Iraq Returns

The martyrdom of Catholic Chaldean archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho reminds America that the war in Iraq is far from over. Indeed, yesterday a car bomb also killed 17 civilians in downtown Baghdad. Earlier in the week, five U.S. soldiers were killed while on patrol. The "surge" had indeed lessened violence, but it is not so much the presence of the additional troops as the political deals that have been made. In Al-Anbar province, the local Sunni chieftains had been counted among the insurgents until Gen. David Petraeus enlisted them to help repel Al-Qaeda and they are now allies. They did not change: We did. Most importantly, the Shiite Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr has kept a cease-fire in place since August 2007 and while the U.S. once viewed him as a threat, he is considered a critical ally on the ground now. Of course, neither the Sunni ex-insurgents nor Sadr’s Mahdi army have abandoned their demand that the U.S. end its occupation. And, if history is any guide, it is difficult to see the Sunni chieftains and the Shiite militias working together anytime soon. The objective of the surge was to quell the violence so that a political settlement could be obtained. But there has been little in the way of political progress, as even Gen. Petraeus himself admitted yesterday. The general will be testifying before Congress next month and can expect a barrage of hostile questions. Whatever the political calculations in Baghdad and Mosul, the politics of the Iraq War have taken on a clearer shape stateside. John McCain deserves credit from all sides for his consistency: he criticized the Rumsfeld strategy of doing the war on the cheap, pushed for the surge, defended it before the positive reductions in violence had become apparent and cites its success in every speech he makes. The surge belongs to McCain now as much as it does to Petraeus. And, despite their difficult past, George W. Bush is surely going to fight for the vindication of his signature policy at the polls next November. On the Democratic side, the lessening violence in Iraq over the past few months moved the issue of center stage in the Democratic debates. This has hurt Obama who opposed the war and has made that opposition a centerpiece of his candidacy. The shift in debate topics from Iraq to the economy has undoubtedly helped Sen. Clinton. She does not want to discuss her vote to authorize the war and understandably. There is Youtube footage of her floor speech at the time. She said "it was one of the hardest votes" she ever had to cast. Now, she says she thought she was voting for diplomacy. But, what is so hard about voting for diplomacy? Clinton may not be able to avoid a re-examination of the issue on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary. In the wake of the martyrdom of archbishop Rahho, you can bet that Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to the UN will include an even fiercer denunciation of the Iraq War. The Pope will give that address the April 18, four days before the Pennsylvania voters go to the polls. Michael Sean Winters
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