President Bush has paid a surprise visit to Iraq. It’s his third trip there, but this time he bypassed Baghdad, and landed in Anbar province. That, of course, is where the U.S. recently has achieved dramatic success, allying with Sunni tribes to clobber al Qaeda in a province it once seemed on the brink of controlling.
As John notes below, Bush’s selection of Anbar province as his destination carries significant symbolism. It means, for example, that the Iraqi leadership, including prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, must journey to Sunni country to meet with the president, perhaps as a prelude to actually reaching out to the Sunnis. Symbolism also attaches to Bush’s appearance in what was once the heart of the insurgency.
Of course, once Bush leaves, Maliki and others will be free to ignore Anbar province and the Sunnis. Thus, the success of the journey depends on the ability of Bush, Secretary Gates, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker to persuade the Iraqi leadership that recent events — the turnaround in Anbar, the somewhat improved security in Baghdad, the seemingly deteriorating position of al-Sadr and his militia, and the upcoming debate in Washington — make this the time to push in earnest for true political reconciliation.
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