News reports indicate that weekly attack levels in Iraq are down to their lowest level since before the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. As this New York Times account notes,
[R]oughly 575 attacks occurred last week. That is substantially fewer than the more than 700 attacks that were recorded the week that Sunni militants set off a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq by blowing up a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006. And it represents a huge drop since June when attacks soared to nearly 1,600 one week.
Actually the news is even better than that. Colonel Steve Boylan, General David Petraeus’s public affairs officer, has released a PowerPoint slide that shows that, seen in the long run, January 2006 was a bit of an anomaly—a month when attacks levels dipped. The last time that attack levels were as consistently low as they are today was back in the first half of 2005. The PowerPoint slide below is a bit dense, but it’s worth studying because it shows how far we’ve come since the “surge” started earlier this year.
Rod Norland of Newsweek offers an account of what this drop in violence means on the ground in this dispatch, aptly titled “Baghdad Comes Alive.” He writes:
Throughout Baghdad, shops and street markets are open late again, taking advantage of the fine November weather. Parks are crowded with strollers, and kids play soccer on the streets. Traffic has resumed its customary epic snarl. The Baghdad Zoo is open, and caretakers have even managed to bring in two lionesses to replace the menagerie that escaped in the early days of the war (and was hunted down by U.S. soldiers). The nearby Funfair in Zawra Park—where insurgents used to set up mortar tubes to rocket government ministries, and where a car bombing killed four and wounded 25 on Oct. 15—is back in business.
The biggest concern expressed by American officers is over whether the security progress made so far can be sustained at a political level. The answer is unknowable, but there are some positive indicators in this Los Angeles Times story. It describes how Shiites and Sunnis increasingly are working together in community-watch groups to fight terrorists.
The article notes that there are “nearly 70,000 Iraqi men in the Awakening movement, started by Sunni Muslim sheiks who turned their followers against al Qaeda in Iraq,” and “there are now more in Baghdad and its environs than anywhere else, and a growing number of those are Shiite Muslim. . . . As late as this summer, there were no Shiites in the community policing groups. Today, there are about 15,000 in 24 all-Shiite groups and eighteen mixed groups, senior U.S. military officials say. More are joining daily.”
Such cooperation across sectarian lines suggests that the drop in violence seen in recent months may not be a statistical blip but an indication of more enduring progress.