The mosque bombing in Samarra may seem like deadly déjà vu, but there is change afoot--in personnel, if not yet policy--in the war rooms of Washington. Over the past month, President George W. Bush has removed many of the last traces of the team that conceived and then executed the Iraq war. It is probably a good sign that many of the new replacements are Navy admirals, who tend to think more creatively than their counterparts in the hidebound Army. At the White House, meanwhile, day-to-day responsibility for coordinating policy on Iraq and Afghanistan has been taken from long-standing National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and handed to a three-star general, Doug Lute, who opposed the surge from the start. The political team is molting too: longtime GOP operative Ed Gillespie is set to replace Bush senior adviser Dan Bartlett.
At the same time, U.S. officials have suddenly become far more vocal than before about their unhappiness with the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki. The White House has been criticizing him in public, and both the Centcom boss, Admiral William Fallon, and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte made recent trips to Baghdad to tell al-Maliki he needs to quickly deliver some of the promised political deals on security and oil revenue with the various warring factions.
All these moves suggest--but hardly guarantee --a course correction on Iraq by September, when the patience of even GOP lawmakers will probably run out. Talk of a partial U.S. drawdown or a new acceleration of Iraqi-troop training increases with each day. A senior Administration official who participates in foreign policy meetings chose his words carefully last week: "It will be easier to execute a change in direction if the people who have to decide on it do not feel bound by things they have said and done in the past."