Iraq Status: Duck and Cover, Wait and See

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Even as President Bush begs for more time to allow the so-called ‘surge’ to work in Iraq, the outlook from his own National Security Council is not all that encouraging. In yesterday’s status report on 18 benchmarks to be achieved by the Iraqi Government, only eight showed “satisfactory” progress, while the status of the remaining ten was characterized as “mixed” or “unsatisfactory.” Among those that failed to make any headway at all: easing de-Baathification laws to allow those who worked as lower-level civil service employees under Saddam’s regime to return to work; disarming the country’s various ethnic and religious militias; ensuring that Iraqi police enforce the law fairly, without consideration of sectarian ties; allowing Iraqi military commanders to operate without interference from politicians in Baghdad; and increasing the number of Iraqi military units capable of staging operations without American assistance.

These would seem huge (and sadly familiar) obstacles to Bush’s vision of “victory” in Iraq, whatever that might mean… Still, the president remains sanguine about our prospects there. At a White House news conference yesterday, at which he unveiled the depressing results of the NSC report, the president, true to form, chose to look on the bright side:

I believe we can succeed in Iraq, and I know we must… Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks. Those of us who believe that battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism…

The bottom line is that this is a preliminary report and it comes less than a month after the final reinforcements arrived in Iraq. This September, as Congress has required, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will return to Washington to provide a more comprehensive assessment. By that time, we hope to see further improvement…

In similar fashion, the NSC report also includes a caveat encouraging skeptical Americans to wait and see:

Some of the benchmarks may be leading indicators, giving some sense of future trends; but many are more accurately characterized as lagging indicators, and will only be achieved after the strategy is fully underway and generates improved conditions on the ground… It will take time, however, for improved conditions locally to translate into broader political accommodations at the national level; what is important is the overall trajectory, which, under our present strategy, has begun to stabilize, compared to the deteriorating trajectory seen over the course of 2006.

One Iraqi locale where conditions seem not have improved is the Green Zone, which this week has been the target of even more mortar attacks than usual. This morning’s Washington Post offers a facsimile of a “Security Notice” issued in response to the attacks. More than four years after the U.S. invasion, embassy staff are being asked to don helmets and flak jackets whenever they step outdoors. And in the event of a mortar attack? Think Cold War. Yep,…”duck and cover” under the nearest table or desk until the All Clear signal is given. Then, when the smoke has cleared, continue to wait and see how Bush’s “victory” can ever be achieved.

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