The last ten days have seen a sea change in the mainstream media's coverage of the war.
On Thanksgiving, ABC and NBC described the improving security situation in Iraq:
NBC Nightly News said Thanksgiving in Baghdad was "almost a celebration," adding, "Today we see traffic jams where Al Qaeda once saw targets." ABC World News led with a story that noted that "last year, on this day, Baghdad was in lockdown, after one of this city's deadliest suicide bombings." But "the headlines in recent weeks have been different." Yesterday, ABC's Baghdad correspondent, Terry McCarthy, "got an extraordinary look at the country, traveling with the number two US general there, Ray Odierno. They made nine stops, visiting several communities that have been notorious for violence. And...the optimism, among Americans at least, is spreading. ... the message we get from US commanders outside of Baghdad is pretty much the same wherever we go, cautious optimism. ... Civilian deaths in Baghdad are down 65% compared to six months ago. Car bombs are down 47%."ABCNEWS reports General Raymond Odierno sees a "window for success in Iraq:"
Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno will not say the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq, but he clearly thinks it.
"I think we have created a window. I think we can be successful here," he told ABC News today during a whistle-stop Thanksgiving tour of 9 U.S. military bases in and outside Baghdad.
Other top military and civilian leaders have talked up the situation in Iraq in the past. But Odierno, the number two general in Iraq under General David Petraeus, is known as a straight shooter - not given to hype.
His barely suppressed optimism was reinforced by a series of interviews with commanders on the ground. Casualties and roadside bomb attacks are down. An increasing number of local citizens are abandoning the insurgency and coming over to the American side, registering as community policemen to bring back security to their neighborhoods.
The Los Angeles Times reports the recent reduction in terrorist attacks has allowed Iraqi oil production to exceed 2.1 million barrels per day, which will enable Iraq to improve the country's infrastructure:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is proposing a $7.4-billion boost in public spending next year in an aggressive budget designed to stimulate industry and speed up repairs of this country's tattered roads, sewers and utilities.The Guardian reports 1,600 Iraqi refuges are returning home every day:
It would also give more fiscal power to the country's 18 provinces by increasing their budgets more than 50% on average.
The increased spending, which raises Iraq's annual budget to $48 billion, would largely be financed by a projected 12% increase in oil revenue as well as funds that were not spent last year because of inefficiency.
The budget's optimism is driven in part by the expectation that oil prices, now at record levels, will stay high. In addition, Iraq's crude production, which dipped this year, has rebounded since August, climbing slightly above the target of 2.1 million barrels a day, according to a U.S. State Department report.
Slowly, cautiously, but unmistakably, thousands of Iraqis who moved abroad to escape the violence are going home, stemming an exodus that has seen 4.2 million people leave since the 2003 war. According to the Iraqi government, 46,000 returned from abroad to Baghdad in October - the first month of the new school year, though it has not produced a statistical breakdown.The BBC describes the "din of normality:"
Iraq's displacement and migration minister, Abdul Samad Sultan, said this week that 1,600 people were returning every day. The UNHCR, the world body's refugee agency, said yesterday it could not confirm the figure because it has no permanent access to the border - though a day of monitoring suggested it could be true.
All the indicators for violence are down.The Associated Press reports Iraq is offering free trips home for Iraqi refugees in Syria:
Compared to the beginning of the year, attacks against Iraqi civilians have declined by 55% in the country as a whole and by 75% in Baghdad, according to US military figures confirmed by the UN.
US military casualties are also dramatically reduced. October was one of the least bloody months since the beginning of the invasion.
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Military commanders on the ground are very careful not to crow about the successes. Nor is the White House doing so. They are hoping that the facts will eventually speak for themselves.
In the past, boastful words have turned to dust almost as soon as they were uttered.
So what has caused this decline? An extra 30,000 US troops on the ground since the beginning of the so-called surge have certainly made a difference.
Shuttered Baghdad markets have re-opened for business. Silent streets have come to life with the sound of children playing football and mothers yelling for attention. The din of normality has trumped the silence of fear.
