November 21, 2007

Is This What Victory Looks Like?

The momentum has been shifting away from the terrorists in Iraq and towards peace ever since the US demonstrated its commitment to the mission with the surge. Over the last five months, violence has dropped precipitously and normality has begun to return, which even the New York Times noticed yesterday. Some skeptics still insist that the situation only improved because Iraqis left the country in droves.

Guess who's coming back to town? (via AJ Strata)

The figures are hard to estimate precisely but the process could involve hundreds of thousands of people. The numbers are certainly large enough, as we report today, for a mass convoy to be planned next week as Iraqis who had opted for exile in Syria return to their homeland. It is one of the most striking signs that not only has violence in Baghdad and adjacent provinces decreased dramatically in recent months, but confidence in the economic and political future of Iraq has risen sharply. Nor is this movement the action of men and women who could easily reverse course and turn back again. Tighter visa restrictions imposed by Damascus mean that those who are returning to Iraq cannot assume that they could quickly retreat again to Syria if that suited them. This is, for many, a one-way decision. It represents a vote of confidence in Iraq.

The homecoming is not an isolated development. The security situation in Baghdad, while far from totally peaceful, has improved substantially in the past few months, with civilian fatalities falling by three quarters since the early summer. This has been reflected on the streets with markets, clubs and restaurants that had been closed for months, especially at night, now reopening. This good news has not attracted the attention that it should because critics of the conflict in 2003 and its aftermath have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge progress in the country. Yet even observers from publications long hostile to US policy in Iraq, such as The New York Times, are finally conceding that “the violence has diminished significantly since the United States reinforced troop levels in Iraq and adopted a new counter-insurgency strategy”.

The “surge” associated with General David Petraeus is indeed paying extraordinary dividends. The positive effects were seen in Anbar province, which had become a hotbed of Sunni resistance to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and are increasingly seen in the Iraqi capital. It has enabled Sunnis to disassociate themselves decisively from al-Qaeda in Iraq, in effect switching sides, while some of the extreme Shias linked to the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have felt obliged to observe a ceasefire. All these fundamental shifts have allowed Iraqis the chance to rebuild an economy that, particularly with oil at its current price, should be among the strongest in their region. This opportunity has been recognised by exiles such as those who have been located in Syria. Iraq can only benefit from the return of some of its most talented citizens.

Over the last few weeks, Iraqis had begun to call their neighbors back home. As Michael Yon explained in our interview on November 8th, this is not just because they wanted company. Iraqis tend to remain in their neighborhoods for life, and the community knows and trusts its members. The Iraqis want to ensure that the people who move into the empty houses are the same people who vacated them in the first place.

AJ Strata wonders whether a signal has been sent to trigger this return. Several signals have been sent. The rebuilding and opening of St. John's Church in Baghdad sent a signal that sectarian warfare has ended. The renaissance of trade signaled that jobs have begun appearing. Their friends and family signaled to them that Baghdad and most of Iraq has become secure enough to come home.

The Americans -- mainly the Bush administration -- signaled that the US would not abandon Iraq to the butchers of al-Qaeda and the depredations of sectarian extremists.

Clearly, the Iraqis know something significant has changed in Iraq. Even if one wants to suggest that Petraeus decided to trash his career by lying to Congress and that the Pentagon somehow sees benefit in throwing away the lives of its soldiers to cover up a debacle, Iraqis themselves have no interest in lying to the world and marching back to death. Their return demonstrates their understanding that the situation has dramatically shifted in favor of freedom and liberty and away from terrorism and war. No amount of spin can explain this away.


TrackBack URL for this entry: