Congressman Brian Baird, D-Wash, was kidding when he said he brought his flak jacket back with him after visiting Iraq a few weeks ago.

Maybe he should have.

Baird, who initially opposed the war and as recently as May voted to set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces, now says President Bush’s military surge is showing signs of working and that current troops levels should be maintained until at least spring.

Baird’s newfound support for the war further exposed the increasingly deep divisions and passions over U.S. policies in Iraq and underscored how Iraq continues to overshadow every other issue as Congress returns from its month long summer recess. . . .

Baird said he hasn’t so much changed his position on Iraq as “adjusted” his thinking after two trips to Iraq in the past four months.

While acknowledging that the Iraq government is “dysfunctional” and the Iraqi people have little confidence in their leaders, Baird said “the (military) situation on the ground is showing signs of improvement.”

Baird said Iraqi, Jordanian and Egyptian leaders warned him in private discussions that the region would descend into chaos if the United States withdrew its forces from Iraq. Baird also said talk of a U.S. pullout has allowed Iraqi leaders to “retrench” and consolidate their power rather than reach out to competing groups and seek a stable common ground..

So much for the theory that talk of U.S. withdrawal would pressure Iraqi politicans to reach a political settlement.