On the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the United States has proved its critics wrong -- again. The U.S.-led surge has been a remarkable success, and the fledgling democracy is no longer on the path to civil war. The ballot box and the rule of law are now replacing terrorism, fear, and intimidation as the norm. For historians looking for evidence of American decline, this progress in Iraq must be a huge disappointment.
Since June 2007, terrorist attacks in Iraq are down by more than 60 percent, with a 90 percent reduction in Anbar Province, once a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Iraqi civilian deaths fell by over 70 percent in the eight months following July 2007, and Coalition military losses have decreased by the same figure in the period since May 2007. Overall ethno-sectarian violence is down by nearly 90 percent since June 2007, reaching its lowest level since early 2005. Bombings in Baghdad are now at their lowest level since early 2006, with terrorist attacks falling to 57 per week in the past four months, down from 225 a week in summer 2007.
Al-Qaeda is on the run across large swathes of the Sunni heartlands as previously warring Iraqi factions are uniting against the foreign Jihadists who have ravaged their country. Such is the improvement in the security situation that Iraqi security forces are now responsible for nine of the nation's 18 provinces. Operation Phantom Phoenix, a series of joint Iraqi-Coalition operations launched in January to hunt down remaining al-Qaeda cells operating in Iraq, has already resulted in the capture of 26 senior al-Qaeda leaders and the elimination of several hundred terrorists, including 142 in Mosul alone.
Improved security has brought with it a renewed sense of economic confidence and stability. More than 30,000 private-sector companies have been registered in Iraq since 2003, with an almost 10 percent increase in new business registration in 2007 compared to the year before. Inflation has fallen from 65 percent in 2007 to just under 5 percent in 2008, and the Iraqi government's budget has doubled in the past three years, rising from $20 billion to $41 billion. Crude oil production now exceeds pre-war levels at 2.4 million barrels a day, with oil exports averaging 1.9 million barrels a day, helping to spur economic growth of 7 percent for 2008.
The BBC's latest poll reports that more than half of Iraqis believe that life is "good" in Iraq, with over 60 percent declaring that security in their neighborhood is "very good" or "quite good." A striking 49 percent of Iraqis surveyed support the view that the decision taken by America and its allies to invade Iraq in spring 2003 was "absolutely right" or "somewhat right." Just 38 percent of Iraqis polled support an immediate withdrawal of Coalition forces, and a total of 59 percent believe that the Coalition should remain until "security is restored," until "the Iraqi government is stronger," or "until the Iraqi security forces can operate independently."