War or Whac-a-Mole?

The military says al-Qaida in Iraq is down -- which means the Shiite militias are up.

Published October 22, 2007 12:42PM (EDT)

We woke up last Monday morning to find the Washington Post reporting that the U.S. military believes it has "dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaida in Iraq in recent months." We didn't get too excited about the news; we've heard premature proclamations of victory before, and something told us that another shoe was still to drop.


We woke up this Monday morning to find the Washington Post reporting that the U.S. military believes that "Shiite extremists pose a rising threat to the U.S. effort in Iraq." The reason: By suppressing Sunni groups like al-Qaida in Iraq, U.S. forces have shifted the balance of power in favor of the Shiites.

The result of the realization: Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker have revised their plans for Iraq to focus more on combating the Shiite militias even as (1) they acknowledge that the U.S. military will never defeat all of its enemies in Iraq, and (2) they shift focus from the benchmarks they previously stressed to more "concrete, practical" -- read, "modest" -- steps they'd like to see Iraq's political leaders take.

Oh, and the troop drawdown that we're supposed to be seeing between now and July? The Post's report offers yet another reminder that it's not exactly a done deal. "Redeployments of U.S. brigades -- even of the surge forces -- are dependent on the security situation on the ground in Iraq," Petraeus advisor Col. John Martin tells the Post. "If Gen. Petraeus early next year sees the security situation deteriorating, he will have the courage to go back to the president and say he needs to keep forces that he had planned to send home."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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