ALISON STEWART, host:
This Sunday is the one year anniversary of Saddam Hussein's execution. And a year since the dictator's death, a controversial increase in American ground troops appears to have created a more stable environment in Iraq, but not without cost.
More U.S. soldiers died in 2007 than in any other calendar year since the Iraq war began. And as for the Iraqi government, well, reaching certain political goals have proven quite difficult.
Long-time listeners of THE BPP know that on Fridays we cover the week in Iraq. But today, the last Friday of '07, we're going from seven to 365. It's the year in Iraq.
(Soundbite of music)
STEWART: And joining us now live from Baghdad is Josh Partlow, Iraq correspondent for the Washington Post. Hi, Josh. Can you hear me?
Mr. JOSH PARTLOW (Iraq Correspondent, Washington Post): Hi. I can hear you. Yeah.
STEWART: Great. So, it's hard to believe it's been a year ago this weekend, the execution of Saddam Hussein. Is his legacy is still even relevant to the current front conflict in Iraq? What happened in the past year that would reflect about Saddam Hussein?
Mr. PARTLOW: Well, yeah. It's a lot of sum up. His legacy is definitely still felt here. People always use it as a frame of reference. You know, it's - well, in Saddam's time, we have more electricity, or the lines at the gas station were shorter. You know, in Saddam's time, we had less violence or, you know - some population think, you know, their lives have improved quite a bit. So, you know, he is always a frame of reference, still, although it does feel like a ton has changed since he was killed.
STEWART: Did he become a martyr, in the past year, as some feared?
Mr. PARTLOW: I don't think it really became much of an issue. People are really worried that they'll see a lot of violence, a lot of backlash to his hanging. You know what, in Tikrit, where he was from, north of Baghdad, you saw a lot of people upset, and I think you would - probably, still a lot of people will be upset there. And some of the, you know, the insurgents, the Baaths or Baathists people who were loyal to him, I'm sure are still upset about it, and he has become a martyr. But he hasn't really become a national martyr at anywhere.
STEWART: Three themes seem to come up over the past year. In terms of military, General David Petraeus launched a new counterinsurgency plan; local allies began to fill gaps in fighting insurgents. And that back in January, President Bush announced this…
President GEORGE W. BUSH: America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.
STEWART: The administration called it the surge. What's been the real impact of the surge in the past 300-plus days?
Mr. PARTLOW: It's been a very big impact. I think the surge which - being 30,000 new troops. And also, General Petraeus coming in, - General David Petraeus, the top commander here coming in February, I believe, he really changed the strategy quite a bit. And - there's a sign I see sometimes in with entrance to some of the military base chow halls that says: warning random antiterrorism measures has been a fact, which I don't really like. And, you know, I think it kind of summed up sort of where things were before he came in. And he gave - you know, for better or worse, there's been definitely some problems, a lot of problems this year, but there is a clearer vision. And that vision was basically move these soldiers out into the city or the towns, off the large bases and to these small outposts, and, you know, try to interact with the population more and try to really get, you know - it's the heart of the problem.
And, you know, and there's definitely been a decrease in violence, so you'd have to say it's been successful to some degree, although there is, you know - a lot of other political and Iraqi factors that people say just widen the bounds (unintelligible) gone down also.
JOHN FUGELSANG, host:
Josh, the American media talks a lot about the reduction in troop violence. However, there still are regular bombing attacks that harm Iraqi citizens. And the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq was higher this year than any year since the conflict began. It hit a number of 3,900 this week. So, how does that jibe with the notion of a reduction in violence?
Mr. PARTLOW: Yeah, that's a good question. And there's definitely a lot of violence still in Iraq. I mean, today there is a big bomb in central Baghdad. A couple of days ago, there were two major bombings in northern provinces that killed dozens of people. It's just really that the levels were so high earlier in the year that - in comparison, they are still lower. I mean, it's not a place where one would feel safe by any means, yet, now. But, you know, the - like you said, the violence against the U.S. troops seems to have decreased more than against Iraqi civilians. So, yeah - we hear a lot about - and follow closely what happens to Americans here. So that's, you know, probably one reason you hear a lot about the decrease in violence.
STEWART: So another development that has happened, Josh, was the emergence of these Sunni tribal groups. Why, and how did they become so important and so active?
Mr. PARTLOW: Yeah, I really think that's probably the most important development this year. And I think that we're going to be hearing a lot about that in this coming year. It started actually not in 2007 - that started in 2005, when some tribal figures, tribal leaders in Anbar province, which is a desert province in the western part of the country, were fighting al-Qaida insurgents, were losing, were not doing well, and proposed alliance with the American Marines out there. And, you know, I think everyone who looked on it has a fairly risky proposition at that point because some of these tribal men were also insurgents themselves. But it has…
STEWART: Yeah, could they be trusted was the big issue.
Mr. PARTLOW: Yeah, it was huge. And I think it's still a huge issue because it's still unclear - it's a very large force right now. It's over 70,000 people that have really sprung up just this past year. And it - I think it's interesting because it kind of shows, in a way, the outlines of how big the insurgency was. I mean, we didn't know, you know, who these people were before. And now, there are - they have changed sides. And we get a sense of how large - and there's still violence, so there's obviously still others out there. But it's a large population. And so when people and Iraqis saw that it was working so well, in Anbar because the tribes, all of a sudden, had this - well-armed, well-funded partner in the American military that it spread like wildfire. And it's popped all over the country. And…
STEWART: Before I let you go, I do want to dive into one thing, because we're running out of time here. The (unintelligible) security were not mirrored on the political end of things. Late August, the Government Accountability Office said that the Iraqi government had only met three of the 18 congressional benchmarks. That's very little gain, politically. In terms of the politics on the ground, are people hopeful that the Iraqi government will do it together?
Mr. PARTLOW: No, not at all. There is a widespread dissatisfaction with the Iraqi government. There is more optimism with the - with some of the local leaders, local initiatives. But on a national level, people are extremely frustrated that there hasn't been more progress by the Iraqi government. They still see it - many people secure - the Sunnis see it an Iranian-backed Shiite government that has no interest in their interests. And it's very divisive even among Shiites because there are a lot of different important Shiite political parties that are rivals right now. And it's, really, it's a huge power struggle and it has resulted in basically, you know, paralysis.
So I was talking to a U.S. soldier the other day and I thought he made an interesting comment. He was saying that, you know, he thinks Prime Minister Maliki's version of reconciliation is reconciling with his own splintered Shiite community, and sort of the Sunnis have even taken a, you know, are even farther from his mind. So I think it's, you know the U.S. goal of reconciliation is still a very, very long ways away.
STEWART: Josh Partlow is the Iraq correspondent for the Washington Post. Thanks for walking us through the year's events, Josh.
Mr. PARTLOW: Thanks for having me.
STEWART: Take care of yourself.
Mr. PARTLOW: All right. Will do.
STEWART: This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.