In Today's Iraq, the Times Are Constantly Changing
Whatever your views of the War in Iraq, if they are based on information more than six months old they are probably outdated. Much has changed just since March when Iraqi Army forces successfully attacked Shia extremists in Basra and the Sadr City section of Baghdad. I arrived in Baghdad while those operations were underway and having just returned home, would like to compare some old truths with the new reality in Iraq.
Old Truth: Iraq is in the midst of a civil war
Ethno-sectarian violence (ESV) -- defined as the deliberate targeting of victims from one ethnic or sectarian group by a different group -- was at its height in late 2006 when there were as many as 2,000 sectarian killings every month. In Baghdad alone there were fifty such murders a day. Since then, ESV killings have plummeted. The surge alone was responsible for significant success in reducing these murders. From an average of about a thousand a month during the spring and summer of 2007 when the surge began, ESV killings fell to about 200 a month during late 2007 and early 2008. Since May the number of deaths has fallen again, averaging fewer than 50 a month for the last four months. The new reality is, that if Iraq was ever in a civil war between its different ethnic and sectarian factions, it isn't now.
Old Truth: The Iraqi government is unable to secure its own country
At the beginning of 2008 the only provinces where Iraqis were responsible for their own security were the Kurdish ones in the north -- all three of which have enjoyed a special level of autonomy essentially since 1992 -- and a few unanimously Shia states in the south of Iraq. No Sunni-majority province and none of the mixed provinces had yet been the recipient of a transfer of authority from the Coalition to the Iraqis themselves. By March of 2008 even those early gains appeared in doubt as long simmering tensions in Basra erupted when Iraqi forces attempted to impose control there. Since then, and most notably, the former al-Qaeda stronghold of Anbar has been returned to provincial control. Meanwhile, two mixed provinces, Babil and Wasit, are projected to transition to Iraqi control next month.
More significant is the fact that Iraqis have been successful maintaining security in the provinces they already control. The Basra operation in March, which for the first couple weeks looked like it could result in an Iraqi defeat, in fact turned out splendidly. Thirty-thousand Iraqis backed by only 800 American Marines fought to oust Jaish al Mahdi, essentially a Shia mafia, which had such a grip on Basrah that even British diplomats had been afraid to step foot in the city for which they had oversight. Today Basrawis "talk about being able to enjoy family picnics ... and late-night dinners at restaurants. Women are able to wear brightly colored head scarves and show their faces instead of being fully covered in black robes."