I swear my heart skipped a beat when I saw this.  The tentative smile of a seemingly typical 11-year-old boy — he could have been any boy in American suburbia, stopping briefly for the perfunctory photo-op in his soccer gear and trophy. But this was not normal — the caption underneath goes on to explain that Moshim was beheaded because his father couldn’t come up with the $100,000 ransom demanded by his kidnappers. His last words to his father, “Daddy, give them the money. They are beating me.”

This is Iraq, September 2009. As The Associated Press reported last night, criminal elements, typically former insurgents, are taking the cities hostage once again, physically and emotionally. They are targeting children, the most vulnerable, as the photos of the missing now paper the landscape’s already bomb-blasted walls.

As the worst of the country’s sectarian bloodshed ebbs, Iraqis now face a new threat to getting on with their lives: a frenzy of violent crime.

Many of those involved are believed to be battle-experienced former insurgents unable to find legitimate work. They often bring the same brutality to their crimes that they showed in the fighting that nearly pushed the country into a Sunni-Shiite civil war in 2006 and 2007.

The result has been a wave of thefts and armed robberies, hitting homes, cars, jewelry stores, currency exchanges, pawn shops and banks.

Kidnapping, too, remains terrifyingly common, as it was during the peak of the insurgency. Now, however, the targets are increasingly children, and the kidnappers, rather than having sectarian motives, are seeking ransoms.

In southern Baghdad’s Saydiyah neighborhood, photos of missing children are pasted on electricity poles and the concrete blast walls that enclose many areas of the bomb-battered capital.

Surfing the online analyses of  Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ultimatum to President Obama, which in essence is, “give me more troops or we will fail in Afghanistan,” I see that the response falls into two camps: those who do not think the ultimatum is particularly helpful, and those who commend the good general for laying it on the line. Those in the latter no doubt include neoconservative consultants to McChrystal, like Ms. Kimberly Kagan and husband Fred Kagan, who have been pushing for a Iraq-style “surge” of more troops into Afghanistan for a almost year now.

Kagan, author of “The Surge: A Military History” has often lobbed hubris-filled dismissives at writers who dared to question the Surge she and her husband helped to orchestrate on the policy side for the Bush Administration in 2006. To her mind, she has already been vindicated, leaving no doubt that the same “strategy” should be applied in Afghanistan. Because, as she, husband Kagan and fellow war hawk Max Boot pointed out last March, major cities like Kabul and Jalalabad “are relatively safe and flourishing,” and “there is no question that we can succeed against these much weaker foes.”

This struggle is not just about Afghanistan. It is also about tracking and effecting what is going on in Pakistan’s tribal areas. That is where the global Qaeda leadership is…

From their positions across the border in Afghanistan, American forces can literally see these areas. They can also gather invaluable intelligence from, and spread our influence to, the tribes that straddle the frontier. But we get that vantage point only as long as we have something to offer the Afghans — security, improved quality of life, hope for a better government.

To them, it’s crystal clear. It was then, when the three made those statements in The New York Times, and now, as the Obama Administration stands on the precipice of a quagmire.

In 2007, Kimberly Kagan blasted reporters who had traveled to Iraq to get a sense of the Surge. Kagan was not surprisingly proprietary, and took special umbrage at Washington Post writer Sadarsan Raghavan, who called the city of Dora a “Potemkin Village” staged to make scribes warm up to the magic of the Surge. It was a “new low” in the day’s reporting, Kagan charged. Any clear-thinking reporter with enough sense would see how successful the nine battalions that came to Dora to “clear, hold and build” really were in making it “a symbol of the success that is possible when we persevere in the right approach in Iraq.”

Today, Dora, like many of Iraq’s population centers, is feeling the backhand of a government that is riddled with corruption, a dysfunctional political system and worst of all, a culture that is too degraded to defend herself.

In August, two gunmen in their 20s broke into a neighbor’s house in Baghdad’s southern Dora district, beheading a father and his 1-year-old daughter and severely injuring her mother and another child. They stole 5 million Iraqi dinars, or about $4,300, and some jewelry.

They were arrested the next day. One of them was a former soldier who left the Iraqi army seven months ago.

This isn’t the first such analysis to come out of Iraq (like anyone is still paying attention). In fact, this is what The Economist had to say earlier this month:

Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby. His outfit reports that, with American oversight gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw that many had lost limbs and organs.

What seems to be emerging by day is an ugly truth — that the Surge was successful in that it provided a short-term solution, a Band-Aid for the outgoing Bush Administration. A temporary fix heartily embraced by the Obama Administration, which did not want to be responsible for Bush’s War. But President Obama has his own war now, and his first misstep was to allow the architects of the Band-Aid to bully him around while they experimented with Afghanistan.

While it may be painful, Mr. President – and looking at that photo of Moshim certainly is — wouldn’t it be wise to really look back at what its wrought before giving the Surge the green light in Afghanistan, too?