IN OTHER WORDS: Iraq facts

While Iraq is a central issue in this year’s election campaigns, there is very little clear talk about what to do. That is because politicians running for election want to deliver good news, and there is nothing about Iraq that is anything but ominous.

In the real Iraq, armed Shiite and Kurdish parties have divided up the eastern two-thirds of the country, leaving Sunni insurgents and US marines to fight over the rest. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his “national unity cabinet” stretch out their arms to like-thinking allies, but barely lift a finger to rein in the sectarian militias.

If there is still a constructive way out of this disaster, it has to begin with some truth-telling.

Politicians are not going to press for serious solutions. Republicans will not talk about alternatives as long as their supporters have been primed to believe victory is possible.

Few Democrats will advocate anything that might wind up transferring responsibility for this awful mess to them. Acknowledging the hard facts of today’s Iraq must be more than a political talking point.

It is the only possible beginning to a serious national discussion about what kind of American policy has the best chance of retrieving whatever can still be retrieved in Iraq and minimising the damage to US interests.