"'We're in a definite period of progress,' Brig. Gen. Ed Cardon, deputy commander for support, Multi-National Division-Central, said Monday."
"'What makes this so important -- this time so important -- this definite period of progress, is that when the violence is down we can do a lot more working with governance and economic development and economic reconstruction,' Cardon said. 'And that's really going to be the focus of our efforts over the next several months without taking our eye off the security advances that we've made.'"Great news. Unequivocally, for everyone who is seriously engaged. That's the way forward, and it's quite a relief to see that we're on it. The Iraqi street has been on about sanitation, jobs, energy, and medicine for quite a while now, and the sooner they have those things the better we'll be doing.
In other good news, the number of home guards in the American-backed Awakening movement was over-counted by about 17,000. Why's that good news?
Now, a tick of moderately bad news that may or may not matter much. That Declaration of Principles the US administration foisted on al-Maliki turned out to be pretty clumsy, and wasn't received well:
"'On the one hand, that kind of cuts into the good news story, but these people have come forward and said they want to work for us,' Stanton said.
He said they weren't taken on only because there was no need for them."
"The Sadrists, who had been flirting with Maliki for 10 days, immediately cut off contacts, claiming that the agreement "sets the ground for long-term occupation". Muqtada was furious that Maliki never presented the agreement to Parliament before signing it off with the US President."
Aside from the reaction from al-Sadr, the Declaration provoked a number of other political players in Iraqi Parliament, despite the fact that the Declaration was non-binding. Now aside from the negative political impact that this created, it has some instructive power for a lesson that, on further review, probably should have been obvious: a brand new parliament that is expected to exercise sovereignty is going to be angry when you act in what is perceived as a unilateral manner with the country's PM, no matter how well-intentioned or how non-binding the action is. Still, there is some political point-scoring taking place here that should be noted as well.
When the Iraqi Accordance Front calls al-Maliki a sectarian who is going out of his way to marginalize Sunnis, in this case there's no way for al-Maliki to win. By signing the declaration, he managed to alienate al-Sadr's Shi'a bloc, and their lack of communications will be interpreted by the largely Sunni Awakening movement as a weakness in Shi'a solidarity. Had al-Maliki not signed the declaration, there would have been no outrage, al-Sadr would still be courting, and in that case the Sunnis really would be marginalized to the extend that a consolidation of Shi'a power would threaten them.
Clearly, some of the resulting outrage is fake. On the other hand, al-Sadr is a pretty delicate snowflake to be handling so clumsily, although odds are good that he's doing a little political theater of his own that won't amount to much that's serious. In conclusion, it would probably be best if Bush kept his hands out of the pot and let the Generals work from now on. Non-binding resolutions are for Democrats acting tough about the war budget, not people who are actually trying to get work done.
Now for a stretch.
Remember that 17,000-person over-count of Awakening recruits? That has another upside. Al-Maliki and al-Sadr have been awfully spooked by the size and fervor of the Awakening movement, and that was one of the factors drawing them together. So reporting that the Sunnis aren't as big and scary as they were previously thought to be will work to ease some of those tensions and in turn may reduce the perception that al-Maliki is courting Shi'a blocs in order to marginalize the Sunnis. Al-Maliki needs all the good press he can get.
But that's really reaching. For now, it's good to see that our focus has shifted exactly the way it needs to, and moving forward we should start seeing more reports on reconstruction efforts in tandem with the security gains continuing.