American officials contend that at least one violent region of Iraq has been transformed — the western Iraqi province of Anbar.
Attacks decreased after the U.S. made alliances with local Sunni Arab leaders, making such a significant turnaround that President Bush showed up last week to highlight the progress.
Now, the U.S. and Iraqi governments are investing millions of dollars in reconstruction to keep the local population on their side.
Anbar was once a bastion of the Sunni insurgency, but now it is relatively calm because of an agreement between local tribal leaders and the U.S. military. U.S. leaders consider Anbar a template of success for the surge, and both the U.S. and Iraqi governments are investing millions of dollars in reconstruction to keep the local population on their side.
At a forum of Anbar's provincial and tribal leaders in Ramadi last week, officials of the central government arrived with checks in hand. They were seeking to boost Anbar's crippled economy and build trust between Shiite dominated Baghdad and Sunni Anbar.
They promised an additional $70 million for the provincial budget and threw in an extra $50 million dollars to compensate owners of homes destroyed during the years of fighting. They also pledged to create 6,000 new civil service jobs.
The funds are sorely needed, says provincial council member Khudayir Madloul.
"This extra money the government has given us will help us carry out many projects that haven't even gotten started, and our people will finally be compensated," he says.
Anbar province was the birthplace of the Sunni insurgency following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. In Fallujah and other towns, insurgents fought bloody campaigns against U.S. troops. One U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer calls the military's initial strategy a complete disaster.
At the time, Anbar's tribal leaders just wanted U.S. troops to leave. But after their own people were killed in attacks by al-Qaida in Iraq, many of the tribal leaders switched sides.
Anbar's demographics also helped — it is almost completely Sunni. There are no Shiite militias like there are in Baghdad. Now there is only one enemy, and while attacks from al-Qaida in Iraq persist, the U.S. casualty rate in Anbar has dropped. Troops now go weeks without being attacked.
It is this success and the first signs of similar success in places like Diyala province that Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will likely focus on in their congressional testimony.
But ties between the province and the central government remain tenuous. Even in Ramadi, Iraqi leaders heard U.S. leaders' concerns over the lack of political unity.
Sen. Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential hopeful, was present at the Anbar forum. He declared that if Iraq's central government and provincial leaders decide they cannot get along, "Let us know, (and) we'll say goodbye now."
Some of the Iraqi politicians present at the Anbar forum welcomed Biden's words. But Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, bristled at the rebuke. He and others in the Shiite dominated government fear accords signed between Sunni tribal leaders and U.S. forces will allow Sunni groups, who once supported Saddam Hussein, to try to retake power.
The intense U.S. interest in ensuring that Anbar remains a success story likely means U.S. troops will continue to focus their efforts there.
However, Petraeus has acknowledged that the Anbar experiment may not work everywhere in Iraq. In the counterinsurgency manual he authored last year, Petraeus wrote, "There is no silver bullet. If it works in this province, it might not work in the next."