Lawmakers loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr dealt a fresh blow to Iraq’s government over the weekend when they withdrew from the Shiite bloc that leads parliament. Gufran Saad, a lawmaker and Sadr ally, said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had been “taking decisions singlehandedly,” so other Shiite groups had little to gain by remaining in his coalition.

And President Bush wants to stay the course? said The Miami Herald (free registration required) in an editorial. He insisted in his speech about Iraq on Thursday that the country’s leaders were “getting some things done,” yet even the White House’s own assessment determined that the government had made little progress recently. “Instead of offering a long-term vision for how U.S. forces can make an honorable exit from Iraq,” Bush is now talking about an “‘enduring relationship’ that sounds a lot like the open-ended commitment he once disavowed.”

President Bush once dreamed of planting the seeds of democracy in Iraq, said Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post (free registration required). “But nightmares keep him—and U.S. troops—ensnared there.” The “cool, competent” reports by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker couldn’t obscure the fact that the administration is now driven by “fear” rather than “hope.” At best, Petraeus might have bought the administration “six to nine more months for something to turn up.”

Once the dust settles after Petraeus’ “long-anticipated” appearance before Congress, said the Chicago Tribune in an editorial, “the long-range import of the past week” will stem from “the president's evocation Thursday night of an enduring security and political relationship with Iraq.” No matter how much this year’s surge has improved security—and Petraeus “made a good case that it has”—there’s no denying that there’s a long way to go before the U.S. can reduce troop strength significantly and start forging the new, long-term relationship Bush mentioned.

Critics of the war put too much stock in phony “benchmarks” the Iraqi government has failed to meet, said Fouad Ajami in Actual Iraqis have an entirely different view. Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province are proud that they have helped drive out al Qaida’s “Arab jihadists.” Other Iraqis credit American soldiers with the victory. Either way, the terrorists’ defeat in Anbar is “progress,” and that’s something on which all sects in Iraq agree.

We’re in real trouble if we’ve been reduced to fishing for compliments in Anbar, said Gary Langer in The New York Times (free registration required). It’s true that the latest poll shows al Qaida is “overwhelmingly—almost unanimously”—despised in Anbar, and just about everywhere else. But American soldiers aren’t winning any popularity contests there, either. Three-quarters of Anbaris want U.S. forces to get out of their province—now. And the people aren’t crazy about the local leaders American forces have been working with, either.