The surge helped accomplish the first goal, but it was not the only reason for the reduced violence. A decision by Sunni tribal leaders to oppose al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq also played a major role. So, too, did Iraqi behavior; as mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad became more homogeneous and fortified, opportunities for sectarian violence decreased.
When it came to political compromise, however, the surge was a flop. Majority Shiites did not want to give the Sunnis and Kurds a greater role in the government and security forces, and the hopes of striking a grand bargain in the waning days of the Bush administration fizzled. As a consequence, red-hot embers remain in the tinderbox that is Iraq. Disputes over land and oil could spark another Kurd-Arab civil war in the north. Sunnis in the central part of the country, who have been holding anti-government protests for the past three months, now openly talk of rebellion. Sunni leaders accuse the Shiite-dominated security forces of persecuting them in the name of combating terrorism and purging old members of Hussein’s Baath Party.
2. Iraq today is relatively peaceful.
Levels of violence are far lower than they were in 2006, at the height of the civil war, when hundreds of people were being killed every week. But Iraq is far from stable. On Monday, a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a police station, killing five people; the same day, six more people were killed in various militant attacks in Baghdad. Three days earlier, 19 people died in a string of attacks targeting security personnel.
For the Iraqis who have no ticket out, life is still defined by bloodshed and fear. “The war is not over,” a friend in Baghdad wrote to me recently. “There is still killing and bombing. We are still scared.”
3. Iraq is a democracy.
It is — on paper. It has held successive national elections; it has a parliament and a modestly functional court system. In practice, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is exercising authority and centralizing power in ways that remind many Iraqis of Hussein. His security agencies have rounded up numerous Sunni leaders in recent months, accusing them of supporting the insurgency. Sunni officials contend that Maliki is using terrorism as a pretext to neutralize political foes.
Since he first won election in 2006, Maliki has moved to consolidate control over the country’s security forces. He also has presided over the dismantling of the Sons of Iraq, the Sunni tribal militia that was instrumental in the fight against al-Qaeda. The militia was supported by the U.S. military, which urged Maliki to integrate its members into the army and police force. Although he pledged to do so, only a fraction of Sunni militiamen have been given positions in the security services.