This NYT article is significant both for what it says, and for who is saying it. Prior to the war, Kenneth Pollack was a Democrat who supported it, gave interviews to blogs like Talking Points Memo supporting it with some caveats, but like many Americans turned against the war as the problems and casualties mounted. Now, at least going by this article, he’s back on board. And importantly, he’s back on board because he has recently visited Iraq and seen tangible progress there.
VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.
Those significant changes include the Anbar awakening and the revitalization of what was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad.
In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.
Back in January, the NYT’s Marc Santora (we ran into him at FOB Justice that same month) reported on the initial US establishment of an outpost in Ghazaliya. Allah aptly described Santora’s article as harrowing at the time.
Over the course of three days spent with the 105 soldiers here — Company C of the Second Battalion, 12th Cavalry — four American vehicles were hit by roadside bombs near the outpost. No soldiers from Company C were wounded, but they know the fighting will intensify.
“I’m a juicy target they are just trying to figure out,” said Capt. Erik Peterson, 29, the commander at the outpost.
During the week, the soldiers also received their first glimpse of the green Iraqi forces who will share the mission and eventually, they hoped, take it over. The soldiers talked about them with a mixture of bemusement, disdain and mistrust.
“You could talk about partnership, but you would be lying,” said one soldier who asked that his name not be used, for fear of punishment by his superiors.
It was also a week to start getting to know the desperate residents of Ghazaliya, where almost every remaining family has lost someone to kidnappings and executions, and where government services have long been cut off.
In their new role, the Americans find themselves acting as jailers and doctors, construction workers and garbage men, guardians and detectives — all in an effort to restore lasting order despite the threats on every side.
That’s what you’d call Indian Country, more or less. By February, Ghazaliya was “quiet…too quiet.”
And now, according to Pollack and O’Hanlon, Ghazaliya is evidence that the surge is working.
The good news isn’t confined to Anbar and discrete Baghdad neighborhoods.
American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).
In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.
Read the whole thing. There is good news coming out of Iraq, but unfortunately the cacophony in Washington may drown it out.
Photo from Blackfive.