A Year Later, Gen. Petraeus Observes Return to Calm

There were also low points. As the violence peaked in June, insurgents bombed the al Askeri mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, for a second time, toppling its lone remaining minaret and threatening to set off a new wave of sectarian violence. Then they bombed Baghdad's Monsour hotel, killing several leaders of the fledgling Sunni awakening.

"Those are tough days," Petraeus said. "And you will recall that back in the spring we said that this is going to get harder before it gets easier, and that proved to be true."

Still, he acknowledged, there are major challenges ahead.

"No one here is doing victory dances in the end zone, for the gains, while significant, remain fragile in many areas," he said.

The whole point of the surge was to buy time for political progress. That progress has been glacial at best, and it's not clear some of America's new allies will hold on. Many in the Shiite-led government fear the newly empowered Sunni militias and have dragged their feet in incorporating them into the security forces. Some fear that if they remain jobless, they will again turn their guns on the Iraqi government.

In the words of Jurf al Sakhr's mayor and chief awakening council member: "If they have no employment, what do you expect them to do?"

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