But what accounts for these welcome changes? That's where we need to be careful. This isn't an American victory over a well-defined adversary; it's not that kind of war. And Iraqis aren't showering their American liberators with flowers now any more than they were in April 2003. A more complicated set of factors is at work, and it's worth examining two of them carefully.The first of these factors is that al-Qaeda in Iraq is being defeated but Ignatius notes correctly that they defeated themselves and they know it.
Even Osama bin Laden understands that al-Qaeda has stumbled badly in Iraq. In an Oct. 22 audiotape that attracted too little notice at the time, bin Laden scolded his followers for tactics that alienated Iraqis. "Mistakes have been made during holy wars," he said. "Some of you have been lax in one duty, which is to unite your ranks."And then there is Iran.
Bin Laden's self-criticism was "possibly the most important message" in al-Qaeda's history, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, an Arab journalist who has interviewed bin Laden and written an insightful biography. "It is the first time that bin Laden recognizes the error committed by the members of his organization and in particular the excesses committed in Iraq."
Second, the recent security gains reflect the fact that Iran is standing down, for the moment. The Iranian-backed Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr has sharply curtailed its operations. The shelling of the Green Zone by Iranian-backed militias in Sadr City has stopped. The flow of deadly roadside bombs from Iran appears to have slowed or stopped. And to make it official, the Iranians announced Tuesday that they will resume security discussions in Baghdad with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.So what does this mean in terms of the ultimate goal of the Bush/Cheney administration and the neocons - a permanent occupation and control over Iraq's oil resources? Here the picture is not so rosy. While violence is down the majority still see the US forces as occupiers and as the enemy. The Iraqi government has made it clear that they want no part of the so called "oil sharing bill" which in effect turns over the control and the profit of Iraq's resources to western oil companies. The majority of Iraqis, both Shiite and Sunni see the United States as an enemy. The most important paragraph in Igantius' commentary is this:
I suspect the Iranians' new policy of accommodation is a tactical shift. They still want to exert leverage over a future Iraq, but they have concluded that the best way to do so is to work with U.S. forces -- and speed our eventual exit -- rather than continue a policy of confrontation. A genuine U.S.-Iranian understanding about stabilizing Iraq would be a very important development. But we should see it for what it is: The Iranians will contain their proxy forces in Iraq because it's in their interest to do so.
As a caution against over-enthusiasm about the surge, it's useful to consider what happens in a "draw play" in football. Defensive linemen go charging toward the quarterback, congratulating themselves on evading the blockers, when suddenly the opposing running back races past, and they realize, "Oops! We've been suckered." A Syrian analyst draws a similar picture of what's happening now in Iraq. He notes that former insurgents are regrouping and forming alliances among Sunni and Shiite militias that oppose the United States. "This will be known as the era of deception," warns my Syrian friend.