Are we closer to victory? We are being told we are. But things could be returning to the bad ole days:
Tensions are simmering again in once bloody Anbar province, Washington's prize good news story for security in Iraq.
Along the main road through Anbar's second city of Falluja, a former insurgent stronghold and scene of fierce battles with U.S. forces in 2004, markets and car workshops are re-opening for business.
But many say that growing anger at a lack of jobs, basic services and political progress threatens to shatter peace in the western province, which makes up about a third of Iraq.
"The situation till now is still not certain in Anbar, and the peace is only relative to before. Calm always comes before a storm," Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Yaseen al-Badrani said.
The U.S. military said in January it could transfer security responsibility for Anbar to Iraqi forces as early as this month, but now it is more cautious.
In an interview with Reuters, Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, would give no time-frame, saying only that the handover would take place soon.
Sunni tribal leaders, credited with cutting violence in Anbar by ordering their men to turn on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, are growing increasingly impatient with politicians.
"We thought that when security was established in Anbar, then the situation would turn to development and reconstruction, but we're surprised to see neglect from the government," said Kamal Nouri, a member of Anbar's tribal council.
The Sunni tribal leaders' thousands of followers, who once formed the backbone of a Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces, are demanding to be drafted into Iraq's army and police force, or given other decent jobs.
"Where is the prime minister? Does he know what we have to do to earn a living to feed our families? Call this a job? The government has failed," said Salam Faraj, a petrol pump worker.
[...]Crucial to the turnaround in security in Anbar are the 4,000 members of the Awakening Councils, or Sahwa, a mostly Sunni movement dedicated to fighting al Qaeda. Many members were former insurgents.
The councils are headed by tribal leaders, who started the now nationwide movement in Anbar province because they were disgusted by al Qaeda's indiscriminate attacks and harsh interpretation of Islam.
At a police graduation ceremony in Falluja, trainers in close contact with the Sahwa said they were battling to keep the men at their posts.
The U.S. military pays Sahwa members $300 a month to patrol their neighbourhoods and man checkpoints. Many want to join the army and police, where the pay is better.
"If the Sahwa is not included in the security forces, there will be tensions. They fought the terrorists with us, and many of them were killed," police trainer Ahmed Marthy said.
"Some have quit, but we keep asking them to wait ... if this continues, we're really afraid tragedies will return," he added.
And if you think a McCain presidency would bring us victory just read this article:
Last week we finally got a clue as to why John McCain has been slavishly supporting the Bush administration policy on Iraq for all these years: He doesn't have a clue what it is.
That became obvious during a press conference in Jordan Tues day. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who had just come from Iraq, stated that "Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran."
This prompted his fellow senator and fellow neoconservative Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to whisper something in his ear. McCain promptly corrected himself. But the damage was done, forcing him to issue this elaboration later in the week.
"I corrected my comment immediately. To think that I would have some lack of knowledge about Sunni and Shiite after my eighth visit and my deep involvement in this issue is a bit ludicrous."
Ludicrous? No, It's true. What McCain's critics failed to note was that this gaffe fit within a pattern of gaffes that show not just a lack of knowledge but astounding ignorance. Consider this comment a few weeks earlier about al Qaeda's prospects in Iraq in the event of an American withdrawal: "My friends, if we left, they wouldn't be establishing a base," McCain said. "They'd be taking a country."
No, they wouldn't. The Sunni radical group al Qaeda is a minority within a minority in Shi'a-dominated Iraq. The real threat is from such radical groups as the Iranian- based Dawa Party and from that other Iranian-born group that until recently called itself the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
But we don't have to worry about Dawa and SCIRI taking over after we leave. They already run Iraq. The real tragedy of the Iraq War is that Iraq is now firmly in the hands of Iranian-allied Shi'a groups and will remain so no matter what we do.