Testing the Limits

TESTING THE LIMITS….The “Anbar Awakening” has — so far — been a considerable success for the U.S. mission in Iraq. Over the past year, as Sunni tribes in Anbar have increasingly turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq, violence in the province has dropped dramatically.

Next step: recreating that success in the capital. But although the Shiite majority has mostly limited itself to periodic grumbling about the tribal strategy as long as it was limited to Sunni provinces, Baghdad is a bridge too far:

The largest Shiite political coalition in Iraq demanded Tuesday that the U.S. military abandon its recruitment of Sunni tribesmen into the Iraqi police, saying some are members of “armed terrorist groups” and are engaged in killing, kidnapping and extortion under the guise of fighting the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The statement by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, is the most direct rebuke to a policy that U.S. military officers hold up as one of their most important achievements over the past year.

….The statement went on: “We demand that the American administration stop this adventure, which is rejected by all the sons of the people and its national political powers.”

Humam Hamoudi, a senior Shiite leader in the coalition: “This has provoked astonishment, rejection and rage.”

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni: “I can’t understand the fears. Frankly, it’s people talking nonsense, that these tribes might turn into militiamen the next day and be a threat to the Shias and attack whomever.”

Roger that. At this point, there’s no telling how much of this is real outrage and how much is political posturing. But it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind. The success or failure of this initiative will tell us most of what we need to know about whether our continued presence in Iraq has any chance of being productive.

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