from loss to loss to overall victory. Maliki may not have won the battle in the first 48 hours, but he adapted to changing conditions and stayed on the offensive. He has taken control of Basra and Umm Qasr, and Moqtada al-Sadr has sued for peace in Sadr City as well after initially issuing an empty threat to end the cease-fire. This has all taken place in less than four weeks, a rather remarkable achievement for an operation described as above.

The return of the Sunnis to Maliki’s coalition will once again make this a true unity government, and this time Maliki appears to be heading in a more ecumenical direction. It has taken him a while to learn how to be a leader of Iraq rather than a leader of Shi’ites, but his transformation on Sadr has made him credible to all factions in Iraq. It even seems to have stymied the Iranians, who had backed Sadr through the Basra debacle that has him all but finished in Iraqi politics.

With the Sunnis on board, provincial elections on the horizon, and Sadr a laughingstock, the future of Iraqi reconciliation looks bright. We just need to remain firm in our commitment to keep provocateurs from any encouragement. Perhaps the New York Times can keep up with that story.