The End of the Surge: What Next for Iraq?

The last of the so-called "surge" brigades has left Iraq.

Most of the remaining soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, returned to Fort Stewart, Ga., at the beginning of the month. Only the stragglers remain in Kuwait.

Having deployed in May 2007, it was the last of the five brigades to arrive in Iraq as part of President Bush's strategy to send 28,500 additional troops to fight the insurgency and pull the country back from the brink of all-out civil war.

"When we got here things were very bad," U.S. Army Capt. Mark Battjes recently told ABC News on one of his final patrols before returning home. "We've been able to see the dramatic improvements over time and that gives the soldiers a lot of sense that they really accomplished something over this tour."

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Violence continues in Iraq but it's at the lowest level since 2004, according to the U.S. military. American and civilian casualties are down significantly and Iraq's government has grown in standing and confidence after confronting Shia militias in Basra and Baghdad.

When soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team arrived in Baghdad, there were 43 attacks a day in the city. That number fell to four a day last month.

Patrolling Alrabi'a Street in the Jamia neighborhood of the capital, Battjes recalled that it was a ghost town when his company moved in. "There was absolutely no traffic on this street," he said. "It was possible to walk the entire length of the strip, over a mile long, and not see a single person."

In those early weeks, his soldiers came under daily attack from gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs in what had once been a thriving commercial district and upscale residential neighborhood.

Walking down Alrabi'a street today, the situation in Jamia has apparently been turned around. Some of the families that fled the fighting have returned. Hundreds of small stores have reopened and, while local traders say that business is still slow, they acknowledge that the situation is much better than it was a year ago.

The U.S. military attributes the improvements to large-scale searches, joint patrols with the Iraqi army, the recruitment of local men known as the "Sons of Iraq" to provide security and grants to small business.

Up to $700,000 has been spent on grants to businesses in the Jamia neighborhood in order to kick-start the local economy. Grocery store owner Uday Adnan told ABC News that a grant from U.S. forces enabled him to buy two freezers and replenish his stock. "People are coming back to shop here," he said.

About 550 local volunteers were recruited and trained to provide basic neighborhood security in October 2007. The "Sons of Iraq" were paid $350 a month. "That made a big impact on security," Battjes said, "because locals really feel like they have a stake in the security of their own neighborhood. We put these guys to work getting a regular paycheck so now they're paying money to buy things from the stores that have just reopened, and now those stores are able to buy more things and the better economic situation feeds back into the security situation because now someone doesn't have to go to the insurgency to get money to feed their families. It's created a positive feedback cycle where we used to have a negative feedback cycle."

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