12/08/2006 07:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Iraqi Politics According to the Baker-Hamilton Group

The only relevant question about Iraq today is: How many more dead Americans is the Bush Administration and its allies willing to accept before we get out? Twelve-hundred more? Five-thousand? Twenty-thousand?

The Iraq Study Group made some observations about what needed to be done in Iraq for the United States to succeed. The group seemed to realize that there was no military solution, and that the economy could not function so long as the violence continues at current levels. So the group was left only with what could be done politically in Iraq to find the answers. "To put it simply," the group writes, "there are many armed groups within Iraq, and very little will to lay down arms."

Here are some statements from the "political" section of the report and my responses:

* "The security situation cannot improve unless leaders act in support of national reconciliation."

National reconciliation has failed in Iraq and the "leaders" are helpless in pursuing this path amidst the growing sectarian bloodbath. Nouri Al-Maliki is a hapless puppet, completely dependent on the American largesse; his jurisdiction consists of a few rooms inside a building of the U.S.-protected, fortified "Green Zone." The presence of American forces and the construction of permanent U.S. military bases have helped to push all of the sides in the conflict in the opposite direction of "reconciliation." The botched Haliburton-led "reconstruction" effort has angered Sunni and Shia members of the Green Zone "parliament" -- (that 275-member body which cannot even produce a quorum since over 100 of its members live in London) -- and the U.S. occupation has given all of the sides in the current ethnic cleansing little incentive to "reconcile." It is far too late for "reconciliation" now, and it is totally unrealistic to suggest that it is still possible.

* "Shitte leaders must make the decision to demobilize militias."

The Shiite leaders will never abandon the militias. In many parts of the country and in Baghdad the only form of functioning government (outside of the Green Zone) are the militias. The militias have become so fragmented that Moqtada al Sadr no longer controls his Mahdi Army, which has splintered into dozens of free-lance gangs. At the neighborhood level, the militias are the only force that can provide a degree of security. In the case of the Shia militias, dozens of them operate hand-in-glove with the Interior Ministry, and some are functioning as government death squads against the Sunni insurgents. For years, American troops have been conducting door-to-door searches in an attempt to disarm the militias, and the result has not only been a failure but has further alienated the Iraqi population. The militias will never be "demobilized."

* "Sunni Arabs must make the decision to seek their aims through a peaceful political process, not through violent revolt."

The Sunni insurgents are operating in the only way open to them. The Sunni elite has been toppled from power in Iraq for the first time in 1,300 years (the Iraq Study Group acknowledges this fact), and the strongest sense of Iraqi nationalism comes from this faction. Not only will the Sunnis not end the violence until their political aims are achieved, but they have stepped up their attacks in recent months. The Sunnis want the Americans out because they see U.S. forces protecting the Shia dominated government. The Sunnis in Iraq are being equipped with lethal arms and explosives from the millions of sympathetic Sunnis in the region. Also, the Sunnis in Iraq live outside of the oil producing regions, and they will never allow Iraq to pump its oil in significant amounts until they are back in power. Without the oil revenues Iraq, which is a "rentier state" totally dependent on selling its oil, will never be able to develop economically.

* "The Iraqi government and Sunni Arab tribes must aggressively pursue al Qaeda."

Compared to the ethnic cleansing going on between the Shia and the Sunni, Al Qaeda is an insignificant group operating in Iraq. Aside from a few spectacular suicide bombings, "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" is the least of our worries. The bloodbath that has engulfed the Shia and Sunnis of Iraq is the most important aspect of the current war, and the U.S. cannot stop it, or even slow it down at this point.

It is time to get out now -- the Iraq Study Group had no stomach to call for a withdrawal of American troops -- hence, we will just lurch forward as Richard Nixon did in Vietnam between 1969 and 1972 with inexorably bloody results. Twenty-thousand Americans died in Vietnam under Nixon; are we going to allow Bush to send thousands more of our people into the grinding maw of Iraq?