Wow, this is grim. According to the just-released Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, political reconciliation is likely a bridge too far over the next year and a half.
The Sunnis remain "unwilling to accept minority status" and believe the Shiite majority is a stalking horse for Iran. The Shiites remain "deeply insecure" about their hold on power, meaning that the Shiite leadership views U.S.-desired compromises -- on oil, federalism and power-sharing -- as a threat to its position. Perhaps most ominously, the upcoming referendum on the oil-rich, multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk threatens to be explosive, as the Kurds are determined to finally regain full control over the city.
Interestingly, the listed prospects for reversing Iraq's deterioration contradict the NIE's assessment of where things actually stand. For instance, "broader Sunni acceptance of the current political structure and federalism" and "significant concessions by Shia and Kurds" could lead to stability -- but the NIE's earlier section viewed both these events as unlikely. To put this in the realm of the current debate, President Bush's "surge" is designed to give political breathing room to events that the intelligence community formally judges as unrealistic:
...even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate.
About Iran. This must have been one of the most controversial elements of the estimate: Iraq's neighbors are "not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics." There's the expected qualifications that Iran and Syria are up to no good, but this is the major point. In other words, no matter how much Bush wants to lay the blame for the disintegration of Iraq on the meddlesome interference of Iran and Syria, the U.S.-sponsored political process itself -- indeed, the new, U.S.-midwifed Iraqi political order -- itself sows the seeds for the country's destruction. Apparently Bush could attack Iran to his heart's content, and Iraq would still remain inflamed.
Oh, and one final thought: this is just what's unclassified. If past NIEs are any prologue, what remains classified is much, much grimmer than what we see here. More likely than not, this is the most optimistic presentation of the NIE possible. Happy Friday.