Here are a couple of good back-from-the-brink pieces in the Washington Post. This one gives lots of credit to Khalilzad and Talabani for working the political end hard and effectively. This one reports on the balance between using US troops to restore order and letting the Iraqi forces take more responsibility. One thing is clear: it would have been better to have killed Sadr long ago, and it’s a disaster that he has made himself such an important arbiter politically and in the streets (at the time, I thought it was OK to take half-a-loaf deals with Sadr after our confrontations with him–I was wrong).
The civil war that has been averted would be a catastrophe on all levels. It would be a political catastrophe for the Bush administration. If it happened before November, Republicans would lose Congress, and Bush’s presidency would be effectively over. It would be a humanitarian catastrophe. I’m told the Kurds would presumably grab Kirkuk and probably slaughter Sunnis in the process; while the Sunnis and Shia would go after each other in Baghdad; and rival Shia factions would probably fight as well. A nightmare. Finally, it would be a strategic catastrophe. The rationale for Bush’s post-9/11 foreign policy would be in shambles and if the civil war widened out–drawing in the Saudis and the Iranians–it could set the region back decades.