In Samarra, Iraq, today, a new attack on the al-Askari mosque destroyed much of what survived the 2006 attack, which the Bush administration had described as the turning point in the Iraq war. The New York Times reports "angry demonstrations" in the streets, and a 3 p.m. curfew has been imposed in Baghdad.
In testimony before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. William Martin Dempsey, recently in charge of U.S. training efforts in Iraq, said Tuesday that Iraq won't be capable of taking full responsibility for its own security for many years -- and that's assuming the Iraqi government dramatically increases the size of its security forces. Dempsey described a litany of problems with Iraqi security. Among them: As the Washington Post reports, Dempsey said that Iraqi units typically arrive in Baghdad at half strength. A quarter of the soldiers are on leave at any given moment, and a quarter more stay in their home regions to provide security there. Dempsey also said that units are sometimes smaller than the paperwork associated with them might suggest -- sometimes because the units keep injured soldiers on the payroll because they can't afford to make the retirement payments that would be due otherwise, and sometimes because a commander might pad his list to collect more money and keep it for himself.
Arkansas Rep. Vic Snyder reminded Dempsey that he had once likened the situation in Iraq to the story of Sisyphus, the fallen king doomed to an eternity spent pushing a boulder up a hill. Dempsey said there have been ups and downs in Iraq but that the metaphor still applies. "There will be times when this boulder rolls back," he told Snyder. "It's probably rolling back a bit right now in Baghdad. But I don't think it's going to roll over us, and I think we're going to be OK."
Dempsey was discussing the security situation in Iraq. As for the political situation? It's hard to find much of anyone -- anyone outside the White House, that is -- who will say that we're moving toward OK.
A New York Times analysis puts it this way today: "Iraq's political leaders have failed to reach agreements on nearly every law that the Americans have demanded as benchmarks, despite heavy pressure from Congress, the White House and top military commanders. With only three months until progress reports are due in Washington, the deadlock has reached a point where many Iraqi and American officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year."
The Times says that "entropy and obstinacy" have "severed links" between party leaders and their constituents and that the Iraqi government has become "increasingly irrelevant" in many parts of the country. The Times says Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told an American commander earlier this week that there are just "two mentalities" at work in the region: "conspiracy and mistrust." And Dempsey says he has been hearing this from Iraqi civilians: "You know, we were a lot more secure and safe during the Saddam regime."