A blind eye

March 25, 2005

THE NEWS from Iraq has been getting better, and critics of the war should recognize this. The number of insurgent attacks has been dropping, and American casualties are sharply lower this month. Iraqi security forces are making a better showing, and one result has been to push the insurgents out of the cities and into the countryside, where they are easier to track down. Lulls, nonetheless, have happened before; more ominously, it is difficult to imagine how the political process now under way can avoid a very large crack-up in the road just ahead.

Eight weeks after elections, Kurds and Shiite Arabs are still dickering over the makeup of a temporary government, control of oil being one of the sticking points. Sunni Arabs largely stayed away from the polls, but in January, promises were made that they would be included in the formation of a government and writing of a constitution. It now appears that any Sunni role will be a token one at best, which suggests that the new Iraqi political leaders are content to allow the insurgency to continue to fester in Sunni areas - because that will surely be the result. Moreover, because of the intricacies of the law governing ratification of the constitution, a decision to give Sunnis the cold shoulder could easily lead them to repudiate it next fall - leaving Iraq in a legal and political bind.

This week, there was a report that Iraqi security forces had routed a terrorist training camp in a swamp north of Baghdad. The terrorists were said to be foreigners, from as far away as the Philippines, and the tip-off about their presence supposedly came from local residents (Sunnis, in other words). If true, this would fit in with an apparent strategy by the Iraqi leadership to exploit, or create, a cleavage between insurgents and ordinary Sunnis. And it would be more good news.

Reports from the scene yesterday, however, suggested that portrayals of a brilliant victory had been greatly exaggerated. That's too bad, because the conflict within Iraq won't be won by way of propaganda. Sunnis are going to have to be persuaded to enter into the political process - if politics is to have any chance of success - and that will mean good-faith efforts and hard work by the Kurds and Shiites who are putting a government together.

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