The vast majority of Sunnis are fighting not for ideology but for a share of power and (oil) money. A deal with them is eminently possible and could co-opt enough Sunnis to greatly shrink the insurgency. Even now, the insurgents have the capacity to massacre civilians and kill coalition soldiers with roadside bombs, but they have never demonstrated the capacity for the kind of sustained unit action that ultimately overthrows governments and wins civil wars. (See Castro, Mao, North Vietnam.)
Our ambassador in Baghdad has been urging the Maliki government to make the bargain. He has also been urging it to get serious about the growing internal threat of Sadr's Mahdi militia, which is responsible for much of the recent sectarian violence and threatens to either marginalize or supplant the central government.
The only positive element in Sadr's rise has been a fracturing of the united Shiite front that can now allow some cross-sectarian (Sunni-Shiite) deals and alliances. But that requires a Maliki government decisively willing to deal with the Sunnis and take on Sadr.
On Thursday, Maliki took over operational control of the Iraqi armed forces, the one national security institution that works. He needs to demonstrate the will to use it. The American people will support a cause that is noble and necessary, but not one that is unwinnable. And without a central Iraqi government willing to act in its own self-defense, this war will be unwinnable.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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