And here is what it looks like as the sun vanishes.
We were debating how the Romans would have handled the present Iraq situation. The American game plan seems to be to push the Shiite leadership into concessions which could bring the Sunni Baathists on-side, isolating the Islamic fundamentalist who could then be crushed.
The problem is that the assumed political middle ground doesn't exist. The Shiites hate the Sunnis for past wrongs, and those sentiments are reciprocated by the Sunnis big-time. The politicians being pressurised by the Americans are themselves detached from the militias, the tribal and religious groups who are carrying out the violence.
The New York Times carried a report that the Saudis threated the Americans that if they pulled out and the Iraqi Sunnis were then involved in a civil war with the majority Shias, the Saudis would intervene militarily on the side of their Sunni kinsmen. The Saudis stated that they would also increase production of oil to halve the world price, thereby bankrupting the Shia Iranian regime, currently flush with oil revenues.
The standard Roman response to this kind of situation would be to build a wall around Iraq to seal the borders, then send the legions in to destroy all resistance and disarm the local populations. The fact that this would involve genocidal levels of killing would not deter them.
However, this option doesn't seem open to the Americans, not simply due to modern moral scruples, but because of the fact that none of Iraq's neighhbours could passively observe such a scenario without being drawn in. The consequences of the subsequent global Islamic radicalisation can also scarcely be imagined.
As far as I can see, whether the Americans get out over the next year or so, trying to manage a resolution of the situation along the natural fault lines, or whether they 'surge' another 30-50,000 troops into Baghdad to 'freeze' the situation for a while is hardly decisive. The eventual outcome is no longer under their control as their political project is no longer realisable. A sufficiently slow-motion resolution along the natural fault lines may (and only may) avoid a hot regional conflict.
This could have been, and was, predicted at the very start of this adventure by just about everyone who knew anything at all about the region.