- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In fits and starts, political progress in Iraq is not only possible, but in small steps it is happening. That’s the simplest lesson of the Iraqi Parliament’s three notable moves on Wednesday. The parliament set Oct. 1 provincial elections, passed a $48 billion budget and also passed a limited amnesty for thousands of prisoners, including former insurgents — potentially significant steps toward reconciliation. Even New York Times editorial headlines are acknowledging the unexpected: “Making (Some) Progress in Iraq.” This does not at all fit the unrelenting “Iraq is a failure” narrative favored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Out of Iraq caucus.

“Some” progress is indeed the correct way to describe the three actions. Bound together in a single bill to assuage Kurds suspecting a double-cross, they are not the gold standards of Iraqi political progress, which continue to be a realistic oil-wealth measure to meet the often conflicting demands of Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, and a realistic long-term power-sharing arrangement. It is also worth noting that the three-person presidency council must approve the measures, and that implementation inevitably brings its own complications.

But their value as steps along the hoped-for road to reconciliation is the reason that Multi-National Forces Iraq Commander Gen. David Petraeus characterized them this way: “This is potentially a big moment.” Certainly it would be difficult to imagine any of these moves happening in the absence of the troop surge. Certainly each comprises evidence that the “no political progress” campaign slogan is just that — a slogan — which misses significant facts on the ground. The case for a drawdown “pause” looks stronger by the day.

A reckoning is coming in the domestic war debate. At times, it seems as if Republicans and Democrats are speaking of different wars. As the facts change, watch the rhetoric. President Bush will almost surely leave a substantial Iraq commitment to his successor come January. Democratic presidential contenders each promise to end the war while leaving themselves realistic options should they be the eventual presidential winner. Increasingly, a wider circle of American observers believe that the surge has worked militarily. Now we are seeing evidence that it opens the door to political progress. This war is a moving target.


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