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Iraq on the Mend

USA Today, to its credit, carried a front page story, “Iraq combat deaths at 6-year low.” According to the article:

U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have flattened at the lowest level since the war began six years ago Thursday, and the Navy has not lost a member to combat in more than a year. Three Marines have been killed in combat since August, and none since December, records show. The Air Force hasn’t had a combat death since April, and the Navy since February 2008. In some weeks, casualty figures for Iraq show, the number of non-combat deaths for U.S. troops topped those killed in fighting.

Among other data points:

• In January and February, 15 U.S. servicemembers were killed in hostile action. That compares with 60 for the same period in 2008 and 149 in 2007.

• Lower combat deaths match the overall drop in violence levels throughout Iraq. In February, there were 340 attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — the top threat to U.S. troops — the lowest number since October 2004.

• All attacks against coalition forces, including gunfire, mortars and roadside bombs, have dropped 90 percent since early 2007.

• In Baghdad, insurgent attacks have declined from 243 in February 2008 to 67 last month. This month, there have been 43 attacks, compared with 740 last March.

• In northern Iraq, where insurgents have some of their last sanctuaries, attacks have dropped by 70 percent since September 2007 to December 2008.

These extraordinary figures are part of an extraordinary American achievement. A war that the entire Democratic Party (with some honorable exceptions like Joe Lieberman, Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon), almost the entire foreign policy establishment, and most commentators were ready to give up on has been turned around. A nation on the brink of civil war is on the mend. A West Point graduate who became our commanding general during the height of violence has etched his name among the greatest military leaders in our history. And a president now retired in Texas can take sober satisfaction in changing a military strategy that will rank among the most consequential we have ever witnessed, in the face of tremendous opposition.

Iraq ceased to be a popular war long ago. But the American military continued to do its duty, with tremendous valor and skill. So, in fact, did many brave Iraqis. This journey has been longer and harder than we had hoped, and the future of Iraq remains uncertain. But it is light years more hopeful than before. Iraqis now have a peaceful, self-governing nation, if they can keep it. And despite the cost, one can now argue that American interests will have been served in a war that critics once called the worst foreign policy mistake in our history. Thankfully, blessedly, they were as wrong as wrong can be.


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