Friday, January 18, 2008

Baghdad Now 75 Percent Secure

This morning's USA Today reports on U.S. military data showing Baghdad to be 75 percent secured (via Memeorandum):

About 75% of Baghdad's neighborhoods are now secure, a dramatic increase from 8% a year ago when President Bush ordered more troops to the capital, U.S. military figures show.

The military classifies 356 of Baghdad's 474 neighborhoods in the "control" or "retain" category of its four-tier security rating system, meaning enemy activity in those areas has been mostly eliminated and normal economic activity is resuming.

The data given by the military to USA TODAY provide one of the clearest snapshots yet of how security has improved in Baghdad since roughly 30,000 additional American troops arrived in Iraq last year.

U.S. commanders caution that the gains are still fragile, but at the moment U.S. and Iraqi forces "basically own the streets," said Col. Ricky Gibbs, a brigade commander in southern Baghdad.

The fight to control Baghdad is the centerpiece of the counterinsurgency strategy launched a year ago by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The plan, popularly known as the "surge," seeks to reduce sectarian and other violence by moving troops off large bases and into dangerous neighborhoods to protect civilians.

The 310 neighborhoods in the "control" category are secure, but depend on U.S. and Iraqi military forces to maintain the peace. The 46 areas in the "retain" category have reached a level where Iraqi police and security forces can maintain order, a more permanent fix. The remaining areas have fewer security forces based there, though they are not necessarily violent.

Continued security improvements in Iraq mean the war will tend to push the war to the backburner in 2008, while at the same time making the Democrats even more vulnerable on national security.

War opponents will continue to hammer that there's been no Iraqi political reconcilation - "this is an endless war" they'll decry.

Not true. Check out Pete Hegseth's commentary from earlier this week:

For anyone who truly understands the stakes in Iraq, the achievement of national “political benchmarks” has never been an effective metric of success. Sure, Iraqis passing laws at the national level is important, but not more important than neighborhood-level security and grassroots political progress.

I learned this the hard way in Samarra, Iraq. Absent strong local security forces and fair, representative government at the neighborhood level, local populations never felt “more secure,” no matter how much useless (or useful) legislation was passed at the national level. Iraqis need to see a better life in their neighborhood, not hear more promises from Baghdad.

And for the past six months — because of General Petraeus’s new counter-insurgency strategy and the courage of 165,000 Americans — Iraqis have seen hope (one might even say “audacious hope”), and they have responded. Bolstered by American commitment, and weary of al-Qaeda brutality, the Iraqi people — Sunni and Shia together in many areas — have started cooperating at the local level.

As a result, violence continues to plummet, with attacks throughout Iraq down 60 percent since June and civilian deaths down 75 percent from a year ago. Iraqis are returning home by the tens of thousands. The incoming flow of foreign fighters have been cut in half. And despite a “surge” of troops, American combat deaths are near all-time monthly lows in Iraq. This is all wonderful news.

All the while, the Defeat-o-cratic leadership in Congress (Reid, Pelosi, & co.) and the Defeat-o-cratic presidential candidates have done everything they can to deny — obvious — progress....

So, with their “defeat in Iraq” talking points in shambles (what happened to the “religious civil war with no end in sight” talking point?), this weekend’s news was a deathblow to defeatists. The Iraq parliament passed national de-Baathification legislation, and the New York Times printed it on the front page, which means it must be important, right?

For months the only argument the antiwar crowd could cling to was: “The surge has not brought about the national-level political progress it was intended to induce.” Ergo: We lose, bring ‘em home. While this argument requires a “willing suspension of disbelief” in light of recent improvements in Iraq, it was “technically” true.

No more.

The Iraqi parliament, flaws and all, came together — Sunni, Shia, and Kurd — to craft a law that relaxes restrictions on the right of former-members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to fill government posts. The law will reinstate thousands of Baathists in government jobs from which they had been dismissed shortly after the war.

In short, less than five years after the fall of a genocidal Sunni dictator — who killed thousands of Shiites and Kurds — a democratically elected Shia government granted de-facto “amnesty” to former Baathist co-conspirators. Kind of makes our domestic illegal-immigration “amnesty” debate look silly, doesn’t it?

We should expect more progress in Iraq, although results will be mixed and the streets will not be quiet soon. But this groundbreaking settlement is a testament to the potential for political reconciliation, provided the security environment is stable enough to allow politicians to peek out from behind their sectarian divisions.

The Washington Post is cautiously optimistic on Iraq's reconciliation. But the eidtors agree: Things are moving forward, and the situation is a world away from the chaos of just over a year ago.

It's no wonder the economy's become the new hot button issue in the election. Improvement in Iraq will decrease demands for immediate withdrawal, and the Democrats will turn to demonizing the Bush administration for the collapse of the domestic welfare.

The national security issue never goes away, of course, and rightfully so.

Despite Captain Ed's comments to the contrary, the Democrats have a very well developed direction for the U.S. in international affairs: abandon Iraq, cut defense, and weaken U.S. sovereignty through greater multilateralism in U.N.-backed international agreements.