NYT survey: Most Iraqis, military leaders predict chaos if U.S. pulls out

They interviewed intel experts and politicians too, but the consensus seems to have been strongest among Iraqi pols and citizens and U.S. military commanders — the groups closest to the facts on the ground, oddly enough. In fact, even most of Bush’s critics agree that things will get worse; they simply tend not to believe it’ll be too bad or last very long.

Read all of this one, if only because the howling from Rick Ellensburg and company about the Times “shilling” for the administration by publishing it will be shrill and savory. The different camps tend to split three ways: those who would keep American troops in the field until the Iraqi army is ready and terrorist attacks are down; those who would force the Iraqi government to assume responsibility by pulling American troops back, but only to bases in Iraq so they’re not too far away; and those who would would force them to assume responsibility by quickly withdrawing from the country. The last camp seems to consist mainly of Jack Murtha and the Sadrists, who have some pretty definite ideas about who it is who’ll be handling most of those new responsibilities.

There’s a lot of quotable material — note in particular what Anthony Cordesman has to say about which group in all this is best positioned and best motivated to decide when it’s time to go — but I’ll leave you with this, from one of the many anti-war vets whom the left has invested with absolute moral authority to serve its own ends. It’s safe to say the bloom is off the rose:

Anthony C. Zinni, a retired four-star general who formerly led Central Command, strongly opposed the decision to invade Iraq, fearing that it might lead to sectarian fighting and regional destabilization. But now that American forces have occupied the country, General Zinni fears that a troop withdrawal will compound the instability. The notion that the United States can pressure the Iraqis to take more responsibility for their own security, the general said, was impractical: with Iraqi security forces still not ready, militias would fill the gap.

General Zinni said it made sense to keep American forces at current levels for a year or so before gradually reducing troop levels and executing a strategy to try to keep Iraq’s instability from spreading. “When we are in Iraq we are in many ways containing the violence,” he said. “If we back off we give it more room to breathe, and it may metastasize in some way and become a regional problem. We don’t have to be there at the same force level, but it is a five- to seven-year process to get any reasonable stability in Iraq.”