Military-based policies have failed in Iraq Chris Abbott While George Bush pats himself on the back

for the success of the ‘surge’, last week saw the passing of two symbolic milestones in the Iraqi conflict: the fifth anniversary of the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and the death of the 4,000th US soldier. However, a more important development is currently being played out in the battle for Basra: the final failure of militarybased policies. There is little doubt that the US troop surge coincided with relatively reduced levels of violence in Iraq. However, the latest figures from the respected casualty-monitoring group Iraq Body Count, show that last month, for the first time since September 2007, the number of civilian deaths from violence were higher than in the preceding month. This suggests that civilian casualties may be on the rise again and that the security improvements which can be achieved through current tactics have now reached their limit. In any case, contrary to popular opinion and despite the claims from Washington, it was not the increased military presence that was the key factor in stemming the violence. The surge actually allowed two far more influential developments the space to make an impact. The first of these was the ceasefire announced by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in August 2007. The second was the Sunni ‘awakening’ movement turning against al-Qaida elements in the country as their anger grew against the attacks on the civilian Shi’a population, which have been a trigger for much of the sectarian violence. Unfortunately, recent events in Iraq look set to reverse these two developments. The Iraqi Army operation against Shi’a militias in Basra may have the impact of destroying al-Sadr’s ceasefire, and the American failure to pay the awakening councils footsoldiers’ promised salaries – together with several casualties in their ranks at the hands of the US military – may cause them to rethink their alliance with the Americans. These Sunni and Shi’a militia groups may now increasingly target Coalition forces, or each other, in a return to pre-surge violence. This is not inevitable though. Long-term stability is dependent on all factions in the country having a say in the Iraqi political process. Genuine reconciliation will need all sides to have a place at the negotiating table, including those insurgent groups who have targeted civilians or military personnel in terrorist attacks. They must all be brought into the political process wherever possible; exclusion will only cause people to turn to violence as the only course apparently available to them. There are no easy answers in Iraq, but what few solutions there are will be political, not military. The various factions in the Iraqi conflict must realise this before it is too late, and this holds true for the Iraqi government as much as anyone else. Chris Abbott is the Programme Coordinator and Researcher at Oxford Research Group and an Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre for Governance and International Affairs at the University of Bristol. Published on Open House, the flagship comment and analysis website of The Independent newspaper, 28 March 2008.