Vil irakerne «get their act together» i tide? Det betyr: vil hæren og sikkerhetsstyrkene kunne overta for amerikanerne, og vil partene greie å få på bena en samlingsregjering. Eller faller alt fra hverandre i borgerkrig og kaos? Libanon x 100, som det kalles.

Washington Post har vært med hæren rundt i Irak og snakket med mange kilder. Bildet de tegner er skremmende på mange måter. Først og fremst ved at Bagdad er en lovløs by.

The biggest difference in Baghdad from two or three years ago is the nearly total absence of U.S. troops on its streets. In a major gamble, the city largely has been turned over to Iraqi police and army troops. If those Iraqi forces falter, leaving a vacuum, U.S. pressure elsewhere could push the insurgency into the capital. «I think they’re going to go to Baghdad» next, worried Morgan. But other U.S. officers argued that such a move is unlikely because it is more difficult to intimidate a city of 5 million than a rural village.

The streets of the capital already feel as unsafe as at any time since the 2003 invasion. As one U.S. major put it, Baghdad now resembles a pure Hobbesian state where all are at war against all others and any security is self-provided.

Army Reserve Capt. A. Heather Coyne, an outspoken former White House counterterrorism official, said, «There is a total lack of security in the streets, partly because of the insurgents, partly because of criminals, and partly because the security forces can be dangerous to Iraqi citizens too.»

Mulighetenes vindu står ikke åpent i ubegrenset tid. Soldatene lurer på hva som er vitsen med å kaste bort flere liv.

At the medic’s station in Patrol Base Swamp — which with its bare cots and hanging light bulbs feels like a scene from World War II — three soldiers of the 101st said they loathe their time here, especially since the death of a beloved squad leader a week earlier.

«I think it’s the way we’re losing more soldiers» that is most bothersome, added Spec. Frank Moore, a medic from Lynchburg, Va. «It makes you wonder, what do you gain by sticking around?»

«I don’t like anything about being here,» agreed Spec. Matthew Ness.

Pursuing this sort of slow-moving campaign also raises the question of whether the political clock will run out on the effort, either here in Iraq or back in the United States, before the American military and its Iraqi allies can become militarily effective in large parts of the country. «That’s what I worry about,» said Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 U.S. commander here.

Kanskje det går fremover? Opprørerne har også gjort grove bommerter og slåss med de utenlandske jihadistene. Amerikanerne synes de endelig har begynt å lære. Men for en som husker Vietnam-krigen er dette deja vu. Ingen synes å ane hvor i terrenget man befinner seg. Og hva trener de irakiske styrkene for? Å bekjempe opprørerne, eller hverandre?

Despite such signs of hope, huge questions hang over the U.S. effort. Foremost is the question of whether Iraq is moving toward civil war, which could cause the situation to spin out of U.S. control. That in turn raises the issue of whether Iraqi forces believe they are training to put down an insurgency or preparing to fight a conflict that pits Shiites against Sunnis. «I can’t argue with that,» said Col. James Pasquarette, who shares a base at Taji, north of Baghdad, with the Iraqi army’s only tank division.

In an ominous sign of the growing rift within Iraqi security forces, the first thing an Iraqi army battalion staff officer did as he briefed a reporter this month was denounce the Iraqi police and its leaders at the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry. «The army doesn’t like the Ministry of Interior,» said the officer, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation. «The people don’t like the police, either.»

In the Battle for Bagdad, US turns war on Insurgents
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 26, 2006; Page A01