The New York Times and Wall Street Journal–the two leading newspapers in America–have produced important reports in the past two days which call into serious doubt the future of Iraq.
The Times reports on the ability of al-Qaeda in Iraq to stay extant despite years of efforts by the American and Iraqi security forces to stamp it out: “It conducts a little more than 30 attacks a week, carries out a large-scale strike every four to six weeks, and has expanded its efforts to recruit Iraqis, leading to a significant increase in the number of Iraqi-born suicide bombers.”
The Journal, meanwhile, reports on Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s troubling attempts to gain absolute dominance over the Iraqi security by purging Sunnis whom, he claims, are closet Baathists. Naturally Sunnis are deeply concerned about these moves. As the Journal notes, “[T]he prime minister’s moves have triggered countermoves by his Sunni political rivals that are threatening to further fragment the country. The leaders of Salahuddin Province, a predominantly Sunni area north of Baghdad, said last month they would begin the process of becoming a semi-autonomous region—complaining that, among other things, they wanted to be better represented in the security services, both in rank and file and executive positions.”
Neither of these nuggets is exactly new: AQI has been a threat for years, feeding directly off sectarian tensions. But these reports remind us that old animosities are not exactly buried. They are barely being repressed, and that’s with a sizable American force in Iraq. Without that force, one of the most important shock absorbers in Iraqi society will be gone. Iraq may continue its journey toward democracy, but the odds of a major smashup have increased dramatically. Which is why it is so tragic that President Obama did not work harder to achieve an accord that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Iraq past the end of this year.