The recent violence in Iraq shows how far Iraqi security forces have to go before they can stand on their own.
The spate of attacks across Baghdad on Wednesday came just weeks after US forces pulled out of Iraqi cities. After the bombings, the Iraqis requested a moderate amount of assistance from the US military, including medical support, intelligence from remote-control aircraft, and technical assistance from explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, teams. The US military also helped the Iraqis by cordoning off several bomb sites, US officials say.
Two separate attacks, near Iraq's Foreign and Finance Ministries, killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds more. Iraqi officials are conducting an investigation into what went wrong with their own security protocol.
The attacks were a reminder that while Afghanistan has drawn more attention as the United States ramps up its efforts there, Iraq remains a dangerous place. Yet American officials were quick to say that Wednesday's events were not a sign that security was unraveling in Iraq.
"If you look at the progress of the Iraqi security forces across the board, there are more good days ahead than there will be bad days ahead," said Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the top US general in charge of training Iraqi security forces. "This is a constant challenge and a constant commitment to maintain security in this country."
The general spoke to Pentagon reporters Thursday by video teleconference from Baghdad.
More than 645,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained by the Americans over the past several years. But now comes the hard part, as the US calibrates its training role to the more complex requirements of the nascent security force: Whereas at one time it was about conducting basic training, now it's about refining Iraqis' adeptness at intelligence and logistics.
But the attacks are also a test for the role of the US military, which now must sit back and wait for their services to be called upon by the Iraqis.
Some US commanders are reportedly frustrated, believing that the government of Iraq is too quick to try to do it all on its own.
Helmick's concern is that he can't train Iraqis faster. "My frustration is that I am not doing it fast enough," he said.
He doesn't have much time. The security agreement between the US and Iraq dictates that all combat troops be gone from Iraq by August 2010 and all forces be removed by December 2011. Although the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has hinted that it will want US forces to remain behind in a training capacity after 2011, that would come by a separate security agreement.
For now, there are no answers about how many or for how long they might stay. "That's the million-dollar question," Helmick said.