A Year Later, Gen. Petraeus Observes Return to Calm

Gen. Petraeus gives partial credit to Syria, Iran and Moqtada Al-Sadr.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 11:39 AM

JURF AL SAKHR, Iraq, Jan. 1, 2007 — -- Gen. David Petraeus with no helmet, no Apache helicopters circling overhead spent an afternoon in the streets of Jurf al Sakhr, south of Baghdad this weekend.

That would have been inconceivable this time last year. This was bandit country and al Qaeda was lobbing grenades over the wall of the small American patrol base here every night.

The mayor, Sheikh Sabah Athab Khadem of the Janabi tribe, said al Qaeda had driven out the locals and controlled the village for four years.

Petraeus greeted shop owners this weekend who had recently moved back and reopened their stands along the town's block-long main street.

"Jurf al Sakhr was a ghost town just a few months ago," said Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. "This is a place that has really come back."

With 2008 dawning, Petraeus was keen to show what he describes as the fruits of the American troop surge that began in February. Topping the list is a 60 percent drop in violence over the past six months, including a 68 percent drop in roadside bomb attacks.

The year 2007 was the deadliest for American troops in the 4½-year-old war. But December was one of the safest months. Twenty-one American troops died, the lowest number since February 2004.

To be sure, the drone of daily violence in Iraq would hold the power to shock anywhere else. But the sense of growing normalcy is striking, and it is reflected in the voices of Iraqis, who in city after city said they felt safer.

In the southern city of Basra, Abu Abdullah said 80 percent of the country seems safe.

"With the passage of time, I think things get better. Security is better and the capital, Baghdad, is getting more beautiful and better than before," he said. "I'm optimistic."

In the northern Kurdish city of Sulimaniyah, Haji Ali linked the drop in violence to the death of Saddam Hussein.

"We witnessed fewer terrorist attacks after his execution last year," he said.

Petraeus credits some unlikely allies. Better border control from Syria, fewer arms from Iran and a ceasefire with radical anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, who heads the Mahdi army.