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"Lost" Lost in Translation

While elements on our political left have declared the war in Iraq “lost,” people with a vested interest in success have taken a different view:

A group of Sunni tribal leaders in beleaguered Al Anbar province said Thursday that it intended to form a national party to oppose insurgents such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and reengage with Iraq's political process. […]

The driving force behind the new party, Sheik Abdul-Sattar abu Risha, said in an interview that the tribal leaders would be pushing a slate of candidates in Al Anbar provincial elections later this year, as well as in the next round of national parliamentary balloting, scheduled for 2009.

One purpose of the party, Sattar said, is to promote a better image of American-led forces "to the Iraqis here." He added that the tribes also would participate in a U.S.-backed effort to reestablish a court system in Ramadi, the provincial capital.

Al Anbar has not always been a garden spot for US forces. Sunni tribes did nothing to stop the rise and spread of the insurgency after the fall of Saddam and in some cases actively supported it. The flaw in this laissez faire approach was soon revealed as the barbarity of the foreign fighters – against Americans and Iraqis alike – became evident. In response Sheiks encouraged eligible tribesmen to join the the Iraqi security forces. The end result has been a dramatic drop in terrorist attacks in Ramadi, the provincial capitol.

The involvement in local and national politics by tribal sheiks is a significant development on several fronts. The application of the tribal system can help indigenous and allied forces quickly root out foreign insurgents. Additionally, it fuses the widely respected tribal system with the democratic matrix overlaid upon the country by first the provisional and now elected government. It gives the federal government more legitimacy and in the long run should make reconciliation easier and devolution more difficult.

Iraq is not a done-deal by any stretch, but one cannot dismiss a development of this nature. That those who were recently aiming to kill US forces are now actively promoting US efforts sounds about as far from “lost” as one can reasonably expect.