The Bush administration was caught off-guard by the first Iraqi-led military offensive since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a weeklong thrust in southern Iraq whose paltry results have silenced talk at the Pentagon of further U.S. troop withdrawals any time soon.
President Bush last week declared the offensive, which ended Sunday, "a defining moment" in Iraq's history.
That may prove to be true, but in recent days senior U.S. officials have backed away from the operation, which ended with Shiite militias still in place in Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki possibly weakened and a de facto cease-fire brokered by an Iranian general.
"There is no empirical evidence that the Iraqi forces can stand up" on their own, a senior U.S. military official in Washington said, reflecting the frustration of some at the Pentagon. He and other military officials requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak for the record.
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