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Iraq

So has the surge worked or not? Here's the lead Iraq item from the LA Times: "Baghdad's neighborhoods continue to split along sectarian lines, violence shifts elsewhere and infighting stalls political progress."

The Washington Post adds, "If there is one indisputable truth regarding the current offensive, it is this: When large numbers of U.S. troops are funneled into areas, security improves. But the numbers only partly describe the reality on the ground. Visits to key U.S. bases and neighborhoods in and around Baghdad show that recent improvements are sometimes tenuous, temporary, even illusory."

The Politico: "So far, leadership aides in both parties say there are not clear signs that a months-long stalemate [on Iraq], largely on party lines, has broken -- a standoff that has given Bush latitude to continue his policies even as polls show the war becoming steadily more unpopular… Hearings Tuesday and Wednesday will highlight a General Accounting Office report saying that the Iraqi government has failed to meet most of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress to measure progress toward security and stability." 

David Brooks writes this line this morning, which will become a favorite on the Democratic stump ASAP: "The big change in the debate has come about because the surge failed, and it failed in an unexpected way. The original idea behind the surge was that U.S. troops would create enough calm to allow the national politicians to make compromises. The surge was intended to bolster the 'modern' -- meaning nonsectarian and nontribal -- institutions in the country. But the surge is failing, at least politically, because there are practically no nonsectarian institutions, and there are few nonsectarian leaders to create them. Security gains have not led to political gains."

The piece is a bit more optimistic about some local Iraq developments. Could it be that like America, all Iraqi reconciliation is local? Anyway, Brooks concludes: "As September begins, we're finally moving beyond abstract debates over troop levels and timetables. The key questions now are: Can U.S. troops help Iraqi locals take control of their own neighborhoods? Is it worth more American lives to help them do so? And, if so, how?"

The New York Times covers Bush's surprise visit to Iraq yesterday, where he emphasized "security gains, sectarian reconciliation and the possibility of a troop withdrawal, thus embracing and pre-empting this month's crucial Congressional hearings on his Iraq strategy. His visit … had a clear political goal: to try to head off opponents' pressure for a withdrawal by hailing what he called recent successes in Iraq and by contending that only making Iraq stable would allow American forces to pull back."