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Reconciliation?

According to Reuters,

Reconciliation between Iraq’s divided communities is gaining momentum at a national level, especially in parliament where lawmakers are working “intensively”, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said on Thursday. But Ryan Crocker said he was not about to predict that the dark days of 2006 and early 2007, when the country teetered on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war, were over. “Intense bitterness remains and there are a lot of challenges that are going to have to be carefully … managed to ensure there is no return because to be frank, all of the good things that have been accomplished during this past year could be reversed,” Crocker said in an interview with Reuters. He said much had been made possible on national reconciliation in the past few months by sharp plunges in violence… Iraq’s parliament — frequently chastised by U.S. officials and lawmakers last year for inaction — approved a landmark bill this month that allows former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to rejoin the government and the military… Asked if he was seeing a certain degree of momentum on national reconciliation, Crocker said: “I do. And with violence down, things previously impossible become possible…” Crocker said he was “hearing a new tone” on provincial elections, adding all parties wanted to hold them this year, an event he said could be “hugely important” in stabilising Iraq.

On the security side, we recently learned from Lt. General Raymond Odierno that ethno-sectarian attacks/deaths in Baghdad security districts decreased more than 90 percent from January to December 2007. Monthly attack levels in Iraq have decreased 60 percent since June 2007 and are now at the same levels as early 2005 and some points in 2004. Coalition forces also found and cleared more than 6,900 weapons caches in 2007, well over twice the amount (2,662) cleared in 2006. Iraq’s Security Forces grew by more than 106,000 personnel in 2007 and now stand at over 567,000. According to Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, “By year’s end, some 140 battalions of Army, police, national police, and special operations units were in the fight. About 122 of those 140 battalions are capable of taking the lead in conducting operations.” It’s worth noting, too, that our military estimates that more than 90 percent of suicide bombers in Iraq are foreign terrorists.

All of this progress needs to be set in context. Earlier this week General David Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, told NBC, “We think we won’t know that we’ve reached a turning point until we’re six months past it,” Petraeus said. “We have repeatedly said that there [are] no lights at the end of the tunnel that we’re seeing.”

General Petraeus is surely correct in counseling caution. When he returned to Iraq in 2006, he remarked that it was the most challenging situation he faced in more than 30 years in the military. Iraq remains, even now, a fragile and fractured nation. Nevertheless, the precipitous drop in ethno-sectarian attacks/deaths in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital and the second-largest city in the Arab world (after Cairo), is a staggering achievement. And the reconciliation effort, which started from the ground up, seems to be expanding to the central government.

This doesn’t mean the war has been won. As Ambassador Crocker points out, gains that have been made can be reversed – and if we withdraw our troops too quickly, Iraq would begin cracking apart. But what is unfolding in Iraq demonstrates that progress is continuing to be made on almost every front. We now have in place the right strategy and the right man to oversee it. What once seemed impossible – a decent outcome in Iraq – is now within reach.