RAMADI….Both the LA Times (here) and the New York Times (here) have features in today’s papers about American success in the city of Ramadi, which has become this year’s version of Tall Afar: the shining success story that everyone in the Army wants to show off. So which account should you read? Answer: If you want the feel-good version of the story, read the LA Times, but if you want at least a hint at the context of what’s really going on, read the New York Times:

Many Sunni tribal leaders, once openly hostile to the American presence, have formed a united front with American and Iraqi government forces against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

….Some American officials readily acknowledge that they have entered an uncertain marriage of convenience with the tribes, some of whom were themselves involved in the insurgency, to one extent or another….These sudden changes have raised questions about the ultimate loyalties of the United States’ new allies.

….The turnabout began last September, when a federation of tribes in the Ramadi area came together as the Anbar Salvation Council to oppose the fundamentalist militants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia….For all the sheiks’ hostility toward the Americans, they realized that they had a bigger enemy, or at least one that needed to be fought first, as a matter of survival.

Italics mine. Ramadi really is a success story (as was Tall Afar), and it’s heartening to see that U.S. forces are smart enough to find wedges where they can and exploit them. At the same time, even in Ramadi, the insurgency is far from gone. Once al-Qaeda has been safely dispatched, how long will it be until the rest of the Sunni factions decide to turn their attention back to an American occupying force that looks like it’s planning to stay forever?

Conversely, how would that dynamic change if we provided the sheiks with credible assurances that American troops would begin withdrawing in the forseeable future? Without that, our success in Ramadi is likely to be short lived.

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