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Abu Azzam: Dead. Iraq: Still Breathing.

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The #2 terrorist in Iraq is now confirmed dead.

Fox News has more.

Azzam is the latest in a series of top Zarqawi deputies that have been killed or captured by coalition forces in recent months. Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq group has taken responsibility for some of the country’s most horrific acts of terror including car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings of Iraqi civilians and westerners.

Earlier this month Zarqawi, a Sunni Muslim, pledged war on Iraqi Shiites in response to the U.S. and Iraqi military offensive on the town of Tal Afar near the Syrian border.

So what does this mean for the war?

The U.S. military said it is continuing to make progress dismantling Zarqawi’s operations. Officials credit much of the success to the increasing number of tips coming from Iraqi civilians. A top U.S. commander in northwestern region of the country said that 80 percent the terror network has been affected by coalition operations in his region.

I’m not exactly sure what “affected by coalition operations” means. Sure, it IS progress, but let’s hope that someday soon we’ll be hearing “dismantled by coalition operations” instead. Maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky thinking, but I can’t help but think the aim to these operations is “dismantled” and not simply “affected.”

By the way, here’s an inside peek into what we are planning next in Iraq.

From David Ignatius.

I had a rare opportunity to hear a detailed explanation of U.S. military strategy this weekend when the Centcom chief, Gen. John Abizaid, gathered his top generals here for what he called a “commanders’ huddle.” They described a military approach that’s different, at least in tone, from what the public perceives. For the commanders, Iraq isn’t an endless tunnel. They are planning to reduce U.S. troop levels over the next year to a force that will focus on training and advising the Iraqi military. They don’t want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. Indeed, they believe such a high-visibility American presence will only make it harder to stabilize the country.

Personally, I don’t know how I feel about this. Reducing troops numbers and focusing on training the military seems like it could be a perfect recipe for civil war.

And news like this isn’t particular heartening either.

There were 412 suicide bombings in Iraq from January through August, killing about 8,000 Iraqis, according to U.S. statistics. The number of suicide attacks in August was eight times higher than a year before.

Given that, what’s the TRUE reality for democracy on the ground?

President Bush and other administration officials continue to speak about Iraqi democracy in glowing terms, but you don’t hear similar language from the military. After watching Iraqi political infighting for more than two years, they’re more cautious. “I think we’d be foolish to try to build this into an American democracy,” says one general. “It’s going to take a very different form and character.” The military commanders have concluded that because Iraqis have such strong cultural antibodies to the American presence, the World War II model of occupation isn’t relevant. They’ve sharply lowered expectations for what America can accomplish.

I don’t think we’re looking for an American style democracy in Iraq, although I honestly feel that the Bush team never really prepared us for anything but. And now that we’re seeing this will absoutely NOT happen, people are pissed and demanding we pull out of the country before anything else “bad” can happen to our troops.

Yeah, but they signed up for this. What about the millions of Iraqi people we have yet to truly liberate?

What Abizaid and his commanders seem to fear most is that eroding political support for the war in the United States will undermine their strategy for a gradual transition to Iraqi control. They think that strategy is beginning to pay off, but it will require several more years of hard work to stabilize the country. The generals devoutly want the American people to stay the course — but the course they describe is more limited, and more realistic, than recent political debate might suggest.

If the generals want the American people to stay the course then they should look to Bush to provide a more realistic goal of what can be accomplished, instead of playing politics with expectations. After all, he’s out of here in a little over 3 years anyway. Now’s the time to be truly transparent and bring more honesty into the debate.

Let’s hope he will, but I’m certainly not holding my breath.