In Iraq, clear political progress does not calm insurgency |

In Iraq, clear political progress does not calm insurgency

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Six months after Iraq’s historic election, the country is on the verge of another political breakthrough, the successful writing of a new constitution. Yet there are growing worries the political momentum is doing nothing to calm a bloody insurgency.Indeed, the insurgents appear closer than ever to tipping the country into civil war, leaving many Iraqis profoundly gloomy in this summer of relentless car bombs, scorching heat and sporadic electricity.The issue is of keen interest to Americans, whose president has pledged that the U.S. military will stay in Iraq at its current level until the country can defend itself.”I see this as a long, slow struggle,” said Phebe Marr, author of “Modern History of Iraq,” who just returned to the United States from a visit.Marr said she came away thrilled by the “very genuine and very lively political progress” in Baghdad but discouraged by the insurgents’ stubborn hold.Her words were echoed by one Western diplomat. Asked if fighting will abate if Iraqis successfully draft a constitution by the Aug. 15 deadline, the official said only: “We’ve always understood it’s going to be a long process.”The new U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, was even more frank, calling Iraq “at a crossroads between two starkly different visions. … The foreign terrorists and hard-line Baathist insurgents want Iraq to fall into a civil war.”The obvious risk is that the violence will make the country so chaotic, and Iraqis so disillusioned, that political progress in Baghdad becomes irrelevant.For months, U.S. and Iraqi officials have insisted that the insurgency would ease if Sunni Arabs – the favored class under former dictator Saddam Hussein – could be lured back to participate in the political process, now dominated by Shiites and Kurds.Sunni Arabs, roughly 20 percent of Iraq, make up the core of the insurgency. Some actively fight while others provide aid or at least look the other way.Recently, there has been solid progress in luring a relatively large group of the Sunnis to participate in politics, including the constitutional process.Some who urged an election boycott just six months ago now are urging their fellow Sunnis to vote in upcoming elections, and a core group has helped draft the constitution. A Sunni walkout seemed close to ending Sunday, and the drafters appear likely to meet the Aug. 15 deadline.Nevertheless, the insurgents are going full throttle, stepping up attacks against Iraqi civilians and security forces.May was the most violent month for Iraqi civilians since the U.S.-led invasion to remove Saddam in March 2003, said Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq.Although Vines did not provide numbers, Iraqi officials separately have said 434 civilians were killed in May, up from 299 in April, and that another 151 Iraqi police and 85 Iraqi soldiers were killed – both figures also up sharply from April.A recent Pentagon report to Congress said the insurgents “remain capable, adaptable and intent on carrying out attacks.”The Pentagon also acknowledged that the insurgency’s extremist fringe – those allied with Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – has a strong psychological impact through its savvy propaganda and “the dramatic and symbolic nature” of its attacks.While Vice President Dick Cheney says the bloodshed proves the insurgency is in its “last throes,” almost no U.S. military official has supported that idea. The region’s top American general, Gen. John Abizaid, told Congress recently the guerrillas’ strength has not fallen in the last six months.Even more troubling, there are signs that long-standing Sunni-Shiite tensions are on the rise, if not yet reaching a long-feared civil war. Shiites continue to bear the brunt of suicide attacks. And U.S. officials have expressed high-level concerns about Sunni complaints of Shiite-led police abuse, said the Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.For now, U.S. officials are so intent on keeping the political momentum – citing it as one of the country’s few bright spots – that they are pressing Iraqis to meet the Aug. 15 constitution even if that means leaving out key points.Marr said there remains only one way to defeat the insurgents “and that’s to get enough Sunnis … to turn against them.” But she’s pessimistic that will happen soon.”I think we have to prepare ourselves for a rather long process here. … I’m sorry to have to say that and I hope I’m wrong,” she said. “But that’s the way it looks to me from Baghdad.”

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