Iraq's last chance

EVEN if Mr. Abadi manages to exorcise the inner sectarian demons fueled no doubt by Hussein’s execution of two of his brothers, even if he recruits competent advisers and respectful bodyguards, even if he delegates some powers to state institutions and embraces a campaign of national reconciliation, the odds will still be stacked against him.

That’s because all Iraqis and their leaders are psychologically scarred. Iraqis face a simple but defining question: Do they want to live with one another?

Can Shiite Islamists who suffered mightily under Hussein stomach the thought of sitting in a cabinet meeting with neo-Baathist Sunnis? Can those Sunnis stand the concept of sharing power with a currently serving Shiite cabinet minister who was a general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and is a death-squad commander behind an ongoing campaign to ethnically cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis by taking power drills to their skulls? Can the Kurds, who suffered decades of oppression at the hands of both Shiite and Sunni Arabs, stomach the idea of remaining part of a dysfunctional country that shares neither their language nor their traditions? This is not a hypothetical scenario but precisely what members of Mr. Maliki’s cabinet were forced to consider for the past eight years. Thus far, the results speak for themselves.

As I’ve told numerous American ambassadors and generals, I believe the answer to all these questions will ultimately be “no.” To date, I’ve seen no indication that there is enough tolerance or willingness among Iraq’s leaders to forgive, forget and move on.