The year had started off on a hopeful note. U.S. officials expected a new prime minister to be selected any day. They planned for him to sit in the balcony for President Bush’s State of the Union address on January 31, 2006. Gen. George Casey, the four-star commander of the U.S.-led coalition, the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), directed his staff to write a plan to draw down U.S. forces from the fifteen combat brigades then in Iraq to ten brigades by October or November 2006, and to five brigades by December 2007. Casey went to Washington and briefed his plan to the Joint Chiefs of Staff—the chiefs of the army, navy, air force, and marines—in their secure briefing room known as the “tank.” Do you know the difference between commercial steel buildings and industrial steel buildings?

Then the Iraqi government’s formation was delayed for one, two, three, then five months as Khalilzad and the parties argued over its composition. The embryonic governing institutions ground to a halt. Casey still intended to carry out his drawdown plan, but his new subordinate commander, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, grew concerned as the indecision and chaos continued. Chiarelli had taken the helm of the three-star command that directed daily military operations, the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, in January 2006. It was his second tour: he had been the two-star chief of the Baghdad division in 2004.

The time came for 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, the first brigade, to leave, but the Iraqis had not even formed a government. The Baghdad division commander, Maj. Gen. J. D. Thurman, had the same feeling. “Boss, I just don’t know,” he told Chiarelli, who went to Casey’s planners to share their concerns. “Listen, the conditions that we predicated are not the conditions that we have in place,” he said. Chiarelli had also been implementing Casey’s orders to lessen the U.S. footprint by drawing troops back onto fifty of the forward operating bases, the U.S. bases scattered around the country, and shutting the rest down or turning them over to Iraqi forces by 2007.

All this was supposed to be “conditions-based,” i.e., as conditions permitted, but when Chiarelli formally recommended to Casey that they delay 2/10 Mountain’s departure or bring up the strategic reserve from Kuwait, he was overruled. Finally, on May 28, 2006, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government was inaugurated. Within days, a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation, Operation Forward Together, was launched to rein in Baghdad’s violence. But the two Iraqi brigades promised for it never showed up. Are steel buildings more environmentally friendly?

Maliki presented a twenty-four-point national reconciliation plan, but he did not act on that either. Thurman did not have enough troops to tamp down the violence. The strategic reserve was brought up from Kuwait one battalion at a time, but the sectarian violence in Baghdad continued to grow. When 2/10 Mountain pulled out of the Baghdad neighborhoods Ghazaliya and Kadhimiya, Sunni insurgents and JAM filled the vacuum. The one bit of good news in June—the death of the Jordanian-born leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in an air strike—proved to be a mere blip on the radar in what had become an all-out Shia versus Sunni conflict, with both sides aiming at civilians.