Violence in Iraq has diminished over the last couple months, down 55 percent since the summer force buildup. However, officials remain guarded in their analyses, as if a mere optimistic thought might be enough of upset the positive trend.
Nevertheless, it seems as though Iraq is slowly trudging, British style, toward a national governance that is more or less tenable—though less “muddle” and more “through” would be nice.
But if the biggest operational mistake of the 2003 invasion was the lack of postwar planning, failure to prepare adequately for the future governance of “post-postwar” Iraq would be equally injurious, for the US and for the region.
As Iraq’s post-Saddam society forms, three concerns or obstacles to future tranquility stand out: sectarian impulses, an armed populace, and the Kurdish question.
The chief danger of sectarianism is the tendency for the three major groups, skeptical of the government’s viability, to seek special favors from the government instead of supporting its role as protector of the rights of all the people. If sectarianism continues, the US practice of arming Sunni groups and the disposition of the Iraqi Kurds are likely to become consequential challenges as well.
For these reasons the US must use political and economic engagement to lay the foundations for lasting stability in Iraq. In short, Iraq’s sectarian groups must become convinced that there is real benefit in using legitimate government processes for effecting change, rather than resorting to extra-governmental coercion. Encouraging the establishment of transparent and equitable political processes should be priority number one for Iraq and the US. Not only should sectarian-based policies be eschewed, but equitable policies should secure tangible rewards. Making room for deeper economic and political interaction between Iraq and the EU and other Middle Eastern states could strengthen the political effect of US engagement.
Decreasing levels of violence in Iraq may be propitious, but US and Iraqi interests lie more in long term tranquility. In a democratic society, this requires that people abide by established political procedures and that they have confidence in them. This is what the US should seek to instill.