The New York Times acknowledges that violence in Iraq has dropped precipitously, now reaching the same level as before the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarrah that kicked off massive internecine conflict in Iraq:
The data released Sunday cover attacks using car bombs, roadside bombs, mines, mortars, rockets, surface-to-air missiles and small arms. According to the statistics, roughly 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.
American officials said other measures indicated that civilian deaths had dropped. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for the command, said civilian deaths had dropped by 60 percent since June.
Military analysts said a number of factors explained the drop. They say, for example, that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a predominantly Iraqi insurgent group with foreign leadership, has been greatly weakened by American military attacks.
Thousands of new Sunni volunteers have made common cause with the Americans. About 72,000 such civilians have joined the effort, American officials said, and 45,000 each receive a $300 a month stipend from the Americans to help with the effort.
Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric, has ordered his militiamen to stand down. American military officials also say that Iran appears to be abiding by a commitment to reduce the flow of roadside bombs and other weapons into Iraq. Beyond that, many Iraqis appear to be exhausted by the sectarian violence and eager for a modicum of stability.
In essence, our nearly year-long process of changing our counterinsurgency strategy is paying off. The “surge” wasn’t just about increasing troop numbers, but about a major change of strategy away from protecting our own forces and towards protecting Iraqi civilians. At the same time al-Qaeda in Iraq’s sheer barbarity was alienating the Iraqis, the US was changing strategy to work better with the Iraqi people. The confluence of those two events is key to understanding why violence is down. Iraq’s Sunni population had finally had enough, and we were there to support them in their grass-roots effort to destroy al-Qaeda.
The majority of the credit does need to go to the Iraqis. In order for Iraq to be secure, the Iraqis need to stand up and fight against terrorism. That is precisely what Iraqi Sunnis have been doing—and as the murder of Sheikh Abu Sattar al-Risha demonstrates, their bravery comes at a cost. Even the Iranians are realizing that the costs of their proxy war against the US are too great. They’ve stopped their shipments of weapons to terrorists in Iraq and they’ve put Moqtada al-Sadr back on his leash.
Of course, anything could change in Iraq, but the signs of progress have become unavoidable. Violence is down, al-Qaeda in Iraq is severely disrupted, and life is returning to normal in many parts of the country.
Those who have protested this war have now painted themselves into a rhetorical corner. By arguing that Iraq is an unwinnable morass and the biggest foreign policy blunder in US history, any sign of progress undercuts their argument. Yet despite all the negative hyperbole, the situation in Iraq is undoubtedly getting better, and all the resources spent by al-Qaeda in training and equipping fighters in Iraq has diminished their resources and left them with nothing. Instead of radicalizing Iraqi Sunnis, the last few months have seen Iraqi Sunnis soundly rejecting al-Qaeda and embracing a course of democratic peace.
There remains much left to be done, but should these trends continue, the drawdown of forces scheduled for the next few months shouldn’t leave the kind of security vacuum that caused problems in the past. The Iraqis have rejected terrorism and embraced a peace, albeit an uneasy one. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will always be a matter of two steps forward followed by one and a half steps back, but Iraq is democratizing, if in baby steps. Far from a disaster, the war in Iraq may end up being the turning point in which radical Islamic terrorist suffered its first major defeat in its own back yard.