Somehow, we knew this was coming.
A day after George W. Bush built an entire speech around the notion that Tal Afar is a "concrete example of progress in Iraq," the Washington Post is reporting that the northern Iraqi city shouldn't be mistaken for a shining beacon on any hill.
While it's true, as Bush said, that U.S. forces drove insurgents out of Tal Afar in the fall, local residents tell the Post that sectarian violence is on the rise in the city -- and that al-Qaida operatives may be seeping back in. "The armed men are fewer," a 42-year-old air conditioning mechanic tells the paper, "but the assassinations between Sunni and Shiites have increased." A 33-year-old tailor says al-Qaida has started to "come back in," killing both Shiites and Sunnis who cooperate wth Americans. And a 23-year-old law student predicts that Tal Afar will return entirely to its dark past in a matter of months. "The Tal Afar mission failed," he tells the Post. "The city will turn back to how it was before the battle within two months. The Americans are busy putting cement barriers and barbed wire around their bases and no one is taking care of the infrastructure."
In his speech in Cleveland Monday, the president made it clear that Tal Afar was about as good as it gets in Iraq just now. "I wish I could tell you that the progress made in Tal Afar is the same in every single part of Iraq," he said. "It's not." He was right about that. While residents of Tal Afar seem mostly to fear what's coming down the road, other Iraqis are dealing with massive waves of violence every day. In the 10 months since Dick Cheney declared that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes" -- a ridiculous proposition he defended as "basically accurate" over the weekend -- the Post notes that attacks have killed 10 or more people on each of 70 days. Make that 71: In a Muqdadiya today, insurgents stormed a police station, freeing 33 prisoners and killing at least 18 police officers in the process. As the New York Times notes, American military commanders used to cite Muqdadiya as some kind of success story, too.