Readers may think that this New York Times headline today signals a lack of progress: "Iraqis Not Ready to Fight Rebels on Their Own, U.S. Says." (Conservative readers may wince at the word "rebels," imagining that if we could only call them "evil-bastard-baby-murderers" all our problems would be solved.) That headline is based on a new Pentagon assessment, not yet released. Nevertheless, this is actually good news. The Pentagon is finally taking steps to scrutinize very closely the progress of troop-training in Iraq, something I've been chafing about for a while now. Says the Times, "The assessment, which has not been publicly released, is the most precise analysis of the Iraqis' readiness levels that the military has provided." Whether people are thinking about an exit strategy or a plan for "victory" in Iraq, actually knowing what's going on seems like the fairly obvious first step here.
One thing to wonder about, however, is the ethnic and sectarian composition of the Iraqi security forces. Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books recently claimed that the only competent security forces hail from the Kurdish peshmerga, and the Kurds' loyalty is first and foremost to Kurdistan. (The claim, like most in Galbraith's essay, comes without evidence or citation, so take it for what it's worth.) And then there are the recurring reports that the Iraqi paramilitary units are nothing more than glorified Salvadoran death squads. And then there are questions surrounding civilian control of both the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense. It would help if the Pentagon was equally as forthcoming about all of these things, so that people could actually figure out what's going on in Iraq; otherwise, we're left with New York Times headlines of suicide bombings aplenty and that, quite obviously, looks like resounding failure.
Meanwhile, Galbraith thinks that the big problem in Iraq isn't the insurgency, but the coming quarrel between Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. Indeed, our friendly San Francisco Chronicle had not-so-bright news along that line this morning: "Kurdish leaders have presented a redrawn map with a larger Kurdistan to the Iraqi National Assembly for consideration in the new constitution, a Kurdish party official said Thursday." Not only that, but one Kurdish official calls the boundary a "red line."