I have given some thought to the developments in Iraq lately.
The online gun boards are saturated with arguments about the war, and I have intentionally abstained from commenting on it, because I am sick and tired of repeating myself over and over, and also because most people on these boards have their minds set one way or the other already anyway.
The other day, I read an article that told of a doctor at a Baghdad hospital who said that the majority Shiites had infiltrated the city hospitals to the point where the Shiite militias (Mehdi Army and such) were offering doctors and staff $300 in cash for every patient from a Sunni neighborhood or province they reported when the patient came in. You see, the doctor had noticed a large amount of patient disappearances, some of which were still in recovery from surgery and decidedly non-ambulatory, and he did some research on his own when a staff member pointed him towards said Shiites. The patients would disappear and never be seen again, with inquiries producing results like "the security police came and said he was being transferred to a different hospital".
Then we have reports that the Shiite-led and -dominated security forces and government agencies have actively encouraged raids and interventions in Sunni areas, while discouraging them in Shiite areas. As a recent report states, al-Maliki is either unaware of these actions, surreptitiously supporting them, or powerless to stop them...neither of which bodes well for the impartiality and even-handedness of the new Iraqi government.
The problem with appealing to the national identity of the Iraqis is that most of them don't have one. They don't see themselves as Iraqis first; they identify with their religious sect and their tribe. There are centuries-old grudges present in Iraq (and the region as a whole) between those sects and tribes, and the only time they don't kill each other over millennia-old theological differences or family feuds is when some strong man oppresses them all equally.
Now we've gone in and helped the Shiites who were suppressed by the minority Sunnis, and the Shiites are using their newfound power to extract payback from the Sunnis. There are Shiite death squads abducting Sunni patients from hospitals, and Shiite neighborhoods duking it out via mortar with Sunni neighborhoods. Forget Al-Qaeda in Iraq and their merry band of thugs; the majority of the body count seems to be caused by good old-fashioned sectarian strife, the start of an Iraqi version of Europe's Thirty Years'War.
Democracy and patching roads and rebuilding schools and consensus and diplomacy are kind of pointless at this point. We have enabled the two main religious sects in Iraq to refresh old grudges and lay the seed for new ones that will last for another 800 years. How do you sit down and find a way to jointly run a country with folks who dragged your friends and neighbors out of buses to torture them with electric drills and then shoot them in the head? (Or, conversely, whose folks you tortured and shot to get even in return.) The Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis won't get together and work for the common good anymore than Croats, Serbs and Bosnians will get together any time soon to reform old Yugoslavia.
Note that I am not addressing the terror threat, or our validity for the invasion, or whether "fighting them there keeps us from fighting them here." That's a whole different ball o'wax. This issue concerns the point of our troops remaining in the middle of a full-blown grudgefuck conflict between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites while serving as both a recruiting tool and a practice ground for the region's Jihadists.
I don't think there's a damn thing that can hold Iraq together after the last pair of American boots leaves the country. The question is, do we want to pay the price for a continued presence if all we accomplish is to enable one sect to try and wipe out the other?
I have a premonition that I'll be taking Quinn to Washington in another twenty years to go and see yet another black wall with 50,000-some names on it, and that's not a cheerful thought.