Unfortunately, the Jan. 30 elections and their outcome did nothing to advance the creation yet of any effective state security structure in Iraq, and Sunday’s attack confirmed that the ramshackle forces Pentagon civilian administrators rushed into place after the U.S. military victory in April 2003 are still disorganized, vulnerable and effectively helpless against the formidably streamlined attacks of the insurgents.

It was also strikingly symbolic — and probably no coincidence — that the Hilla attack came the very day after Syria turned over to the Iraqi government and its U.S. allies Sabbawi Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, the half brother of toppled President Saddam Hussein. The attack therefore sent the message he was no kingpin or mastermind of the guerrilla war and that the insurgency had not been decapitated by his capture.

It is even possible that the attack was deliberately carried out as a response to the capture of al-Hassan. The degree of logistical planning needed to send a suicide car bomb driver into such a group would not have been great. The amount of the explosive in the car might even have been deliberately ramped up to create more casualties. Although the most likely hypothesis remains that the insurgents knew from their excellent intelligence that the recruiting gathering for the Iraqi police was going to take place well in advance and that they would have hit it anyway.

The devastating success of Sunday’s attacks teaches several grim lessons that U.S. military intelligence in the field already understands all too well, but that their political masters continue to adamantly close their eyes and ears to.

The first is that the revolt remains a truly formidable one. Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, the director of the Iraqi intelligence services, has estimated 200,000 rebels in action against them of whom they characterize 40,000 as hard-core. This is not just the handful of old Saddam Baathist loyalists and foreign al-Qaida villains who can be hunted down and rooted out as neo-conservative myth still insists. It represents, rather, a continuing popular insurgency with widespread backing in the Sunni community, and the ability to carry out devastating attacks in the Shiite and Kurdish heartlands of Iraq as well. ~Martin Sieff, UPI