Matt Duss has some good thoughts about the growing sense that Al Qaeda seems near defeat in Iraq, and is losing the hearts-and-minds battle in the greater Middle East. As Duss says, this is something that happened despite the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq…which was, initially, a major recruiting tool for the terrorists. But, as I reported from Iraq a year ago, it slowly became clear that Sunnis had no interest in living under the extreme–no smoking, no television–and coercive (forced marriages) rule imposed by the terrorists. David Petraeus saw the anti-AQ mood in al-Anbar province when he arrived in Iraq in 2007 and wisely decided to cultivate it throughout the country. That recognition was crucial to the improved security situation in Iraq–although the apparent unwillingness of the Shi’ite government to incorporate the so-called Sunni Sons of Iraq into the government security forces remains a major point of worry.
The larger question, as always, is: With AQI close to defeat and Muqtada Sadr’s forces in remission–for the moment–and with significant Iraqi opposition to a long-term U.S. military presence, can we speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? With the presidential primaries over now, I’ll be traveling back to the region and checking in with my sources–and I’ll have more to say about what should happen next in Iraq and Afghanistan in the weeks to come.