In part because I've been posting relentlessly gloomy political dispatches pre-emptive capituation to sharia in Britain, heroic human-rights activist under death sentence, messianic dictator plans to kill all the Jews again but mainly because it's important, and the mainstream media aren't doing it, here's a brief and digestible rundown of how great things are (finally) going in Iraq recently.
Stability, Security, and an End to Violence
In the 4 months following the beginning of the "surge" and change of commander and tactics in Iraq, enemy attacks fell every month for 4 straight months, and Iraqi civilian casualties fell by 2/3.
Between November 2006 and the end of 2007, the number of attacks against citizens in Baghdad has dropped by almost 80 percent. Murders in the province have decreased by 90 percent. The number of vehicle-borne IED incidents has declined by 70 percent. Sectarian violence is down over 90 percent.
In northwestern Baghdad, murders are down from a peak of over 161 reported murders per week a year ago to less than 5 per week now.
The Iranian-backed Shia Arab Mahdi army wisely called a 6-month ceasefire as the surge troops advanced and at the end of that period renewed it. It now looks permanent.
In the last year, 90,000 Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, have signed up as "Concerned Local Citizens" to protect their neighbourhoods, and deny al Qaeda control of them and 100,000 Iraqis have joined the police or the army. Iraqi security forces are taking the lead in operations, and American casualties are near all-time lows.
Anbar Province, the scene of the heaviest fighting from 2003 to 2007, has become so quiet that U.S. Marines are complaining of boredom and their inability to earn combat action ribbons.
Reconstruction and the Improvement of Life
Iraqis are leading more normal lives, with commerce beginning to flourish and reconstruction efforts moving forward. The U.S. has doubled the number of provincial reconstruction teams across Iraq's 18 provinces.
In the Dora district of western Baghdad, shops and schools are open, people are in the streets, and trash is being picked up. Even the concrete walls, potentially an eyesore, have been prettified with well-executed murals and trees planted alongside them. Housing prices are on the rise.
Iraq's Saddam-era debt has been significantly reduced and the economy is growing by 5-6% annually, buoyed by oil receipts. Thousands of Iraqi exiles are returning. Iraq's relations with its neighbours are improving.
The dramatic security improvements have as intended created an environment in which Iraqi political leaders can reconcile. Four critical pieces of federal legislation were passed last month:
- A provincial powers law that turned Iraq into arguably the most federal state in the entire Arab world.
- Partial amnesty for prisoners, 80 percent of whom are Sunni.
- De-Bathification law.
- $48 billion national budget that allocates government revenues about 85 percent of which are from oil to the provinces. Kurdistan, for example, gets one sixth.
More importantly, at the local level, Iraqis have banded together to protect their neighborhoods and start the process of truly rebuilding Iraq. Markets are flourishing, shops have reopened, and in former al-Qaeda strongholds, girls are going back to school.
Military Defeat and Ideological Discrediting of al Qaeda
At least 3,600 members of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia were killed or captured in the first four months of the surge alone. This put bin Laden in the wonderfully abysmal position of having to decide whether to send more of his dwindling troops to be cut down in Iraq, or to cede what he had publicly declared to be the decisive front in his war with the infidels.
Sickened by the ruthless and violent tactics of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) who made a point of slaughtering moderate Muslims, Shiites, and anyone else who worked toward reconstruction insurgents, local leaders, and ordinary Iraqi citizens switched allegiances, and now actively support U.S. forces to rid their areas of AQI.
The so-called Anbar Awakening has now spread to other Sunni areas and Baghdad. As noted above, there are 90,000 neighborhood volunteers ordinary citizens who act as auxiliary police and vital informants on terror activity starkly symbolizing the insurgency’s loss of popular support.
Captured letters of al-Qaeda leaders reveal despair as they are driven mostly by Iraqi Sunnis, their own Arab co-religionists to flight and into hiding.
A 39-page letter seized during a US raid on an al-Qaeda base near Samarra in November has a local al-Qaeda leader reporting his group faces an "extraordinary crisis". He says last year's mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military "created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight".
A second captured document has another al-Qaeda honcho reporting that his force of 600 shrank to fewer than 20. "We found ourselves in a circle not being able to move, organise or conduct our operations." The loss of Anbar province "created weakness and psychological defeat. The morale of the fighters went down . . . There was a total collapse in the security structure of the organisation." He complained that the supply of foreign fighters had dwindled and that they found it increasingly hard to operate inside Iraq because they could not blend in. Most of his fighters "betrayed us and joined al-Sahwah [the Awakening]".
The stark contrast between American soldiers, and al-Qaeda operatives, has been the key to the turn-around. Despite the well-publicized exceptions, U.S. forces have operated with an unparalleled degree of restraint, mercy, and professionalism. They have consistently professed their desire to help Iraqis rebuild and create stability, in order to turn areas over to local leaders and local security forces. Iraqis have recognised this. The judgment and compassion of the soldiers on the ground, their essential humanity, is turning out to be the most decisive factor in Iraq.
Iraq was supposed to be the place where Arab Muslims rallied with al Qaeda to drive America out of the heart of the Caliphate instead, Arab Muslims have rallied with America to drive al Qaeda out. As such, this is the world's first large-scale uprising against Osama bin Laden and represents an almost indescribably huge strategic victory in the war against terror and Islamist extremism.
And the larger gains of creating a beachhead of pluralistic, consensual, tolerant democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East as I argued elsewhere have yet to be fully realised. I look forward to reporting back in another five years time.