In Anbar province - which used to be the heart of the insurgency - Sunni leaders are fed-up with the high-handed brutality of al-Qaeda's fighters, deemed to have abused their hospitality and outstayed their welcome.
With violence down in Iraq, the country's embassy in Damascus is starting to organize free trips home for Iraqis who fled the conflict and now want to return, an Iraqi diplomat said Wednesday.The New York Times reports security improvements are real:
Free convoys and even airplane tickets are part of a new push by the Baghdad government to reach out to Iraqi refugees in Syria, said Adnan Shourifi, commercial secretary at the Iraqi Embassy.
The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.The Chicago Tribune reports on the sharp decline of violence in Iraq:
As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.
Attacks in Iraq have fallen 55 percent, to a level not seen since January 2006. Violence has fallen in some areas to its lowest levels since the summer of 2005. The number of Iraqi civilian casualties has fallen 65 percent, and Baghdad has witnessed a 75 percent drop since June.The New York Times reports the drop in violence is better than proponents of the revised strategy predicted:
“These trends are stunning in military terms and beyond the predictions of most proponents of the surge last winter,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, referring to President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. “Nobody knows if the trends are durable in the absence of national reconciliation and in the face of major U.S. troop drawdowns in 2008."The Los Angeles Times reports Sunnis and Shiites work together at the local level to protect their neighborhoods from insurgents and militias:
Despite persistent sectarian tensions in the Iraqi government, war-weary Sunnis and Shiites are joining hands at the local level to protect their communities from militants on both sides, U.S. military officials say.Agence France Presse reports on the neon lights, bustling streets of Baghdad's resurgent night life:
[. . .]
Here in Qarghulia, a rural community east of Baghdad, the results are palpable. Killings are down dramatically and public confidence is reviving. "Sunnis-Shiites, no problem," said Obede Ali Hussein, 22, who stood at a checkpoint built by the U.S. Army along the Diyala River. "We want to protect our neighborhood."
"Even two or three months ago we would have been afraid to come here at night," said 20-year-old Hussein Salah, an off-duty soldier, slurping a milkshake with his wife, Shihad, at the Mishmesha (apricot) juice bar in Baghdad's relatively safe Karrada suburb.Reuters reports Baghdad's ambulance drivers can now catch their breath:
"Now we sometimes sit outside here till one or two in the morning. It is quite safe. The security situation is vastly improved," said Salah, the orange light from a nearby flashing palm alternatively brightening and dimming his clean-shaven face.
Declines in Iraqi civilian casualties and a sharp reduction in bomb and mortar attacks have sparked optimism that the capital is at last starting to revive.
US military commanders attribute the fall in violence to a "surge" of American troops on the ground, their decision to set up small military posts in neighbourhoods, and the increasing number of Iraqis joining US forces in anti-insurgent alliances.
“With violence levels dropping across the city, Baghdad's hard-working ambulance drivers now find time to sit and sip tea instead of each rushing to four or five emergency calls a day. ‘Today the situation has changed for the best. There are ambulances that sometimes do not go out on duty for two days,’ said Kais Mohammed, head of an emergency services centre that covers all of southern Baghdad and some areas west.”The Investor's Business Daily points out the New from Iraq gets better by the day:
• In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, British Major Gen. Graham Binns said that attacks against British and American forces have plunged 90% since the start of September.Because the progress, troops are being withdrawn.
• Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reported that terrorist attacks of all kinds are down almost 80% from last year's peak — thanks directly to the U.S. surge of 30,000 new troops.
• Amid growing signs that even Iraq extremists have tired of terrorism and killing, a Sunni religious group closed down the high-profile Muslim Scholars Association because of its ties to terrorists.
• U.S. Major Gen. James Simmons, speaking in Baghdad, said Iran's pledges to stop sending weapons and explosives into Iraq "appear to be holding up." Roadside bombs, the leading killer of U.S. troops, have plunged 52% since March, he added.
• Perhaps most touching, according to a report from Michael Yon, that Muslims are asking Iraqi Christians to return to help build Iraq.
• Douglas Halaspaska, a reporter on the Web site U.S. Cavalry ON Point found so much has changed.