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Big News from Baghdad

ABC News’ Clarissa Ward reports that:

If you’re looking for one measure of the impact of last year’s troop surge in Iraq, look at Gen. David Petraeus as he walks through a Baghdad neighborhood, with no body armor, and no helmet. It’s been one year since the beginning of what’s known here as Operation Fardh Al Qadnoon. According to the U.S. military, violence is down 60 percent. One key to the success is reconciliation.

“A big part of the effort, over the last year, has been to determine who is reconcilable, who, literally, is willing to put down his rifle and talk, who is willing to shout, instead of shoot.” Petraeus said. I spent the day with Petraeus, touring Jihad, a predominantly Shiite area in western Baghdad. This place was formerly ravaged by sectarian violence, and militiamen wreaked havoc on the streets. In the last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into the neighborhood, set up joint security stations, earned the trust of local people, and found those men willing to put down their guns and work with them. The results of the last year can be seen on the streets. A soccer team practices on the local pitch. The stalls in the market buzz with customers. I stop to talk to local residents, and ask if they feel a difference. Overwhelmingly, the answer is a resounding yes. “The situation in Jihad is certainly better than before,” a mechanic named Ali said. “Work is constant, shops are reopening, and people are coming back to their homes.” Notwithstanding significant progress, much work clearly remains. The Iraqi government has yet to capitalize on the relative peace and improve the local infrastructure. Sewage and trash fester in the streets. “We have very little electricity,” Ali said. The hope is, that with the passing of a budget this week, that will change. “That unlocks a substantial amount of money for the ministries of Iraq, so that they can start going about the jobs that are so essential, like patching roads that we bounced down today; over long term, improving electricity, fixing water systems, sewer systems,” Petraeus said. Normally very guarded in his assessments of the surge, Petraeus now expresses cautious optimism.

“I have to tell you that, having been here for a number of years, this is very encouraging, actually. I mean, this is, this is potentially a big moment.” he said.

A potentially big moment indeed. We are now seeing extraordinary security gains from the last year translate into both political reconciliation and legislative progress. Within the last week the Iraqi parliament passed key laws having to do with provincial elections (the law devolves power to the local level in a decentralization system that is groundbreaking for the region), the distribution of resources, and amnesty. And those laws follow ones passed in recent months having to do with pensions, investment, and de-Ba’athification.

American Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard that “the whole motivating factor” beyond the legislation was “reconciliation, not retribution.” This is “remarkably different” from six months ago, according to the widely respected, straight-talking Crocker.

Progress in Iraq means life is getting progressively more difficult for Democrats and their two presidential front-runners, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Having strongly opposed the surge, Obama and Clinton have been forced by events to concede that security progress has been made. But until now they have insisted that the surge is a failure because we’re not seeing political progress. That claim is now being shattered.

Soon Obama and Clinton will have no argument left to justify their position on Iraq. It will become increasingly clear that they are committed to leaving Iraq simply because they are committed to leaving Iraq, regardless of the awful consequences that would follow. It is an amazing thing to witness: two leading presidential candidates who are committed to engineering an American retreat, which would lead to an American defeat, despite the progress we are making on every conceivable front.

At the end of the day, this position will hurt Democrats badly, because their position will hurt America badly.



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