What could Maliki possibly do to stop the bloodshed in Iraq? Bush might consider the lesson of other cowboys. When a prairie fire threatens, they cut the grass around them and set fire along the perimeter. The fire burns outward and does not threaten them. The prairie, of course, gets burned. Bush might also consider the lesson of the Yosemite rangers: after they suppressed forest fires successfully for years, a tremendous amount of bark and needles accumulated on the ground. Finally, they could not put down the fire, and the compost fed it into a huge conflagration. Now the rangers let small fires burn themselves out. No other prescription exists for Iraq.

Maliki cannot make shiites love sunnis or sunnis turn the other cheek or both adopt tolerant secularism. He can only suppress one group in favor of another. Saddam wisely suppressed both, the shiites more. Democratically elected – thus shiite-based – Maliki’s government tends to oppose the sunnis. Iran supports the shia dominance, and Syria reacts by supporting Iraqi sunnis. Turn off the blender. The bloody cocktail is ready.

Maliki is a puppet dancing on many strings: the US, Iran, and Syria, shia and sunni, fundamentalists and militants. A puppet cannot afford to be tough. Increasing the pressure on militants to stop fighting only provokes them. If Maliki decides to stop the violence, he has to go all the way. He can’t stop until he wipes out the militants without due process or human rights scruples. That might be an option if his Western supporters recognize that the shooting in the streets of Iraqi towns also violates human rights, though of inconspicuous everyday Iraqis rather than media-savvy guerrillas. Violating the guerillas’ human rights is a far lesser evil. Maliki’s chances, however, are running out with the ongoing rapprochement of the Baathist army and the guerrillas. If merged now, they would produce an Iraqi army, but two years later, a heavily armed and well-trained fundamentalist militia.

An enlarged Iraqi army which Hadley’s memo suggests, would become a big guerilla training camp – unless Iraq is divided between shia, sunni, and the Kurds or becomes a dictatorship again. The memo suggests bribing and financing moderate Iraqi political parties. The US tried that approach in Afghanistan and elsewhere and proved it a failure. Loyalty, liberalism, and democracy cannot be bought. Some groups took the American money and proceeded to butcher those they were going to butcher anyway. Others took the money but could not deliver on their promises. It’s very simple for Iraqi parties: kill or be killed. Moderates survive by radicalizing or fall prey to radicals.

Bush refuses to admit that he loosed the genie of religious strife in Iraq which must be beaten back into the bottle. He repeats the mantra of Al Qaeda involvement, though in reality, it is not the major militant group there. Bush also continues to discredit Maliki in Arab eyes by describing him as a friend.

Bush cannot count on Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia to pacify Iraq. In the treacherous and opportunist world of Muslim politics, they would use the opportunity to promote themselves and expand their influence in the war-torn country rather than quell the violence and welcome an independent Iraq. Straightforward US politicians cannot swim in the whirlpool of Muslim politics. They welcome the Iranian call to other countries to stop backing terrorists in Iraq without realizing that Iran and the US mean very different people by terrorists. For Iran, the term doesn’t cover shia guerrillas.

Talabani’s visit to Iran was counterproductive. Common Iraqis remember the suffering of the Iran-Iraq war, and Talabani’s fawning visit to Tehran cost him popular support. In return for Talabani’s humiliation, Iran paid lip service to Iraqi security. To imagine that Talabani could persuade the Iranians to stop supporting Iraqi shiite guerrillas is naïve. Violence in Iraq will not stop while US troops are there, and will likely continue for some time after they leave.