Max Boot, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
The climactic battles of the American War in Iraq were fought in Anbar Province, with U.S. forces at great cost retaking the city of Fallujah at the end of 2004 and Ramadi, the provincial capital, in 2006-07. The latter success was sparked by an unlikely alliance with tribal fighters that turned around what had been a losing war effort and made possible the success of what became known as "the surge." By 2009, violence had fallen more than 90%, creating an unexpected opportunity to build a stable, democratic and prosperous country in the heart of the Middle East.
It is now obvious that this opportunity has been squandered, with tragic consequences for the entire region. In recent days the Iraqi army appears to have been pushed, at least temporarily, out of Fallujah and Ramadi by al Qaeda in Iraq militants. A battle is raging for control of Anbar Province with some tribal fighters supporting the government and others AQI. Mosul, the major city of northern Iraq and a longtime hotbed of AQI activity, could be next to fall. If it does, AQI would gain effective control of the Sunni Triangle, an area north and west of Baghdad the size of New England.
AQI's control would stretch beyond the Sunni Triangle because its offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, dominates a significant portion of Syrian territory across the border. This creates the potential for a new nightmare: an al Qaeda state incorporating northern Syria and western Iraq.
Even if this worst-case scenario does not come to pass—even if Mosul holds and even if the Iraqi army succeeds in regaining control of Ramadi and Fallujah—the odds of Iraq becoming embroiled, like Syria, in a full-blown civil war are growing by the day. Iraq is almost there already: The United Nations reports that last year 8,868 Iraqis were killed, the highest death toll since the dark days of 2008. Car bombings have become such a regular occurrence that they barely make the news.
What happened? How did Iraq go from relatively good to god-awful in the last two years?
Whole thing here.