Thursday, March 29, 2007
things fall apart and MC's unravelling:
A week in Mosul ended on Tuesday, and the week was defined by an inquiry into the relative quiet of Ninewah province -- home to Tal Afar as well as the Mos' -- a sectarian tinderbox turned success story. I got the same answer from General Petraeus, from MND-North deputy commander Brigadier General Francis J. Wiercinski, from Colonel Steph Twitty of the 4-1 Cav, etc., all down the line, civilians as well as officers: the competence and strength of the 2nd and 3rd Iraqi Army Divisions operating in Ninewah, as well as the Iraqi police. Then I leave and Tal Afar becomes a sectarian tinderbox once again, with Shiite police officers contributing to reprisal killings against Sunnis following two devastating suicide bombings.

The depth of sectarian division in Ninewah is impressive to behold, even for a cynic or a pessimist. (More on this in a forthcoming piece.) Yet for the most part, the political process in the province has held, despite an underrepresentation of Sunnis in the provincial council thanks to the 2005 election boycott. What success means for Ninewah is for the process to be the vehicle for sectarian power plays, not for the acrimony to disappear. By all accounts I was able to acquire, American and Iraqi, the security forces have given the process some backbone.

What the Tal Afar massacre shows is how thin a tissue the process is. By Baghdad standards, the twin suicide bombings weren't that much pressure for the jihadists to apply, and they managed to spur a bloodbath that sucked at least some members of the security forces in. The political process, if it's to endure, has to become a zero-sum game -- either you're in, and you buy in completely, or you're out, and fair game for the consequences of being an outlaw. That hasn't happened, to say the least: every important political movement in Iraq retains its military insurance policy. In Ninewah, the process has yielded more routine politics and governance than in most provinces -- I now know at least a little bit about the byzantine process of passing a budget in Iraq -- and yet it still doesn't possess the necessary centripetal force.

Yet Petraeus, Wiercinski, Twitty, etc, have a point. Ninewah does evince more normalcy than most Iraqi provinces. The trouble is that things like the Tal Afar massacre are part of normalcy in the new Iraq. Again, more on this in a forthcoming piece.
--Spencer Ackerman