Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reasons for cautious optimism in Iraq?

I'm guessing I'm not the only American who has learned a lot about Iraq's geography and demography in the last six years. This article indicates that in the North of the country violence is on the decline, which gives me some hope that all of our blood and treasure spent on this war hasn't been a total and utter tragedy.
After four years of war, perhaps more than 650,000 Iraqi dead, it has finally come to a single question of accounting: which of the two Iraqs is winning, the Iraq of death or an Iraq that looks to peace?

It is a false dichotomy. For the two Iraqs - for now at least - are co-existent. It is a dangerous one too.

For the expectation that America may be crumbling over Iraq - and may leave soon - has acted as an accelerant where the violence is worst, leading General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, to warn that in the worst areas the summer may see a mini-Tet offensive designed to push US politics over the brink.

In practical terms there is a gulf between the politics in Washington and the views of the generals on the ground. For while the Democrats are pushing for rapid withdrawal that would see most US troops out by April next year, the commander of the forces in the country's north, General Benjamin Mixon, has made clear that it would take 18 months to safely reduce just half of his forces. However, he believes Nineveh could be handed over by this autumn.

In his office in the northern city of Mosul, Mixon's deputy, General Frank Wiercinski, is convinced that, in his divisional area at least - if not in Baghdad - a long sought-for stabilisation is finally occurring. 'There is a line I think that separates the areas that are becoming more secure from those where there is still heavy fighting. And I think that line is moving slowly south now through Diyala.'

'In my personal opinion it is not the time to pull out. We are at the apex. The war out there that is going on is with Iraqis in the lead and I don't feel we can just say: "See you!"'

And while in Iraq it has usually been the best policy to deal with officials with a strong dose of scepticism following the years of pronouncements of victory around the corner, for now at least there appears to be corroborating evidence that in the north [of Iraq], the war may be drawing, ever so slowly, towards some kind of close.

In Mosul, which once hosted 21,000 US soldiers in the city, now only a single battalion, in the mid-hundreds, remains inside the city, matched by an equivalent drop in attacks. And it is not only in Mosul that security is improving. The sense that things are getting better is reflected in Nineveh Province. In two years US troop levels around Tal Afar, once the heartland of al-Qaeda, have been reduced from 6,000 to 1,200.

|Violence ebbing. Wealth returning. Can this be Iraq? - Guardian|


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