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Gen. David Petraeus sat down before Congress Sept. 10 for a long-anticipated assessment of President Bush's surge plan

Three days' quiet

News of the Year | September 2007

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 29, 2007

No bombs exploded in Baghdad for three straight days in September. The sudden stilling of the insurgents' weapon made no headlines in the United States. But from Basra in the south to remote Zakho at the northern border, the news for Iraqis consumed cell-phone chatter and led discussions at streetside kebab stands. In Baghdad, where whole neighborhoods have been emptied by threats from militants, residents who remained felt hot streets cooling off and sensed that they might breathe again.

Military analysts attributed the dropoff in violence to the Bush surge plan announced in January, which by mid-year pumped an additional 28,500 U.S. troops into Iraq. The new U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, attributed success not only to manpower but to method: "We got down at the people level and are staying."

Petraeus sat down before Congress Sept. 10 for a long-anticipated assessment of the surge, noting simply that its objectives "are, in large measure, being met." The numbers are more demonstrative: U.S. casualties dropped from a high of 126 in May to 37 for November. Iraqi casualties, which hit a high for the year of 3,000 a month in February, stood at 560 for November.

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In planning the surge, U.S. commanders counted on improved Iraqi forces. What they did not count on was civilian solidarity. More than Americans, even, Iraqis in 2007 are war-weary and tired of insurgency, and that includes many who once sided with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, an influential tribal chief in Anbar Province, once ground zero of the Sunni insurgency, was one of many local leaders who turned against the militants this year to aid the United States. For him it was personal: By 2007, 10 of his relatives, including four brothers, had been killed by al-Qaeda. On Sept. 3 Abu Risha posed for a photograph with President George Bush during his surprise visit to the province. Ten days later Abu Risha was dead, struck down by a roadside bomb near his home.

With overall improving conditions many displaced Iraqis began to think of returning home. "I ask for just one of you to come back," Iraqi Assemblies of God pastor Ghassan Thomas told a group of refugees in Damascus in September. Thomas, who largely has remained in Baghdad and assists over 1,000 families taking refuge from attacks inside Baghdad churches, told WORLD that one young man responded to his plea immediately. By November Iraqis from Syria and Jordan-where combined refugee numbers have swelled to over 2.2 million-were returning at an average rate of over 500 a day. Iraqi and U.S. leaders acknowledge that the situation is far better than a year ago but fragile. Said U.S. commander in Baghdad Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno at a December press conference: "We have a window, I don't know how long that window is, but there is a window because of the security to move forward."

Also in September ...

Hillary Clinton announced that she would return $850,000 in campaign contributions after backer Norman Hsu was arrested on an Amtrak train in Colorado Sept. 6. Hsu was on the run from California authorities but also was indicted on Dec. 4 in New York on charges of stealing $20 million from investors and making illegal campaign contributions to various candidates, including Clinton.

Just before 8 p.m. on Sept. 5 during a taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, former Sen. Fred Thompson finally said the words conservatives were waiting for: "I'm running for president of the United States." But the long lead-in to the Law & Order actor's announcement and a lackluster performance on the stump had him trailing among conservatives, and many by year's end had trained their support on former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

How much controversy can one man stir when his entry visa restricts him to within a 25-mile radius of New York City? Enough, if you are Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Attending the UN's annual general session in Manhattan, the Iranian leader spoke at Columbia University on Sept. 24. He implored Allah to "hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi," the so-called Twelfth Imam whom Shiites believe will usher in world Islamic domination. The Iranian president ignored questions from school president Lee Bollinger about his denial of the Holocaust and support for terrorism but complained about Bollinger's introduction. After vetoing the objections of faculty members who opposed Ahmadinejad's visit, Bollinger in introductory remarks called him a "petty and cruel dictator."

Israeli air forces struck an unidentified site inside Syria Sept. 6, fueling speculation that Israel may strike unilaterally against enemies in the region in the absence of progress toward Mideast peace. Former intelligence officials who examined satellite imagery following the strike concluded that the bombed Syrian facility was most likely a plant for processing plutonium-and it resembled North Korean nuclear facilities. The findings, according to Israeli intel vet Mordechai Kedar, could suggest a growing strategic alliance among Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

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