Well, there has been no progress of consequence despite the wishful thinking of pro-war pundits who endlessly write that the Iraqis are working on This, That or The Other, while the last 72 hours have brought an explosion of violence reminiscent of the Bad Old Days that coincides with the 4,000th American combat death.
There has been no progress because Prime Minister Al-Maliki has no reason to upset his Shiite-dominated applecart knowing that President Bush is committed to maintaining present U.S. troop levels through Election Day and then dumping the whole mess on his successor.
Does this mean that the window of opportunity has closed? No. Not yet.For one thing, the long anticipated re-emergence of the militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr is underway with calls for nationwide protests and civil disobedience, which has led to clashes in several cities and at least 50 deaths, and fears that a seven-month-old ceasefire by the militia against American troops is unraveling as they jockey for position ahead of provincial elections in October.
Does this mean that an unraveling of the success of the Surge is underway. No. It's too soon to tell, but the omens don't look good.
Al-Sadr's extended vacation was credited as a -- if not the -- major reason that the military phase of the Surge has been successful in reducing U.S. and Iraqi casualties, and the timing of his return was exquisite coming as it did on the heels of a Wall Street Journal story writing off the cleric as a force to be reckoned with.
Simultaneously, all heck broke loose in the strategic southern port city of Basra, hard by the porous border with Iran, as Shiite militias clashed with Iraqi troops backed by American or British air support.The British Army had ceded the city center to armed thugs late last year as part of a cut-and-slink strategy to keep its soldiers from getting killed that was equal parts practical and shameful and bound to backfire.
The fighting has now spread to Baghdad and smaller cities and Al-Maliki has issued an ultimatum: The fighters will be spared if they surrender within 72 hours.
How unfortunate that John McCain is not available to walk through some Iraqi market and tell us how everything is just ducky.
Photograph by The Associated Press