Austin Bay

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the new security plan is the increased aggressiveness of the Iraqi Army as it conducts counterinsurgent operations. The Iraqi military defeat of the cultist "Soldiers of Heaven" planned attack on Najaf in late January provides a dramatic example. With coalition backup, Iraqi forces launched a spoiling attack and killed or captured several hundred militants.

Maliki's national reconciliation program remains the key Iraqi political endeavor. That program began well before "the new security plan," but no security plan will succeed unless reconciliation occurs.

The Office of National Reconciliation conducts "engagements" with the entire spectrum of ethnic, religious and political groups. Last week, in a phone interview with journalists and commentators, coalition spokesman U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell discussed how his Strategic Effects Office works with the Iraqi government on this issue.

"In the last three months on any given day of week we're doing (numerous reconciliation) engagements," Caldwell said. His office has helped coordinate the meetings. Caldwell said that the reconciliation office had also been "talking to insurgent groups."

That makes sense. Maliki's "new security plan" includes a reformed "de-Baathification" program designed to permit former members of the Baath Party, on an individual basis, to integrate into the new, democratic Iraq.

Former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi advocated a similar program in 2004, but Allawi's government was appointed, not elected. Saddam Hussein was also still alive. Maliki is an elected prime minister, and his government carried out Saddam's court-ordered death sentence. Maliki has the political capital to implement the program.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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