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I try to admit I’m wrong when I’m wrong, but I don’t like to eat crow any more than the next guy. So when I saw a New York Times headline “Iraq Eases Curb on Ex-Officials of Baath Party” I thought, “uh oh, one of those ‘good for the world, bad for Yglesias’ turns of events.” Unless, of course, like most good news out of Iraq it evaporates upon examination:

While the measure would reinstate many former Baathists, some political leaders said it would also force thousands of other former party members out of current government jobs and into retirement — especially in the security forces, where American military officials have worked hard to increase the role of Sunnis. One member of Iraq’s current de-Baathification committee said the law could even push 7,000 active Interior Ministry employees into retirement. […]

One Shiite politician, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, said the new law could forcibly retire up to 27,000 former Baathists, who would receive pensions.

Other officials said the legislation could allow from 13,000 to 31,000 former Baathists back into the government.

Basically, it’s totally unclear how this is going to work in practice and different Iraqi political leaders are making wildly different claims according to their own priorities. Under the circumstances, things could work out for the best, but little has really been achieved here. More to the point, the conflict over what the law says indicates that there isn’t any underlying consensus about what ought to be happening, which tends to cast the prospects for reconciliation into doubt.

Meanwhile, though I know the right-wing tends to take every effort to make a realistic assessment of conditions in Iraq as nothing more than ideological axe-grinding, nothing could make me happier than real progress toward political reconciliation in Iraq. Unlike the ephemeral “success” of the surge, reconciliation really would create the conditions under which US forces could withdraw on an uncontroversial note of success and things would be hunky-dory from most all points of view.

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