BAGHDAD, Feb. 14, 2008— -- If you're looking for one measure of the impact of last year's troop surge in Iraq, look at Gen. David Petraeus as he walks through a Baghdad neighborhood, with no body armor, and no helmet.
It's been one year since the beginning of what's known here as Operation Fardh Al Qadnoon. According to the U.S. military, violence is down 60 percent. One key to the success is reconciliation.
"A big part of the effort, over the last year, has been to determine who is reconcilable, who, literally, is willing to put down his rifle and talk, who is willing to shout, instead of shoot." Petraeus said.
I spent the day with Petraeus, touring Jihad, a predominantly Shiite area in western Baghdad. This place was formerly ravaged by sectarian violence, and militiamen wreaked havoc on the streets. In the last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into the neighborhood, set up joint security stations, earned the trust of local people, and found those men willing to put down their guns and work with them.
The results of the last year can be seen on the streets. A soccer team practices on the local pitch. The stalls in the market buzz with customers. I stop to talk to local residents, and ask if they feel a difference. Overwhelmingly, the answer is a resounding yes.
"The situation in Jihad is certainly better than before," a mechanic named Ali said. "Work is constant, shops are reopening, and people are coming back to their homes."
Notwithstanding significant progress, much work clearly remains. The Iraqi government has yet to capitalize on the relative peace and improve the local infrastructure. Sewage and trash fester in the streets.
"We have very little electricity," Ali said.
The hope is, that with the passing of a budget this week, that will change.
"That unlocks a substantial amount of money for the ministries of Iraq, so that they can start going about the jobs that are so essential, like patching roads that we bounced down today; over long term, improving electricity, fixing water systems, sewer systems," Petraeus said.
Normally very guarded in his assessments of the surge, Petraeus now expresses cautious optimism.
"I have to tell you that, having been here for a number of years, this is very encouraging, actually. I mean, this is, this is potentially a big moment." he said.