Monday, July 28, 2008

Between War and Peace in Iraq

Today's bombing attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk are a tragic reminder that Iraq remains dangerous amid an overwhelming improvement in the nation's security.

The Los Angeles Times reports on a country that lives between war and peace:

Iraq Calm

The departure this month of the last of the 28,500 extra troops sent in a U.S. military buildup leaves Iraq in a rickety calm, an in-between space that is not quite war and not quite peace where ethnic and sectarian tensions bubble beneath the surface.

Politicians and U.S. officials hail the remarkable turnaround from open civil war that left 3,700 Iraqis dead during the worst month in the fall of 2006, compared with June's toll of 490, according to Pentagon estimates.

Signs abound that normal life is starting to return. Revelers can idle away the hours at several neighborhood joints in Baghdad where the tables are buried in beers and a man can bring a girlfriend dolled up in a nice dress.

Despite the gains, the political horizon is clouded: Shiite Muslim parties are locked in dangerous rivalries across central and southern Iraq. Kurds and Arabs in the north compete for land with no resolution in sight. U.S.-backed Sunni Arab fighters who turned on the group Al Qaeda in Iraq could return to the insurgency if the government does not deliver jobs and a chance to join the political process.

Bombings, assassinations and kidnappings still occur almost daily. And those out enjoying Baghdad's night life feel safe only because they are staying inside their own districts in a city transformed into a patchwork of enclaves after years of sectarian violence.

Whether the quiet endures hinges on many factors, including the results of yet-unscheduled provincial and national elections and whether Iraq's religious and ethnic factions can find a fair power-sharing formula.

The country is bedeviled by the question: What happens as the U.S. military vacates outposts in Baghdad neighborhoods, where it has stood as a buffer and occasional arbiter between Sunnis and Shiites and even arrested police and army commanders suspected of sectarian agendas?
This really is the central question, not just in Iraq, but in the United States as well, where Barack Obama continues to argue that Iraq's a "distraction" from our challenges elsewhere in the world.

As we can see in the photo above, while some threats remains, Iraqis live today without the fear of violence that was routine just 18-months ago.

Iraqis no longer face ethnic cleansing and genocide. There is no more civil war. Regional commanders of the Iraqi army
report no threat from al Qaeda in most of the country.

The rates of Iraqi civilian deaths from violent crime pale in comparison to
South Africa.

None of this is to minimize today's suffering, or other deaths of recent months. It is to put things in perspective.

It is also to
put things in contrast to war opponents on the left who are nodding approvingly at the attacks, arguing that this morning once again demonstrates the failure of the surge:

The essence of the "success" of the surge is that, as in 2004 and 2005, you only sometimes read about that kind of thing, whereas at its worst you read about it frequently. That's not nothing, but people should understand that even in its "better" state Iraq is very much a shattered society featuring an unenviable quality of life.
That's just not true, as we can see from the analysis - and images - here.

See also, Long War Journal, "Female Suicide Bombers Kill 70 Iraqis in Kirkuk, Baghdad."

Photo Credit: "Iraqi children run in a park in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, July 21. In Baghdad, parks are filled every weekend with families playing and picnicking with their children. That was unthinkable only a year ago, when the first, barely visible signs of a turnaround emerged," Los Angeles Times.