President Bush surprised everybody by making a secret visit, his third since the war began,to Iraq ,Monday.After talking with general Petraeus and ambassador Crocker he proudly announced that if the present rate of success continues it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces,implying that a troop reduction was possible in the near future.
His remarks were undoubtedly encouraged by the fact that US fatalities in Iraq have dropped 50%since May and are also lower than August 2006.These point to some progress since the build up in May.The new US strategy clearly seems to be working.Some also point to the fact that Iraqi security forces have taken higher casualties which reflects their increasing commitment to the present political system.
President Bush was on a visit to the Anbar province where violence abated after Sunni tribal leaders and former insurgents teamed up with US forces to hunt down Al Qaeda and other extremists.
The timing of the visit is significant as the President is under increasing pressure even from his own party to bring the troops home.
Next week Petraeus and Crocker testify before Congress.Their assessment of the conflict will determine the next phase of the war.
The US is convinced that its latest strategy is working.Now that troops have moved out of their heavily fortified bases into smaller and more numerous stations where they can interact more closely with the Iraqi population it is a taken as a sign that slowly but surely the US is succeeding in winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population.
So is the end to the Iraqi crisis in sight?Experts don't think so.They feel that the real reason why President Bush went to Iraq is because no one seems to be willing to believe him on Iraq any more!He went to Anbar because this is where the new strategy,the surge , seems to be working.Extra troops and local sheiks are helping the US. Anbar is considered very important because it is a Sunni majority area which was strongly pro Saddam.Bush hopes that now at least the Republicans will close ranks behind him.
But this strategy has a flip side to it.If Bush wants to apply the Petraeus model to entire Iraq,this would require high levels of US forces to stay in Iraq for some more time and talks of troop reduction may be just that.The fear also remains that once troops are reduced fighting will break out amongst local militias.This is because experts believe that Iraq has ceased to exist as a nation and is best described as a collection of city states each controlled by an independent militia.The minority Sunni population is distrustful of the police and Iraqi security forces which are suspected to be riddled with Shiite militiamen and forces loyal to Iran.Then the surge has been unable to stem the exodus of Sunnis from Baghdad where Iraqi policemen are openly aiding Shiite militiamen in their fight against the Sunnis.It is feared that once US troop levels are down there will be an upsurge in sectarian violence.There is clearly a wide difference in the assessment of the situation in Iraq between the President and his detractors.How things work out only time will tell.