As we noted earlier this week, the Bush administration's big talk about a possible drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq early next year comes with a very big "if": The United States can start bringing its soldiers and Marines home if Iraq's security picture begins to improve.
It isn't improving much: Five U.S. soldiers were killed on Tuesday. In Baghdad Wednesday, a senior Interior Ministry official was kidnapped and a 12-year-old girl was orphaned when gunmen killed her mother and father. Today in Baghdad, a drive-by shooting claimed the life of a police officer. In Basra, gunmen stormed into the home of an Iraqi intelligence officer and killed him. In Kirkuk, police found the body of an Iraqi translator who had been working for U.S. forces before he was kidnapped by masked gunmen.
And in today's Washington Post, a "top military official" begins to dampen the expectations the administration has raised about bringing the troops home. The official is unidentified, but he's apparently important enough to warrant front-page treatment from the Post. And what he tells a Post reporter in Baghdad isn't much like the happy stories being spun out back home.
It is time, the official says, "to start thinking about and talking about what it's really going to be like in Iraq after elections." And what it's going to be like then, he said, is pretty much what it's like now. "The important point is that there's not going to be a fundamental change," the official tells the Post. "I've been saying to folks: You're still going to have an insurgency, you're still going to have a dilapidated infrastructure, you're still going to have decades of developmental problems both on the economic and the political side."
The official said it's "still possible" U.S. troop strength in Iraq will be reduced by 20,000 or 30,000 next spring if the Iraqi constitution is finished on schedule. But even if that happens, he said, U.S. troops will have to take the lead role against the insurgency for at least a year: Iraqi security forces simply won't be ready to any sooner, he said.
In the meantime, he said, the insurgency is going to continue in its deadly ways. In what seemed to be a direct shot at Condoleezza Rice's suggestion that "quiet political progress" has the insurgency "losing steam," the official said that progress on Iraq's constitution isn't going to translate into immediate improvements in security. The insurgents "certainly are not going to pack up and go away, there's no doubt about it," he said.
Neither, it seems, are U.S. troops.