Political Update

POLITICAL UPDATE….A couple of days ago I wrote about an announcement from the Iraqi government that it had reached consensus on several political issues, including de-Baathification, oil laws, and provincial elections. The announcement didn’t get much play, though, and the reason seems to be that nobody really believes it’s for real. Today, Time’s feature editor emails to recommend his magazine’s take:

Why Baghdad’s Latest Deal is No Deal

….Sunday’s deal was more notable for who wasn’t involved than who was. The agreement didn’t include representatives from the bloc loyal to Shi’ite politician and militia chieftain Moqtada al-Sadr….As a practical matter, an agreement to reconcile with former Baathists is next to meaningless without Sadr’s acquiescence. And the Sadrists weren’t absent simply from Sunday’s deal. At the moment they are not even part of the government; like their Sunni adversaries they are engaged in a boycott.

Sunni political leaders have a similar problem. As the same Western diplomat put it, there is “the question of the connection between national politics and what’s happening on the local level.” With the U.S. military cutting deals with Sunni tribes and ex-insurgents to help battle al-Qaeda in Iraq, the influence of the Sunnis’ national political leadership becomes more and more questionable.

Time’s piece goes on to note that “The agreement may give Ambassador Crocker some rare and much-needed good news to highlight when he delivers his surge status report to Congress next month.” Marc Lynch agrees and goes further:

This agreement was likely produced for the sole purpose of giving Ryan Crocker something to bring back to Congress (and is what I expected weeks ago). But it doesn’t actually solve anything: [Sunni leader Tareq al-Hashimi] has made very clear that he has no intention of rejoining Maliki’s government, the agreements exist only on paper at this point, and nothing has been done about the deeply sectarian nature of what passes for the Iraqi state.

For now, that seems to be something of a consensus view: Sunday’s announcement is notable mostly because it gives Crocker and Petraeus something positive to point to during their September testimony, not because it signals real progress. As Ilan Goldenberg points out, we’ve been down this road before when there was political pressure to show a “breakthrough,” and it hasn’t meant much once it served its PR purpose. Probably the same thing is happening this time around.