A general’s impression - I hope he is right

General Jack Keane: Well I think it’s going better than we had expected, particularly as it pertains to the security operation. The success that the security operation is achieving is, in my judgment, very definable. What I have done is, in my first visit in February since the operation began, I went into neighborhoods in Baghdad and then returned 90 days later to make a comparison. And I will do the same in August. And remember, flashback to ’06. What happened is the al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents provoked a predictable response from the Shia militia by the Samarra mosque bombing and the assassination plots killing Shias. There was an overpowering response from the Shia militia into the Sunni neighborhoods where hundreds and then thousands of Sunnis and Shia were killed as the result of that. The city was in flames. No schools were operating, no government services were being provided. Marketplaces were shut down and people were shut into their homes, afraid to go out on the street. And this lasted through most of ‘06 and it was at its height in the summer.

Despite two military operations that the United States led, Together Forward One and Together Forward Two, we were not able to stop the level of violence. And then a counter offensive began in earnest in February and finally culminated with all forces in play in June. And what you see is a stark contrast to ‘06 in those neighborhoods. Because all the schools are open. The markets are teaming with people. Some operating at full capacity; some not quite there because of the level of violence in their neighborhood and some of the construction that was being done, but nonetheless a steady improvement. Government services are being administrated in the neighborhoods and again some of that is uneven because of the nature of the government of itself, but nonetheless there is an attempt to provide essential services to the population where in ‘06 there were none. And so those atmospherics are real, and I have spoken to hundreds of Iraqis in those neighborhoods and almost to a person they believe the security situation is improving. They want Americans to stay with the Iraqis to help protect them, and in the neighborhoods where the violence took place in ’06. They almost tremble at the thought of that ‘06 violence. You can hear it in their voices when they talk about what that meant to them and their children.

Gen. Keane: I think Baghdad will be stable except for an occasional car bomb by the al Qaeda. Anbar province will be stable. Diyala province will be stable and many of the provinces around Baghdad will be almost as stable. And I see us, from a security perspective, having made some very significant gains, particularly in comparison from ‘06 and from a political perspective, I absolutely see the change that is taking place from the grassroots level in the Sunni and Shia wanting change. I see that having more and more impact on this government and it may be the most successful thing that is happening in this country because the people themselves want the change. They are fed up with the violence. They want their government to start moving toward a form of reconciliation and I think that will push this government in that direction. I truly believe that in a year or so, for sure, we will have taken some very practical steps along the lines of reconciliation with the Sunnis in terms of some of the benchmarks, but even some other things that are equally substantive to them. Whole Interview with retired three-star Army general John M. Keane.

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