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New, inclusive Iraqi government: A better partner for US

The new Shiite-led coalition government in Iraq includes Sunnis in high posts. That, and other successes, spell a strategic advantage for America in the Middle East.

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The fragile but definitive successes in Iraq are already serving as a model for other conflicts, such as Afghanistan. Ending the civil war that erupted in 2006, for instance, required a careful mix of a troop surge, diplomatic finesse of sectarian factions, and the use of reconstruction teams in the provinces.

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The US is also beefing up its people exchanges, such as placing young Iraqi engineers in US high-tech firms in hopes they will launch start-up businesses back home. And the US Department of Justice is helping Iraq cement a commitment to the rule of law.

Iraq’s security forces now measure more than half a million, and operate largely out of nationalist rather than sectarian motives. In a sign of revived Iraqi patriotism and communal tolerance, tensions between Shiite politicians are as strong as between Shiites and Sunnis.

And in a sign that democratic politics are alive and well in Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite, said while announcing his cabinet: “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Amazingly, the months of political infighting didn’t spawn a surge of violence. Now a Sunni is the speaker of parliament, and Sunnis control 10 high-level ministries; after the 2005 election, they won few high posts. The anti-American, pro-Iran Shiite faction led by Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won only minor posts.

The postelection contest for power in Iraq also revealed the competition for influence in the region between the US and Iran. Despite their rivalry, however, both Iran and the US have a strong interest in a peaceful, prosperous Iraq.

For the US, though, a thriving democracy in Iraq may serve as an inspiration for suppressed democrats in Iran, as well as in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf. Iraq may also request some sort of continuing US military role, such as control of Iraqi airspace. And Baghdad will likely form alliances with other peaceful nations in the region, further isolating a belligerent Iran.

The strategic advantages of US-Iraqi friendship are many. Assuming Congress keeps funding US efforts there, “the Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States,” as Mr. Obama said. Americans suffered a terrible war in Iraq, the president said, but they also “helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.”

By reconciling factions that seemed irreconcilable just three years ago, Iraq has begun to step into that light.


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