It was one year ago that President Bush addressed the nation to announce an increase of U.S. combat forces in Iraq. Sectarian violence was spiraling out of control, American casualties were rising, and some believed the war was lost. There are signs the so-called troop surge has worked to stabilize large parts of the country, though questions remain whether it will be enough to bring lasting peace. More from VOA's Bill Rodgers.
U.S. military officials say the surge of an extra 30,000 troops has helped bring security to many parts of Iraq. This was the objective 12 months ago when President Bush announced the surge in an address to the nation.
Now, Mr. Bush says many of its goals have been achieved. "Violence across the country continues to decrease. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have stepped forward to join Concerned Local Citizens groups that are fighting al-Qaida and other extremists. And as the security improves, life is returning to normal in communities across Iraq, with children back in school and shops reopening and markets bustling with commerce," he said.
There is notably less violence than a year ago, particularly sectarian murders. Civilian killings are down an estimated 65 percent.
U.S. military officers attribute the reduction to a strategy of persuading formerly hostile Sunni tribal leaders to go after al-Qaida extremists, who have been responsible for many of the deadliest suicide bombings.
With many former Sunni insurgents no longer fighting American troops, roadside bombs and other attacks on U.S. forces are down and there are fewer American casualties.
A panel of military experts meeting in Washington agrees this has been key to the surge's success.
Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations recently returned from a trip to Iraq and says there is a reduction in violence. "That spread of negotiated deals has dramatically reduced the violence and set up situations in which it is obvious to the residents in these neighborhoods that it is safe now in ways that it was not 12 months ago," said Biddle.. "The attitude toward Americans is very different, the stability on the ground is very different in much, not all, but in much of the country and I found it quite striking."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite dominated government has been unable to meet the political benchmarks set out by President Bush a year ago to achieve political reconciliation. Parliament, for example, has been unable to pass key measures.
This lack of progress is a disappointment, says U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary Mark Kimmitt. "To see such a significant progress in security with only the foundations of progress in reconciliation is a bit disheartening, not to mention sobering," said Kimmitt. "So 2008 will be a watershed year to see if the surge will continue."
Many Democrats in Congress say Mr. Bush's policy has been a failure, despite the current reduction of violence in Iraq.
At a recent debate of Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton said, "There has not been a willingness on the part of the Iraqi government to do what the surge was intended to do, to push them to begin to make the tough decisions. And in the absence of that political action, 23 Americans dying in December is totally unacceptable. You know, there is no more cause for us to be there if the Iraqis are just not going to do what they need to do to take care of their own country."
But bringing all U.S. troops home now is not an option, as long as President Bush remains in office.