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Cautious optimism: Iraq war at four

Iraq | As the Iraq war enters its fifth year this week, those in a position to know find reason for caution-and reason for optimism

In the streets, Omar Fadhil told WORLD's Jill Nelson that since the American "surge" in Baghdad began, "civilian activity is much better now than before. In the past weeks we [see] displaced families returning to their homes and evidence that some shops are reopening is several districts in Baghdad." Fadhil has been noting the changes on his blog, Iraq the Model, which he has co-authored with his brother Mohammed since the beginning of war four years ago this month. Omar recently ran a photo of an artillery shell fragment, an oversized piece of shrapnel from a nearby IED, that landed in his garden last December while he was drinking his morning coffee.

On the ground, Gen. David Petraeus this week told retired Army officer Gordon Cucullu, writing in the New York Post: "I walked down the streets of Ramadi a few days ago, in a soft cap eating an ice cream with the mayor on one side of me and the police chief on the other, having a conversation." Such a simple act would have been "unthinkable" just a few months ago, Petraeus said. "And nobody shot at us," he added.

At the White House, President Bush in a speech marking the fourth anniversary of the war urged caution: "I want to stress that this operation is still in the early stages, it's still in the beginning stages." Fewer than half of the troop reinforcements the president and top military aides hope to place in Baghdad for beefed-up patrols have arrived. "There will be good days, and there will be bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds," Bush said.

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But the changes already underway are concrete. In the violence-torn Anbar Province, a large hospital project put on hold due to the insecurity is back on track. Combined U.S.-Iraqi units are moving into Sadr City, where much Shiite-led violence has fomented, and staying there

And pessimistic polls measuring Iraqi opinion and published in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere this week are not entirely reflective of the mood in the streets, according to Fadhil.

"Civilians in general welcome any measures that can make the streets safer for them and make them able to go on with their normal lives without fear," he told WORLD from Baghdad. "I can't speak for everyone in this city of several millions but I can say that virtually everyone I met and talked to since the beginning of the operation was trying to find hope for the future in this operation."

How long would you like to see U.S. troops remain in Iraq?

"As long as it takes to ensure durable stability in the country," Fadhil replied. "I hope that those men and women will be able to return to their families and friends as soon as possible, but I also understand that their presence is necessary for both Iraq's and America's safety and interests."

Is the change in U.S. military strategy evident on the streets of Baghdad?

Fadhil said: "Absolutely! A lot more troops, Iraqi and American, are available and visible in Baghdad than there were a couple months ago-checkpoints are more abundant and security measures are far stricter than before. And yes, civilian activity is much better now than before; in the past weeks we reported on our blog on displaced families returning to their homes and on evidence that some shops are reopening is several districts in Baghdad...if you visited Baghdad in December and come again now for another visit, you'll see an obvious difference."


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