Today The Times of London published a story consistent with the report Tom Hayden shared two days ago. The Times said that a new phase of negotiation between the Sunni+Baathist insurgency and the Shia-dominated al Maliki government would soon begin. This appears to conflict with Laura Rozen's reporting that the Bush administration was planning a tilt toward the Shia and against the Sunni+Baathist insurgency.
We are in a state of policy flux right now because of the pressure placed on politicians by the U.S. elections; there will be a number of attempts to find a way to at least appear to be trying to end the conflict. There was a report that British troops may leave Southern Iraq by next spring.
It is entirely possible that both the Shia tilt and the Sunni tilt plans and more are being considered simultaneously. Now is the time to take a look at Barbara F. Walter's book, Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars. Walter's book is an empirical study of the 72 civil wars fought between 1940 and 1992 and chronicles all the major difficulties encountered in trying to arrange a negotiated peace. After reviewing prior theories about civil war resolution her major conclusion is (p. 17): "Negotiations are unlikely to succeed unless an outside power is willing to guarantee the security of the combatants during demobilization, and unless specific political, military, or territorial guarantees are written into the terms of the treaty." In other words treaties fall apart because combatants don't trust one another to lay down their arms and adhere to agreements unless an outside power guarantees enforcement of treaty provisions. This emphasizes how important it will be in Iraq that some adequate and credible outside force supports and guarantees any agreements reached. There are obstacles to even reaching the stage of serious negotiaitions and Walter discusses those as well.