Baghdad Quieter as Surge Brigades Leave

Nationally, the numbers stand at 24 for the month of June, a reflection that the fight has moved to northern Iraq and out of Baghdad. In May, there were 23 car and truck bomb attacks, the fewest since August 2004.

Reasons for Decline in Violence

A top U.S. military official in Iraq offers some context for the remarkable reduction in violence. The official says al Qaeda in Iraq appears to have been nearly defeated, pushed to its last stronghold in Mosul and beset by a lack of money, supplies and recruits. Special Operations Forces are conducting operations every night against the group's remaining fighters in Mosul and desert areas to the west of the city.

This military source also tells ABC News that the flow of foreign fighters, including would-be suicide bombers, appears to have stopped. While that helps to stabilize the situation in Iraq, it may portend trouble for other parts of the world. One military intelligence official says some of those recruits are believed to be heading to northern Africa or Pakistan, instead.

Another development helping to ease the violence is the transformation of the Mahdi army from a fearsome Shiite militia into more of a social and political organization. However, some hard core elements of the Mahdi army may be regrouping, and many are believed to have fled to Iran.

Finally, Iraqi combat troops continue to improve their performance in the field and are increasingly taking the lead in operations, although they still rely heavily on American support.

Plans for Troop Withdrawal

So, will these developments help pave the way for U.S. troops to withdraw? Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, has asked his commanders to prepare for discussions next week on the the prospects for further drawdowns this fall.

The thinking among commanders in Iraq is that there will be a one- to two-brigade reduction (that's about 3,5000 to 7,000 troops) before the end of the year. This, by the way, would still leave more troops in Iraq than there were at the start of the surge. That's because the surge came along with about 10,000 support troops that are still needed. Senior Pentagon officials are hoping for a deeper reduction.

For comparison: There were about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when the surge was announced in January 2007. Today, with almost all the surge combat brigades gone, there are still 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Petraeus and his top commanders remain concerned that the recent security gains could be lost, and that withdrawing troops too quickly would be a mistake. If Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama indeed visits Iraq later this month, commanders there are likely to outline for him, in detail, the dangers of withdrawing too quickly.

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