The New York Times reports that US forces have "routed" al-Qaeda in Iraq from the Baghdad region. General David Petraeus' new strategies have pushed them out of "every neighborhood", and that only an eighth of the city remains to purge the other militias from control. The new, aggressive tactics of the Americans and the rise of the Iraqi Army have solidified the victory over the terrorists (via Memeorandum):
American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood of Baghdad, a top American general said today, allowing American troops involved in the “surge” to depart as planned.
Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of United States forces in Baghdad, also said that American troops had yet to clear some 13 percent of the city, including Sadr City and several other areas controlled by Shiite militias. But, he said, “there’s just no question” that violence had declined since a spike in June.
“Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak,” and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said.
General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significant, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”
This puts new challenges on the plate. The remaining issues with Shi'ite militias need to be handled, but the momentum continues to stay on the side of the Coalition. Fil has no problem with the natural drawdown that will occur in Baghdad through normal troop rotation schedules in the next few months, confident that Iraqis have turned the corner themselves and want an end to violence in the streets. However, they want immediate improvements in infrastructure and rebuilding, and Fil says that the Coalition will need a new "surge" in these areas to solidify their gains.
We need to concentrate on electricity, water, and sewage systems. People do not like living in the dark, with standing sewage assaulting their nostrils and threatening their health on a constant basis. Now that the violence has mostly disappeared, declining by 80%, we should have more opportunities to boost our standing by providing solutions to these chronic problems, raising the standard of living in Baghdad and allowing its residents to put their efforts into their economy rather than protesting, or worse.
Security, Fil reminded his attendees, represents the beginning and not the end. Perhaps Churchill's words make the most sense here. "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end," Churchill remarked in 1942, after the battle of El Alamein. "But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Given the central place Iraq has in the war on terror, it is a battle to show that free, self-governed people can prosper and flourish without radicalism. In that sense, Baghdad has only reached the end of the beginning, and perhaps not even quite that. But it is welcome news indeed that it has been rid of AQI and that the Shi'ite militias have retreated.