Two views of the Iraqi south

Jack Kelly of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette compares the upcoming election to the election of 1864. Then, as now, presidential performance was judged primarily by what happens on the battlefield. In 1864, Kelly reminds us, it wasn’t until Sherman captured Atlanta on Sept. 2 that Lincoln pulled into the lead. This year, Kelly suggests, recent developments in the south of Iraq may tip the balance in President Bush’s favor. Specifically, leading Shiite clerics, after gauging public opinion, have come out strongly against the tactics of Moktada al Sadr and called for a rapid return to the American-led negotiations on Iraq’s political future. Overall, says Kelly, “the U.S. strategy of patience and ‘talk talk, fight fight’ seems to be working better than you’d gather from most of the news stories coming out of Iraq.”
A case in point when it comes to news stories out of Iraq is this report in the Washington Post called “Divided Iraqi South Posing New Obstacles — Shiite Foes of Militia Fail to Stem Uprising.” The headline directly contradicts Kelly’s optimistic take on developments in Shiite Iraq. However, the piece presents no evidence that the U.S. is failing in its strategy of squeezing Sadr militarily while rendering him irrelevant politically. The best the Post can do is to note that “several” mainstream Shiite leaders have suggested that Sadr be given a role in the interim government.
Stories like this one show a major difference between 1864 and today. Then, the issue really was what happened on the battlefield; now the issue, is a mixture of battlefied events and internal Iraqi political events. To the voters, though, it is still the battlefield that counts. As long as armed uprisings are limited and not very bloody in terms of American lives, Iraq alone should not cost President Bush the election.

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