I haven’t touched on this story because I took the day off yesterday. But it is too important to go unmentioned:
Two years ago, Anbar Province was the most lethal place for American forces in Iraq. A U.S. marine or soldier died in the province nearly every day, and the provincial capital, Ramadi, was a moonscape of rubble and ruins. Islamic extremists controlled large pieces of territory, with some so ferocious in their views that they did not even allow the baking of bread.
On Monday, U.S. commanders formally returned responsibility for keeping order in Anbar Province, once the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, to the Iraqi Army and police. The ceremony, including a parade on a freshly paved street, capped one of the most significant turnabouts in the country since the war began five and a half years ago.
Over the past two years, the number of insurgent attacks against Iraqis and Americans has dropped by more than 90 percent. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been severely degraded, if not crushed altogether, in large part because many local Sunnis, including former insurgents, have taken up arms against it.
Since February, as the security situation improved, U.S. commanders have cut the number of marines and soldiers operating in the province by 40 percent.
The transfer of authority codified a situation that Iraqi and American officers say has been in effect since April: The Iraqi Army and police operate independently and retain primary responsibility for battling the insurgency and crime in Anbar. The United States, which had long done the bulk of the fighting, has stepped into a backup role, going into the streets only when accompanied by Iraqi forces.
[. . .]
“Not in our wildest dreams could we have imagined this,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, who flew in from Baghdad. “Two or three years ago, had we suggested that the Iraqis could take responsibility, we would have been ridiculed, we would have been laughed at. This was the cradle of the Sunni insurgency.”
We are assured, of course, that this progress may be “fragile” and to be sure, things can change. But a little over one year, the thought that the surge and counterinsurgency strategy implemented by American forces could buttress and augment the effect of the Anbar Awakening and other awakenings throughout Iraq was dismissed as nothing short of ridiculous.
Now, the thought is so accepted it is commonplace. Once again, those who supported and advocated for the surge and the implementation of the counterinsurgency strategy–President Bush and John McCain amongst them–deserve credit for having shown a lot of guts and a lot of foresight. And those who discounted the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy–Barack Obama and Joe Biden amongst them–owe an explanation for how they could have possibly botched so important a foreign policy and national security call. As, for that matter, do a lot of other people.