The central government hasn't attempted to consolidate change bubbling from below. There are 80,000 mostly Sunni security volunteers seeking integration into official security forces or transition into civilian jobs. There are volunteer teachers -- like those petitioning the American captain -- who await government salaries. Yet the government has left billions of dollars in revenue unspent. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has talked about creating a $1 billion jobs program, but even if he wants to follow through, moving such a sum through the dysfunctional Iraqi bureaucracy is a gargantuan task.
In the meantime, we fill the gap, in keeping with the military's axiom that "money is ammunition." The $300 a month we pay to security volunteers is filtering down into local economies. Commanders use discretionary funds at their disposal to contract for services and provide seed money for businesses. "I can't spend it fast enough," Col. Gibbs says. This so-called CERP funding will run out in the summer, and Gen. Petraeus is asking for $480 million more of it. Congress would be scandalously foolish to reject him.
Everyone acknowledges that Iraq's progress is fragile. The country is still violent, al-Qaida hasn't been totally vanquished, and the Shia south has its own alarming problems. But we have to try to capitalize on the opportunities created by the surge. There's not going to be a third liberation.
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