How Does the Anbar Shift Relate to Reconciliation?

Finally, the question on everyone’s mind. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) asked how the turn of Anbar Sunnis against al-Qaeda relates to national reconciliation — what Amb. Crocker and President Bush have endlessly called “bottom-up” reconciliation. Of course, there aren’t any Shiites in Anbar, so how does that reconciliation work?

Both Crocker and Gen. Petraeus answered the same way: reconciliation can be perceived by the Maliki government’s willingness to pay for Anbar “volunteers” to join the Iraqi security forces. What that really means is that the Interior Ministry is paying the salaries of 27,000 Anbari Sunnis to police their province. But Crocker said that, at least, the financing shows that the “two entities” — Anbar province and the Maliki government — are “establishing working linkages.” Petraeus added that in Baghdad — not really the area at issue in the substance of the question, but still — the “volunteers” in Sunni neighborhoods against al-Qaeda are going to be allowed by the Maliki government to no longer be “fixed in place” for operations. That means that the ministries of defense and interior will send the Sunnis newly in their ranks to areas outside their own neighborhoods.

Now, Sunnis entering the police have in some cases declared themselves enemies of the Shiite government. If Petraeus and Crocker are wrong about the relationship between the new Sunni “volunteers” and reconciliation, then Iraq is in for a much fiercer civil war, probably after U.S. forces draw down or withdraw. (And then the opponents of the war will presumably be blamed for that.) If they’re right, it really will be a stunning achievement for them.