- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

The new year so far has good news both for antiwar critics and supporters of our mission in Iraq.

For anti-war critics, the good news was House passage last week of a nonbinding resolution in opposition to President Bush’s surge plan. Of course, the House vote was little more than a resolution with bark and no bite, offering no substantive solutions. Also, it runs contrary to the constitutional line between the legislative and executive branches drawn by our Founding Fathers concerning war-fighting powers.

Post-vote assessments by Democrats suggest the resolution represented “a historic victory for the American people.” Republicans, meanwhile, suggested it was a defeatist act and a step backward in the war on terrorism. These assessments must be weighed against the good news that came out of Iraq last month but which was apparently ignored by those who supported the resolution.

The good news story for supporters of the U.S. mission in Iraq was first reported in this newspaper by Oliver North, who traveled to Anbar Province — an area renowned for its violence. As Mr. North’s story strongly suggests, we may, at last, be turning things around there.

A long, lingering topic of debate on Iraq has been whether the fighting constitutes civil war. This answer turns on whether most of the violence is the result of an al Qaeda-led Sunni insurgency, meaning it is not, or the result of a Sunni insurgency led by Saddam supporters, meaning it is. In a recent National Intelligence Estimate prepared by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies,a majority of the agencies claim Iraq is engulfed in civil war. However, the report from Anbar Province supports the minority position, indicating too the Sunni tide in support of al Qaeda has drastically ebbed.

Mr. North reported on a meeting of Sunni leaders last June, known as “the Awakening.” The Sunnis recognized that not only had al Qaeda managed to take control of their province, but the group had turned its brutality against the tribes, some of whose leaders had been murdered. The meeting resulted in a condemnation of al Qaeda’s actions, a declaration of the tribal leaders’ solidarity with the coalition and preparation and issuance of a declaration of war against al Qaeda.

Prior to this meeting, only three of 21 tribes in Anbar Province were cooperating with U.S. coalition forces, six were neutral and 12 hostile. Today, the numbers are reversed, with 12 cooperating and only three hostile. This represents a major turnaround and underscores what is key to winning in Iraq — the Iraqi people finally taking the initiative on their own to be responsible for their security.

Tribes have now sent thousands of young men to join the police. After training, they are immediately assigned to stations within their own tribe’s neighborhood to give them a vested interest in maintaining that security. For the six months of July 2006 through January 2007, attacks in Anbar decreased by 38 percent and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by 57 percent — with 80 percent of IEDs discovered before they could be detonated. (This alone suggests the local population is playing a very active role in sharing intelligence with coalition forces.)

The increased security, in turn, has enabled millions of dollars worth of reconstruction projects to be undertaken, demonstrating to locals the benefits of such cooperation.

The House vote on a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush’s surge plan was ill-timed. It came just as significant progress is being made in Anbar, bringing some much needed law and order to what was once a lawless Dodge City. Last June, the Sunnis experienced an “Awakening,” having come to fully understand the danger posed by al Qaeda and the need to make the commitment to defeat it in Iraq. When will our Congress undergo a similar epiphany?

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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