The bombs that ripped through Baghdad on Sunday immediately brought more bloodshed — and bode only of the promise of more to come.
Under the international agreement between Washington, D.C. and Baghdad signed by the then-outgoing Bush administration, America’s war in Iraq has all but ended with command of the war shifting permanently to the Iraqi government. Al Qaeda attacks took place during the U.S. command and now persist under Iraqi command. While many are thwarted, while car bombs are found and defused, it’s an ugly matter of fact that in war some bombs will always get through. And Iraqi security forces in no way can be said to be ready to face the threat posed by al Qaeda or any insurgent group. The devastation of the bombings has had the effect al Qaeda desired — chipping away at Iraqi public confidence in government, even prompting the governor of Baghdad to call for the resignation of the security officials in charge of the capital’s safety. Al Qaeda in Iraq is not the network it once was, it’s not able to deliver multiple suicide bombings on an almost daily basis. When I was last in Baghdad nationalist insurgents told me there were but a handful of operational al Qaeda cells in the city. Nonetheless, they warned five committed al Qaeda members can “wreak havoc.” The weekend bombings are testament to that. While the tempo of al Qaeda’s suicidal strikes — largely targeting Iraq’s Shia community — have slowed, they have not stopped. While al Qaeda in Iraq maintains its capacity to kill it will keep striking. This is the environment that the U.S. is likely to leave in Iraq — a fragile state plagued with an ever present al Qaeda threat. The question is how that state counters the threat and maintains its credibility with its own people. And that, ultimately, will be the final measure of the American mission — how well the Iraqis stand up.