Fred Kaplan has a great connect-the-dots piece on Iraq, taking 3 key news articles and explaining why the honeymoon is nearly over.
1) NYT reports that the Presidential Council vetoed provincial elections. Sadrists (and Americans) less than thrilled.*
2) WaPo reports that the CLCs unlikely to be absorbed into ISF. Sunnis (and Americans) less than thrilled.
Take it away, Fred:
To sum up, then, two points can be inferred. First, Iraq's sectarian factions are nowhere near reconciliation. The point of the surge was to create enough "breathing space" to allow for such a political goal. If the goal isn't reached by July—that is, within the 15-month span that was always, inexorably, the duration of the surge—then, in strategic terms, the surge will not have succeeded.
Second, there are many reasons for the reduction in violence and casualties these last few months. The surge and, still more, Gen. Petraeus' counterinsurgency tactics are among them. So are Sadr's cease-fire and the Sunni Awakening—neither of which has much to do with the surge, one of which (the Awakening) was initiated by the Sunnis before the surge was even announced. And now, both Sadr's cease-fire and the Awakening are imperiled.
What to do about these trends?
Surprisingly, that would be 3) Adm. Fallon wants the "pause" to be short, with a reduced combat role for US troops. Petraeus (and McCain) less than thrilled.
Welcome to Iraq, where are the options are bad and no one is happy! Charlie has no choice but to agree with Kaplan's parting words:
The way things are going, the next president, whatever his or her preferences, may be stuck with more severe problems than Bush ever was—and will almost certainly have to make decisions that are harder.
*All the recent speculation Charlie has heard regarding Iraq, informed and otherwise, has touched on this issue of provincial elections. It was in many ways the last game-changer for the political side of the surge equation. Remember all that talk of bottom-up reconciliation? That was to manifest itself in provincial elections, which might just create a window of opportunity for a new generation of Iraqi leadership. Now, not so much. All of which is to say that this veto is a big f*cking deal.