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Two possible futures for Iraq's struggle

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Beneath the day-to-day challenges that face Iraq, faint outlines are beginning to emerge of how the country might look after several key actions are taken over coming months - and depending on how Iraqis respond to them.

Two models, both based on Latin America's troubles with insurgencies, could provide some historical reference for the course Iraq will take.

Historical comparisons are rarely perfect, but two paths loom on the horizon. One follows Central America, where the civil conflicts of the 1980s played out and resulted in power-sharing accommodations and an acceptance of political competition. But another leads Iraq toward something like a new Colombia, where a hard core of the insurgency never wins but doesn't lose either, and is fueled by external forces that politics cannot address - making US disengagement problematic.

The key to determining which way Iraq goes may lie largely in how the Iraqi government addresses the minority Sunni population. In particular, analysts say, the government would do well to focus on the part of the Sunni population that is not yet bent on destroying the new Iraq, but that has not yet seen how its interests can be served by it, either.

"The three elements fueling the Iraqi insurgency are the hard-core Sunni Baathists, the foreign extremists, and the Sunni fence-sitters - the last being the largest of the three and probably the ones providing the largest number of recruits right now," says Michael O'Hanlon, an expert in US military affairs at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "In Central America, most of the people were these fence-sitters who could be swayed, and the result was basically political solutions."

Mr. O'Hanlon says that in some respects, the Central American conflicts might have seemed even more difficult to resolve politically, because the level of violence and displacement was even greater than what Iraq has experienced, at least to this point. But Central America also did not have an element equivalent to the foreign Islamic extremists, known as Jihadis or Jihadists for their interpretation of jihad as "holy war."

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