The year of wonder in Iraq

Ralph Peters:

GEN. David Petraeus evokes the late Warren Zevon's line, "I'll sleep when I'm dead": His idea of downtime on Christmas Day was to answer a series of questions from The Post - after spending 11 hours out visiting our troops.

Relentless in his pursuit of our enemies and tireless in his pursuit of enduring results for Iraq, Petraeus is on track to become America's most successful four-star general since 1945.

Question: As a remarkable year draws to a close, what's your assessment of Iraq today?

A: "Our troopers and our Iraqi partners have wrested control of many of the sanctuaries from al Qaeda in Iraq and disrupted extremist networks throughout the country. Since the 'surge of offensives' began in June, attacks and civilian deaths have decreased by 60 percent.

"Our own losses have fallen substantially, as well - although each loss is a tough reminder of the cost of what's been achieved.

"Meanwhile, the Iraqi security forces are making an increasing impact on the battlefield. In the last year, they've not only added over 100,000 new soldiers and police, they've also gained in capability. The Iraqis now have well over 100 combat battalions solidly in the fight - sustaining losses at a rate two to three times our own.

"In 2008, the Iraqis will add some 30 additional battalions to help compensate for our reduction of about one-quarter of our own combat forces by the end of July.

"In some areas of Iraq today, the atmosphere resembles the spring of 2003, with many communities feeling 'liberated' once again - this time from al Qaeda and other extremist elements.

"That said, we should all be clear that what has been achieved could be reversed - the progress in many areas remains tenuous and the campaign to establish sustainable security is far from over. Al Qaeda, associated insurgent groups and militia extremists remain lethal. Nobody here is doing victory dances in the end zone."

Q: As the military situation improves, how are our tactics and strategy evolving?

A: "In the year ahead, we'll continue to focus on security for the population, living with those we seek to protect. You can't commute to this fight.

"Over time in the new year, we'll continue to thin our ranks as Iraqi forces take on more tasks. In many provinces, Iraqis already are completely in charge; in some areas, in fact, there are no coalition forces at all.

"The past year also underscored the importance of keeping the pressure on al Qaeda and the other extremists. We'll seek to sustain that this year to prevent them from reconstituting and recovering from their losses.

"We and our Iraqi partners will also continue to look beyond the security realm to help the Iraqis improve basic services, revitalize local markets, repair damaged infrastructure and create conditions that allow displaced families to return to their homes. Local stakeholders are the best insurance against the return of extremists."

...

There is much more.

Gen. Petraeus has confounded the enemy and critics at home by accomplishing something they thought was impossible. He is an example of how important good leadership can be in a difficult situation. It is passed time for Democrats to quit trying to lose the conflict in Iraq and embrace our success there. It is also pass time for them to adopt the counterinsurgency strategy of protecting the people and quit pushing for a pull back to a "commute" strategy. It is time that they admit they were wrong.

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