The New York Times reporters on the ground, like John Burns and now Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack are reporting on the sea change in Iraq. Gen. Petreaus’ COIN strategy has improved the security and political position in Iraq.

It’s my observation that the US needed a COIN strategy back in 2003. The inability to hold positions after clearing them allowed the network insurgency to grow unchecked.

To be fair, current events are a convergence of a number of factors. By 2006, the Iraqi Security Forces were finally capable of holding and policing cities. The Sunni tribes feared ethnic cleansing by Shia Militias so they stopped fighting and started to cooperate.

Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack:

VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

One of the goals of any COIN strategy is to restore a state back to is ‘normal’ level of violence. It cannot hope to eliminate criminal activity, which is very widespread in Iraq.

The goal is a form of stability where the Iraqi government and ISF can hold most of Iraq on their own.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

2007 represents an opportunity. Iraqi Security Forces are almost strong enough to take over the entire country on their own. They are more numerous, capable, and better led than any previous year. This is the force that holds territory captured and restores normalcy to battleground cities.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

One of the reasons for the improvement is because the Americans are running an anti-corruption campaign inside the Iraqi Army. They intend to clean out the most corrupt and those connected with Shia militias. The IA has improved the most.

It helps that our enemies are morons:

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

For the record, if you want to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, don’t kidnap their daughters and rape them. Friendly advice.

There is an interesting lag in information. One year ago, the newsmedia proclaimed Anbar Province a lost cause. It was the al-Qaeda Islamic Emirate of Iraq – the first state of the new AQ Caliphate.

It was one year ago that an unnoticed revolution occurred in Anbar as the Anbari Tribes rose and moved to overthrow the Al-Qaeda state. The Anbar Salvation Council formed in August of 2006. Military and Iraqi bloggers reported it then and were tentatively optimistic. The newsmedia remained ignorant for almost a year. The New York Times appears not to have heard of this development until after the Anbar Tribes basically won the war.

The information has slowly trickled back to Washington DC. Even then, it is not believed. It seems that many in DC and New York prefer fairy tales.

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