The U.S. command in Iraq yesterday spoke of "life coming back to some normalcy" in violence-racked Baghdad, where for weeks American and Iraqi forces have launched raids to subdue various insurgent groups and militias that seem bent on instigating a civil war. "We are cautiously optimistic and encouraged by all the indicators that we are seeing," Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters in the Iraqi capital in an assessment of Operation Together Forward. "What we're seeing in these areas is life coming back to some normalcy. We see women and children walking freely in Amiriyah [neighborhood], something that was not seen prior to Operation Together Forward." He displayed a map of the multiethnic city, with neighborhoods shaded in different colors to show how far they had progressed in reducing violence and restarting city services. Gen. Caldwell's report came a month after Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he had not seen such a high level of violence in Baghdad since the city was liberated from dictator Saddam Hussein in April 2003. The general said he feared a Sunni-Shi'ite civil war, but added that he thought the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would prevent it. Gen. Caldwell said that today, the Iraqi government is preventing such a war, and pointed to statistics that attacks in some city sections have gone from 30 a day to zero. "There in fact has been a downturn in the level of violence within Baghdad over the last three weeks," he said. "The prime minister and his government has formulated a plan that is in fact proven at this point to have been very effective. And time will tell -- months will tell how effective it really is, but the initial indicators are very positive."See also this Power Line post for an ABC News report indicating improving conditions in Baghdad. Also, according to Zalmay Khalilzad, in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, referring to the "Battle for Baghdad" and the troubling security situation:
Contrary to those who portray Iraq as hopelessly mired in ancient ethnic and sectarian feuds, Iraqis themselves want to put the divisions of the past behind them. The Battle of Baghdad will determine the future of Iraq, which will itself go a long way to determining the future of the world's most vital region. Although much difficult work still remains to be done, it is imperative that we give the Iraqis the time and material support necessary to see this plan through, and to win the Battle of Baghdad.Some analysts are arguing that Iraq has now developed into a full-scale civil war. However, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution argues that Iraq's not quite there yet:
Right now Iraq faces a Sunni-based insurgency that is morphing into a Sunni-Shiite civil war. To have any hope of defeating the insurgency, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration needs to establish its legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunni community, giving Sunnis a stake in the success of a government they no longer dominate and depriving the resistance of the support it enjoys from as much as 20 percent of the population. To have any hope of preventing civil war, the government must eliminate the Shiite death squads that have fueled the downward spiral toward an all-out sectarian conflict. To succeed, the Iraqi government must make substantial progress over the next few months in:To be sure, the cost of failure in Iraq would be enormous. Jihadists would gain a new bastion in the region and be confirmed in their view that the United States is a paper tiger. In addition, a major oil producer would be condemned to a sectarian conflict that would probably be much worse than the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s (in which 150,000 Lebanese lost their lives). Our claims to care about a key Muslim nation would be mocked, and a strategically crucial part of the world would risk slipping into a broader regional conflict. But whether such a failure can be averted depends much more on the Iraqis than it does on the United States. The debate over Iraq in the United States has become extraordinarily polarized. Given the implications of an American failure, most Republicans argue that we should stay the course regardless of the cost in life and money and even our prospects for success. Given the price being paid, most Democrats believe we should begin the process of withdrawing now, regardless of the consequences. National disunity in time of war is a recipe for failure. By recognizing the imperative of success in Iraq, while also recognizing that success is not possible in the absence of measures that only the Iraqi government can take, a conditions-based commitment strategy has the potential not only to induce the Iraqi government to do what it must but also to unite the American people around a policy more firmly rooted in Iraqi and American realities.
* Adopting a series of constitutional amendments and related legislation that address the concerns of the Sunni community, while also being acceptable to Kurds and Shiites, on key issues such as federalism and the equitable distribution of Iraq's future oil revenue.
* Reining in the Shiite militias. This is the hardest challenge of all, since Maliki's government depends on the support of the party leaders whose militias he needs to bring under control.
* Creating and implementing a plan for rehabilitating lower-level Baathists so that those who were essentially forced to join the party under Saddam Hussein but were never directly complicit in its crimes can fully reenter the nation's political and economic life.
* Establishing functioning government ministries capable of delivering essential services. These are all steps that both the Bush and Maliki administrations have already endorsed. But this approach would make our continued military presence in the non-Kurdish areas of Iraq contingent on their implementation within a reasonable period.