In December 2006, the month before President Bush announced the surge strategy for Iraq, 47 U.S. soldiers died in Anbar province, which many in Washington had written off as lost to al-Qaida. During 2008 thus far, the American death count in Anbar stands at 24 - including just two killed by hostile fire during the past two months. That is one measure of the dramatic turnaround in the war over the past 20 months - and explains why on Monday U.S. commanders could turn over control of what was once the heartland of the insurgency to the Iraqi army. Though there is, as ever, reason for concern about the future of the Sunni province, this is a significant success.
Anbar was where al-Qaida located its attempt to turn Iraq into what it called the center of its war against the United States. By 2004 it ruled the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi; by 2006 it had declared an Islamic emirate in the region. Two years ago this month, The Post reported that a Marine assessment had concluded that the situation in Anbar was dire and that the province was lost politically. The turnaround since then has been a crushing blow for al-Qaida - one that is not lessened, in its impact on the Arab Middle East, by the fact that the terrorist group did not begin operations in Anbar until after the U.S. invasion.
A standard talking point for those who opposed the surge - including Democrats Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden Jr. - is that success in Anbar resulted in large part from the turning of Sunni tribes against al-Qaida, beginning before the surge. While that is true, the American casualty figures from late 2006 show that the conflict was far from won before 4,000 additional Marines were dispatched to the region in 2007. Bushs decision to send them, in opposition to the counsel of most of Congress and some in his own administration, will stand as one of the best and most courageous acts of his presidency.
- Washington Post
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