Are things still going "very, very well" in Iraq?
That's the characterization that Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace offered Sunday in Washington. On Monday in Iraq, the commander of Iraqi troops in Baghdad was killed while on patrol. "It could be a blow that takes a long time to overcome," U.S. Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr., who led U.S. troops in Baghdad until January, tells the Washington Post. "Losing a strong commander for even a little while in Baghdad could cause a further power shift toward what looks like the Shia control of the city."
There's another reason to be concerned about the death of Maj. Gen. Mubdar Hatim Hazya al-Dulaimi: As Reuters reports, the Iraqi army suspects that it may have been an inside job. An official in Iraq's Defense Ministry said the general's death -- the result of a gunshot to the head -- is "very strange and raises many questions." One Iraqi general tells Reuters that the killing couldn't have happened without inside information and proves that the Iraqi army has been infiltrated by militia groups who will turn on fellow soldiers. "The outsiders have hands on the inside," the general said.
The news comes as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani backtracked on a plan to convene the new Iraqi parliament on March 12 after Shiites requested a delay to work on a stalemate over the makeup of the government. As the Associated Press reports, Talabani's "failed bid to order parliament into session on March 12, the deadline set by the constitution, raised questions about whether the political process can withstand the unrelenting violence or if Iraq will disintegrate into civil war."
Meanwhile, Tony Blair's government is scrambling to explain just how much longer British troops will be in Iraq. In an interview published today in the Daily Telegraph, the top British general in Baghdad described a four-stage plan for withdrawing British troops that will begin within weeks and will have all British troops out of Iraq by the summer of 2008. "There is a fine line between staying too long and leaving too soon," Lt. Gen. Nick Houghton told the paper. A spokesman for Blair dimissed the talk as speculation, saying that there were "all sorts of possible scenarios" for getting British troops out of Iraq, but that they all depend on the situation on the ground.