It's too late to fix Iraq before the pullout date. All U.S. troops can do now is keep trying to slow the killing and get out. They call it 'Iraqi good enough


An Iraqi police SUV stays parked across the entrance to the market in Mahmudiyah, about 10 miles south of Baghdadon the highway to Najaf. The market road through town has been closed to traffic for years, but drivers seem OK with the long, bumpy detour. Better to endure the inconvenience than to risk more car bombings or another attack like the explosives-and-gunfire rampage that killed roughly 70 people in one half-hour in July 2006. By late 2007, attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces in the area had slowed but still occurred about 15 times a week.

Just last March, the town endured nearly a week of urban warfare in which roughly 2,000 Iraqi troops and 300 Americans battled a few hundred Shiite militiamen and their neighbors, who joined the shootout. Things are quieter now—although no one wants to take chances in the area that's been known since 2004 as the Triangle of Death

Bombs explode occasionally, but mostly without hurting anyone. Awful exceptions remain, like the Jan. 2 suicide bombing that killed roughly 20 people gathered at a sheik's home in Yousifiyah, 10 miles from Mahmudiyah

But thousands of Iraqi soldiers, police and tribal adjuncts stand guard at checkpoints all along the area's roads, on the lookout for wanted men and possible bombers as rows of cars pass between low concrete barriers. The Iraqis have tried to make some of the stops less grim by sticking plastic flowers to the gray slabs. Some checkpoints are painted with slogans like BE RESPECTFUL AND YOU WILL BE TREATED RESPECTFULLY.