This article will address two very important US national security concepts:
1) Why our assessment of the Iraqi ground situation is wrong.
2) How the Iraqis are trying to fix it (and why it might just work).
Part I: Misconceptions
First, our assessment of the ground situation. The fundamental judgments we have made (either as a government or a population) about the military and political situation in Iraq are largely wrong. Although the civilian population does not make policy, they will elect executive and legislative politicians that share their ideas, and pressure other politicians to follow their will. This is usually a good thing-- except in foreign policy, where civilians do not have access to some information, and do not pay attention to the rest.
The first fundamental assumption that many have is that we made a mistake in invading because Democracy cannot work in Islamic states. There are many examples to the contrary: Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) all have elected Republics of some sort. It can be done.
The second is that anti-Americanism is the primary problem in Iraq. It's true that two significant anti-American militia groups exist in Iraq (Cleric Al-Sadr leads one, the other is Al-Qaeda in Iraq). But the judgment that these are our biggest problem, or that our departure will cause them to stop being problems, is dangerous. The reason these militias exist is not simply due to an overwhelming hate of Americans. Because the Iraqi government is weak and unable to provide military security to its people, citizens depend on militias. The primary reason the Iraqi government is so weak is the nature of citizen's loyalties to their Sunni and Shiite sects, instead of the Iraqi state (this is covered in my previous article). Al-Sadr's militia, as well as the Al-Qaeda terrorists in the country, are likely to lose support if its citizens have a strong government that will provide them the security they need. The Iraqi people in general do not want Al-Qaeda in Iraq-- the organization attacks citizens, and is the focus of the American military. No working government, however anti-American, gives Al-Qaeda harbor or support, because the organization will bring them far too much grief from the west. The best way to get rid of these anti-American groups is to help the Iraqi government establish itself and strengthen security for the Iraqi people. The dangerous thinking that anti-Americanism is the source of Iraq's problems is that those that think it will drive the American military to leave Iraq prematurely, before helping the government establish security, and these anti-American organizations will remain.
If we do leave, and that does cause a decrease in security for the Iraqi people, the country's fighting may get worse. The Saudis have hinted that they will fund the Sunni minority militias in Iraq, and Iran is likely to support the militias of the only other major Shiite-majority country in the world. Pulling out early is likely a mistake.
Part II: Hope.
No matter how many political ideas the Untied States government or think tanks can produce, the Iraqi people and government must find a solution themselves-- Iraq is not an American puppet state. We can help, but we cannot fix this ourselves.
But it seems Iraq is about to take a subtle, but extremely important first step towards peace, independent of the Americans. One of the greatest disruptors in Iraq has been cleric Al-Sadr, his militia, and his political bloc. He is not only vehemently anti-American, but has also waged war against the Sunni militias for years. He has control of a powerful political bloc in the ruling Iraqi coalition. In fact, Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has depended on Al-Sadr's political support for his office. Maliki has refused to pressure al-Sadr's militia to halt its civilian attacks, and in doing so has shown that al-Sadr is free to do what he pleases, and free to manipulate the government.
But many Shiites, as well as Sunnis and Kurds, have grown tired of Maliki and al-Sadr, and are forming a new coalition. This coalition, unlike the current Shiite coalition, will have to cater to the needs of all three sectarian groups to stay in power, and will choose a Prime Minister that will have to enact cross-sectarian policies that may help reduced the need for a cross-sectarian power struggle. This new coalition would oust Maliki and wrest power from al-Sadr. In response, al-Sadr may lay down arms for a full month, according to anonymous close aides. If these two events happen near the same time, the government may have a brief opportunity to get itself upon its feet. It may be the beginning of a realization between many Sunnis and Shiites that cooperation in Iraq is necessary for survival.