U.S. military officials and Middle East analysts are expressing cautious optimism that one-month into the new Baghdad security plan sectarian violence in the city has begun to drop. Officials warn, however, that it will be months before an additional 26,000 U.S. troops are in place and a definitive judgment can be made on whether the troop increase will be a success. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has more from Washington.
U.S. and Iraqi military officials say there has been a reduction in the number of bombings and sectarian killings in Baghdad since the new security plan was launched last month.
Iraqi officials say the number of civilians killed in the violence has declined to 265 since the operation started February 14 compared to more than 1,400 in the preceding month-long period.
Although the officials were upbeat about the progress so far, they noted the situation in many areas in and around Baghdad remains unstable.
James Phillips is a research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
"The surge has begun, but it is still in its early stages," he noted. "Very preliminary reports suggest that there have been some incremental gains in security around Baghdad. The number of sectarian clashes reportedly has been reduced, radical Shi'ite militias have gone to ground and some of their leaders have gone into hiding."
In the last month, according to an Iraqi military spokesman, 94 militants were killed and more than 700 detained as part of the military sweep in Baghdad.
The spokesman also told reporters Tuesday that more than 2,000 families displaced by sectarian violence have returned home.
Kenneth Pollack, a former Central Intelligence (CIA) Agency analyst on Iraq who is now with the Brookings Institution, says the surge strategy of providing security for Iraqi civilians is a positive approach to quelling the violence.
"I will say when I look at the plans for Iraq I like the emphasis on securing Iraq's populated areas as a way of weakening the death grip of the Shi'ite militias and the Sunni insurgents," he explained. "I like the emphasis on protecting good guys rather than killing bad guys."
While the President's policy on Iraq continues to be hotly debated in the U.S. Congress, some Middle East analysts argue that any speedy withdrawal of coalition forces will lead to chaos and the impression that the American effort has been a failure.
Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it is critical that when troops do redeploy, they must leave an Iraq that is stable enough to be controlled by local security forces.
"Because of the anger, because of perceptions of the United States and this war outside this country, because of attitudes in Iraq, the Gulf, the Arab and Islamic world, we are perceived as a bull that went into a china shop to liberate it and broke the china in the process," he said. "We cannot walk out of Iraq without cementing that impression. Without it being seen as a major defeat."
Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, proposed a sustained surge of U.S. forces in Baghdad before the Bush administration adopted the policy early this year.
Kagan says the operation needs to be open-ended and he is concerned it will stop too quickly.
"To my mind the greatest danger is that we will pull the plug on this operation prematurely," he explained. " Either now, because of a determination and a conviction that it cannot succeed, which I think is increasingly out of touch with the reality in Iraq, or later, as we start to see signs of initial success and we wish to just take a deep breath and say thank God, we finally got to a point where we can declare victory and withdraw. That, I think, would be a great mistake."
Kagan argues the surge should represent a long-term commitment to Iraq and the increase in U.S. forces should last into 2008.