Critical Mass in Iraq

Events in Iraq are reaching a “critical mass,” Iraq’s foreign minister told The Washington Post after meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Hoshyar Zebari believes that with a little more help from the United States and its partners we can achieve a positive shift in momentum.

His observation comes in the context of two events.

At the request of the Iraqis themselves, the United Nations extended the mandate for the U.S.-led coalition to stay in Iraq. It would be good if a few other nations jumped in to help out, and maybe Iraq can persuade some at a big donors’ conference in Belgium later this month.

And Baghdad also announced that 12,000 civilians had been killed during the 18 months of the insurgency, as the insurgents’ tactics have increasingly turned to random massacres of civilians. At some point, there will either be a welcome backlash against the insurgents and their foreign allies or the Iraqi people will be terrorized into passivity.

Zebari this week asked Rice for the United States to do four things, all of which are eminently reasonable and bespeak an Iraqi confidence that together we can pull this whole thing off.

First, he asked for greater U.S. and coalition help in drafting the constitution that is to be finished in August and voted on in October in advance of the election of a permanent government in December. The success of January’s “purple finger” balloting shows the importance of meeting these deadlines.

Second, he asked the United States to get its Sunni allies, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah, to persuade Iraq’s Sunnis to end their boycott of the new government.

Third, Zebari asked for additional staff and resources to train Iraq’s police and army.

Finally, he said, please confirm a new U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, a post vacant since March. One has been nominated, Zalmi Khalilzad, formerly our man in Kabul, and the Senate should confirm him immediately upon its return from recess.

It may be overly optimistic, but the attitude of the Iraqi government and its foreign minister’s requests look very much like an opportunity to direct that “critical mass.”

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)