Two Iraq-related developments – one micro and one macro — are worth noting. The first is written about here. According to AFP,
[t]he US military is to hand over security control of the former Sunni insurgent bastion of Anbar province to Iraqi forces in the next 10 days, a US military spokesman announced on Monday . . . Anbar would be the tenth of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be handed back to Iraqi forces by the US-led coalition amid a push to transfer security control of the entire country back to Baghdad. Anbar province in western Iraq, the country’s largest, was the epicentre of a brutal Sunni Arab-led fight against the US military after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. In the early years of the insurgency, US forces fought raging battles in the province, especially in the capital Ramadi and the nearby city of Fallujah.
This is a development of enormous significance. Anbar, after all, was once the heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency and the most dangerous province for U.S. forces. In November 2004, 137 U.S. troops were killed in combat in Anbar, when the assault on Fallujah was launched. Anbar was a province thought to be lost to al Qaeda. Today, it is a province of (relative) stability and the birthplace of the Sunni rebellion against al Qaeda, which is having radiating effects throughout the Muslim world.
The second development is the Department of Defense’s quarterly assessment to Congress, “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq.” According to the so-called 9010 Report (named after the relevant section of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2007):
The security environment in Iraq continues to improve, with all major violence indicators reduced between 40 to 80% from pre-surge levels. Total security incidents have fallen to their lowest level in over four years. Coalition and Iraqi forces’ operations against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) have degraded its ability to attack and terrorize the population. Although AQI remains a major threat and is still capable of high-profile attacks, the lack of violence linked to AQI in recent weeks demonstrates the effect these operations have had on its network.
Equally important, the government’s success in Basrah and Baghdad’s Sadr City against militias, particularly Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) and the Iranian-supported Special Groups, has reinforced a greater public rejection of militias. This rejection, while still developing, is potentially as significant for Iraq as the Sunni rejection of AQI’s indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology. Overall, the communal struggle for power and resources is becoming less violent. Many Iraqis are now settling their differences through debate and the political process rather than open conflict. Other factors that have contributed to a reduction in violence include the revitalization of sectors of the Iraqi economy and local reconciliation measures.
Although the number of civilian deaths in April 2008 increased slightly from February and March 2008, in May 2008 civilian deaths declined to levels not seen since January 2006, when the Coalition began tracking this data. Both Iraqi and Coalition forces reported that civilian deaths are 75% lower than July 2007 levels and 82% lower than the peak number of monthly deaths that occurred in November of 2006 at the height of sectarian violence. Periodic high-profile car and suicide vest bombings continued throughout the period and were largely responsible for the increased civilian deaths in April 2008. However, the trends of decreasing violence suggest the failure of these high-profile attacks to rekindle the self-reinforcing cycle of ethno-sectarian violence that began in 2006.
The emergence of Sons of Iraq (SoIs) to help secure local communities has been one of the most significant developments in the past 18 months in Iraq. These volunteers help protect their neighborhoods, secure key infrastructure and roads and locate extremists among the population. What began primarily as a Sunni effort, now appears to have taken hold in several Shi’a and mixed communities. Today there are 103,000 SoIs contributing to local security in partnership with Coalition and Iraqi forces…
The Iraqi economy grew 4% in real terms in 2007 and is projected to grow 7% in real terms for 2008, reaching an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of $60.9 billion. Oil production increases of 9-10% this year-coupled with the higher prices of oil-should drive growth in that sector and support increased government spending. The non-oil sector is likely to grow at 3%. Core inflation fell to 12% in 2007 compared to 32% in 2006…
These developments confirm the judgment of David Brooks in his New York Times column today: President Bush was right in his decision to move ahead with the so-called surge, and we are seeing the fruits of that decision in the security, economic, and political arenas.
What remains worrisome is the reaction of leading Democrats. Two years ago they were arguing that we should leave Iraq because the war was lost; now they are saying we should leave Iraq because the war is won.
The more subtle reality is that enormous progress has been made but, in the words of the 9010 report, our achievements remain fragile, reversible, and uneven. To withdraw precipitously from Iraq now, in light of the gains that have been made, would be self-defeating. After far too long a delay, we now have in place the right strategy in Iraq, with the results to prove it. What matters now is whether our war-weary nation and its political leadership can summon the will to see this endeavor through to completion, and to success.