Things have been looking a bit brighter in Iraq this summer. Commanders and some independent observers report that the “surge” of 30,000 more U.S. troops has tamped down the violence, particularly in Baghdad. Some tribal Sunni sheiks have turned against al-Qaeda, particularly in volatile Anbar province. Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has said that his Mahdi Army militia is suspending fighting for six months. No wonder U.S. opinion polls show greater optimism, or at least less pessimism, about the Iraq war.
President Bush has been out making speeches capitalizing on the sunnier mood and playing down the Iraqi failure to meet most political benchmarks (even though he earlier vowed to hold Iraqi leaders to them). In mid-September, the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, are expected to report to Congress that the military effort has been succeeding, despite lagging political progress. Then the White House is expected to seek extra time and money to extend the surge through next spring.
Any reduction in violence in Iraq, and any setbacks for al-Qaeda, are to be celebrated and encouraged. But, like a discordant strain intruding on a piece of music, two new reports provide an important reality check on any perceptions that victory might finally be just around the corner.