The “surge” has succeeded, we are all told. Iraq is now a much more peaceful place; the government of Nuri al-Maliki is now in good shape, they say, increasingly able to take over the task of providing internal security with its own native forces. But “they”? “They” is primarily those with an interest in pushing the image of a peaceable Iraq today as a way somehow (and finally!) to justify the expenditure of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Americans wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars since March of 2003. In other words, “they” is namely the Bush administration, and also the McCain presidential campaign – and the credibility of at least the first of those has been running on empty for quite some time.
No, far better to seek a judgment on the current state of Iraq from experts with a higher quotient of objectivity. One long-standing authority is Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan and both Arabic- and Farsi-speaker, mainly through his weblog Informed Comment. He recently offered his own summing-up of where we are now: “The level of violence at this moment in Iraq is similar to what prevailed on average during one of the 20th century’s worst ethnic civil wars [the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990]! It is still higher than the casualty rates in Sri Lanka and Kashmir, two of the worst ongoing conflicts in the world.” On the other hand, New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins has to know something about conditions in Iraq, from where he reported from 2004 to 2006. (He also has a book coming out soon about that, The Forever War.) In a recent e-mail interview (The Progress in Iraq is Remarkable) he asserts that much of the improvement of conditions in Iraq is “astonishing,” that “parts of [the country] are difficult for me recognize,” although “the calm is very fragile.”
A large part of the basis for optimism is the hand-over last Monday of responsibility for the security of Anbar province to the Iraqi government, which Filkins himself reported on for the NYT. This is also covered by Rainer Hermann of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (From sanctuary for terrorists to model province), who adds some telling details. (more…)