During the last week there have been three noteworthy news stories regarding Iraq and what is unfolding there. There is this from yesterday’s Associated Press:
The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 36 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it’s too early to declare a long-term trend . . . At least 36 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a quarter from non-combat causes . . . It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004. . . . [Maj. Winfield Danielson, a military spokesman in Baghdad], welcomed the lower numbers but stressed it was too early to say it was a downward trend. “Have we turned a corner? It might be a little too early to say that,” he said. “It’s certainly encouraging.”
And this from Sunday’s Washington Post:
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said on Saturday that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is disrupted and no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood of the capital. “In general, we think that there are no al-Qaeda strongholds at this point,” Petraeus said. He added: “They remain very lethal, very dangerous, capable at any point in time, if you will, of coming back off the canvas and landing a big punch, and we have to be aware of that.”
And this from the AP last week:
October is on course to record the second consecutive decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths and Americans commanders say they know why: the U.S. troop increase and an Iraqi groundswell against al-Qaida and Shiite militia extremists. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch points to what the military calls “Concerned Citizens”—both Shiites and Sunnis who have joined the American fight. He says he’s signed up 20,000 of them in the past four months. “I’ve never been more optimistic than I am right now with the progress we’ve made in Iraq. The only people who are going to win this counterinsurgency project are the people of Iraq. We’ve said that all along. And now they’re coming forward in masses,” Lynch said in a recent interview.
This is additional evidence that the security situation in Iraq has made remarkable strides this year. Security is not the only metric of success—but it is vital. Nothing good could possibly happen in Iraq until we restored some measure of calm and order there. That is being done, in large measure because al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is absorbing devastating blows.
They, rather than we, look to be the “weak horse” right now.
The fact that AQI no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood in Baghdad is accepted in many quarters as almost commonplace (the story appeared on page A17 of the Washington Post). Yet this development is in reality staggering, especially if you consider where we were in December 2006, an awful month that was the capstone of an awful year. That this achievement occurred in only ten months ranks among the more impressive military operations we have ever seen. Even those who strongly supported the surge could not have imagined that it would do so much, so fast.
General Petraeus’ qualifications on the progress we’ve made are wise. We need to be vigilant and purposeful, since the task before us is still enormously difficult. Iraq remains a fragile, traumatized land, with between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqis still fleeing their homes each day. The lives of Iraqis are still filled with daily hardships. The ethnic divisions remain real and deep. And the Iraqis must take greater responsibility for rebuilding and uniting their society. But we can now say, with some certainty, that the surge, rather than a failure (as Majority Leader Harry Reid recklessly declared months ago), has been hugely successful, and other good things (including efforts at ethnic reconciliation) are coming to pass.
The facts on the ground have changed dramatically in Iraq. What is notable is that many in the political class, weary of the war (and in some instances ideologically opposed to it), remain wedded to the old narrative. They have decided Iraq is a lost cause, regardless of evidence to the contrary (last night’s Democratic debate merely highlights this disposition). But a new narrative, with all the appropriate caveats, will eventually take hold. And those who declared Iraq as hopeless and therefore worth handing over to the enemies of civilization will be forced by developments to reconsider their judgment.