BBC: Optimism grows in Iraq - By Jim Muir - BBC News, Baghdad
Is Iraq getting better? The statistics say so, across the board.RTWT.
Over the past three months, there has been a sharp and sustained drop in all forms of violence. The figures for dead and wounded, military and civilian, have also greatly improved.
All across Baghdad, which has seen the worst of the violence, streets are springing back to life. Shops and restaurants which closed down are back in business.
People walk in crowded streets in the evening, when just a few months ago they would have been huddled behind locked doors in their homes.
Everybody agrees that things are much better.
But is the improvement only skin deep? And will it last once the American troops, whose "surge" has clearly made a difference, begin to scale down?
In the past few days, two events have underlined big changes that have happened in recent months on both the Sunni and Shia sides of the Iraqi equation.
The Mehdi Army's influence is now much weaker
On Thursday, in a crowded public hall in the mainly Shia city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, the local police chief, Brig-Gen Ra'id Shaker Jawdat, bitterly denounced the Mehdi Army militia, accusing it of presiding over a four-year reign of terror there.
It was an extraordinary occasion. One by one, men and women stood up and screamed abuse at the militia, blaming it for killing and torturing their loved ones.
It could not have happened a few months ago, when the Mehdi Army - the military wing of the movement headed by the militant young Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr - was the real power in the streets of Karbala.
A few days later, Moqtada Sadr ordered his followers to halt all forms of military action nationwide, even in self-defence.
That was a turning-point in Baghdad too. The number of bodies being found daily, dumped randomly in the city after being abducted, tortured and killed in sectarian reprisals, dropped from dozens a day to less than a handful.
Scenes of rejoicing
On Friday, near Samarra to the north of Baghdad, fighters from a Sunni faction called the Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) launched a surprise attack on positions held by al-Qaeda in the area.
Police said the IAI killed 18 al-Qaeda militants and captured 16 others.
Shortly afterwards, another Sunni group known as the 1920 Revolution Brigades launched a similar operation against al-Qaeda at al-Buhriz in Diyala province, also north of Baghdad.
They captured 60 al-Qaeda suspects and handed them over to the Iraqi army, amidst scenes of rejoicing in the town's streets.
These also were events that simply could not have happened until recently.
- ALL THIS IS DUE TO BUSH AND PETRAEUS AND OUR TROOPS.
- NO THANKS TO THE DEMS.
- HARRY REID AND PELOSI SHOULD EITHER RESIGN OR TURN THEMSELVES IN FOR TREASON.