Reconciliation Watch

RECONCILIATION WATCH….Ever since we embraced the Anbar Awakening a year ago, the Army has been busily forming Sunni police forces called Concerned Local Citizens. The Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki hasn’t had much choice but to go along, but at the same time they’ve resisted taking over the CLCs from the Americans and incorporating them into the Iraqi security forces. Today, the LA Times reports that U.S. commanders, who believe that time is running out, are starting to push Maliki harder and more publicly to change his stance:

The day-to-day commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, believes that the Iraqi government’s reconciliation with onetime Sunni fighters represents the “primary driver of enhanced security” over the next six months, according to internal military planning documents seen by The Times.

….”We’ve got a lull at the moment, an absolute lull in violence, but it could go anywhere next year, depending on how the current government reacts to it,” Odierno’s aide said. “One of our biggest risks are CLCs and which way they’ll go.”

The aide, like other U.S. officials, warned that the window of opportunity is narrow….”If [the Maliki government] doesn’t embrace it, you could have the different Sunni Awakenings coming together as a Sunni army that tries to overthrow the government, pushing the country into civil war,” the aide said. “It’s possible.”

This is not the first time that an Odierno aide has publicly suggested that Maliki better get on the stick with the CLCs or else the Sunnis will overrun him. (Maybe it was the same aide both times. No telling.) Three weeks ago Maliki’s defense minister rejected the idea pretty explicitly, so apparently Odierno has decided to give the idea yet another public airing. However, if this weekend’s sham de-Baathification law is anything to go by, Maliki and his allies have no intention of giving ground on this.

In other news, Juan Cole reports that an ad-hoc assembly of Sunnis, Shiites, and Turkmen are pressuring Maliki to prevent Kirkuk from being absorbed into Kurdistan and to halt the formation of a Shiite regional confederacy in the South. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I didn’t explicitly say what I think is going on here, so allow me to revise and extend. Odierno obviously believes that political reconciliation is crucial in Iraq, and just as obviously knows that Maliki isn’t going to do anything serious on that front without a serious kick in the ass. Working behind the scenes apparently hasn’t accomplished much, so he’s now taken to making public threats (via his aides) to try to scare Maliki into action: Work with the Sunnis or else there’s a good chance they’re going to declare war and there won’t be much we can do to stop it.

Odierno isn’t reveling in doom and gloom, he’s trying to force Maliki into action. And the reporters who pass this stuff along are helping him out.