SADRCITY09AhmadAl-Rubaie:AFP:Getty

The good news is that the national election date has finally been set - March 4. The bad news is that al Qaeda is still able to mount rare but major attacks as happened yesterday. But what struck me in the reports today is the remaining insufficiency of the Iraqi security forces to get this under control:

Despite an overwhelming presence at checkpoints across the city, [Iraq’s security forces] appear unable to stop carefully orchestrated terrorist operations... American helicopters, drones and airplanes circled the city in the immediate aftermath, while sporadic gunfire could be heard. In addition to the aircraft, American troops, including explosives-removal teams, joined Iraqi security forces responding to the attacks, a military spokesman, Maj. Joe Scrocco, said in a statement. In the attacks in August and October, Iraqi forces kept the Americans at arm’s length, allowing them to play a minimal, and belated, role in helping assist the wounded and collect forensic evidence.

So between August and September 2009, US forces have actually had to increase their support of Iraq's security forces, not decrease it on the way out.

Now, of course, emergency response to this kind of spectacular mass murder is different than day-to-day policing. And the pace of attacks remains much much lower than the worst period. But what you have here is a Sunni Qaeda terror group still able to attack largely Shiite targets - in the recent case, even a particularly wicked attack on a school.

Sectarian tension pushed the election back two months; and al Qaeda is determined to exploit it again to rip the country to pieces. And this is happening with 120,000 US troops still in the country, and before elections that could generate any number of sectarian tensions.

Those who believe Iraq is over as a story are not, in my judgment, paying attention.

(Photo: Iraqis inspect damages following a blast at a school in Baghdad's Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City on December 7, 2009. Six children were among eight people killed at a Baghdad school in what the Iraqi security forces said was an ammunition blast, among a total of 16 people killed in and around the capital. By Ahmad Al-Rubaie/AFP/Getty Images.)

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