On Monday, the U.S. military turned over the war-torn Karbala province to Iraqi security forces. The assumption of control by Iraqi security forces marked the eighth such handover by the U.S. military since the start of the Iraq war. Of the 18 Iraqi provinces, 10 remain under U.S. military control.
Cautious optimism is beginning to bloom in the desert. Though the Iraqi government itself has acknowledged its foot-dragging with regard to assuming responsibility over security — "Allow me to say that we are late, very late, to reconstruct, to rebuild our forces for reasons that I do not want to mention here," said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — the situation in Iraq is steadily growing less tenuous. According to iCasualties.org, fatalities from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have decreased dramatically and consistently since May 2007, from 90 in May to 16 in October. Iraqi forces are either in control of or leading operations in broad swaths of 16 out of 18 provinces.
The troop surge in Iraq has produced real results on the ground. And as security improves, the movement to take back Iraq from warring factions will snowball.
Momentum is the key to continuing improvement in Iraq. "The reconstruction of Iraq does not hinge on security alone," says Maliki, "but security is the key to everything." And security continues to improve. According to the Department of Defense, over 67,000 Iraqis have volunteered to help coalition and Iraqi forces secure neighborhoods. Says one lieutenant stationed south of the Baghdad International Airport in the American-controlled Baghdad province, "The violence and IEDs in the [area of operations] seem to have slowed down considerably a couple months before we arrived. It was definitely due to Iraqi local nationals setting up their own checkpoints or ISVs (Iraqi Security Volunteers). They police their own roads and areas to keep [al-Qaeda] insurgents and any other bad guys out. They have done this with great success."
The potential for success in Iraq creates an interesting political situation domestically. While those on the right have maintained strong support for the war — leaving aside the small minority of conservatives who back Chuck Hagel and Ron Paul — those on the left have clamored for immediate withdrawal. That extremism has cost the left dearly. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most popular politician in America only a few months ago, has seen her fortunes tumble: Her favorability rating, which stood at 53 percent in April 2007, now stands at 29 percent. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has seen a similar drop in popularity: In May, Reid’s favorability rating was 46 percent. It is now 19 percent.
The only hope for the left is the Machiavellian Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. Among the leading Democratic presidential candidates, only Clinton has embraced moderate rhetoric about the future of Iraq. Her far-left base continues to fume, but Hillary’s bet hedging will likely win her the Democratic nomination for president — even Democrats recognize that snatching defeat from the jaws of victory isn’t a winning 2008 campaign strategy.
Meanwhile, the Republican star rises with the burgeoning Iraqi stabilization. The media exaggerated the pronouncement of imminent Republican death — a Rudy Giuliani nomination could spell renewed electoral success in 2008. In the face of a hostile media establishment and an unhappy American public, George W. Bush may have pulled off the greatest success of his presidency: winning democracy in Iraq and, in doing so, keeping a party of defeatists out of power.