I don't think many have commented on what seems an obvious lesson to be drawn from the recent welcome and remarkable development in Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and Protestant firebrand Ian Paisley actually sat in the same room with cameras aimed at them and agreed to form a joint administration for Northern Ireland to be instituted May 8. On the one hand you can be disgusted at the two, as Christopher Hitchens obviously was, for keeping the mutual killing going far too long when these two personally might have done an agreement years ago and saved a good deal of bloodshed. Or you can choose to be pleased that there seems to be a resolution at last.
The significance as we look at current civil war-like situations -- Iraq, anyone -- is that it took about 40 years to bring this latest episode in "the troubles" to a resolution (being optimistic; snags could still arise between now and May 8). Culturally and genetically the two sides in the Northern Ireland divide were very similar -- except for some being Catholic and some being Protestant, of course.
Much of the blame for keeping the struggle going can be laid at the feet of pigheadedness on the part of leaders, of course, but those hostilities weren't all generated by opportunistic leaders. Sometimes it just takes a long time for most everybody to get so tired of the violence as to be ready for it to end. Almost every society contains small groups of people who see violence as a way to advance their agenda and are willing to carry it out, and they can disrupt a society effectively even if the vast majority are sick of their stuff.
There may be more differences than parallels, but if anything the differences seem to militate on the side of a certain amount of sectarian violence, likely at a higher level than in recent decades in Northern Ireland, persisting in Iraq for a long time to come. The chances of the U.S. establishing stability and handing off to a stable Iraqi government in any reasonable amount of time are ridiculously slim. In many ways U.S. troops are helping to foment and perpetuate violence, perhaps creating more insurgents than they are able to kill just by being a foreign occupying force. It might even be that the best chance for the Iraqis to get serious about governing themselves reasonably is to be staring a U.S. exit date in the face. Better to cut our losses sooner rather than later.