Hell freezes over again.
The AP reports some of the good news from Iraq, not all of it but some.
RAMADI, Iraq - For veterans of Ramadi, it seems like a different place and a different war
Just last year, soldiers were breaking down doors, hunting insurgents and struggling to secure the city block by block. U.S. troops now are invited into the homes of sheiks for lunch.
"We came here with a very conventional mind-set. We weren't expecting this. ... I joined the Marine Corps to be a point man on a patrol," chuckled the San Juan, N.M., native.
Instead, Cillessen and his troops are conducting a census and registering weapons, repairing sewer systems, ensuring fuel for cooking and heat is sold for fair prices, approving contracts to build new schools, parks and playgrounds, and perhaps most important, cultivating relationships with Iraqi police and citizens.
The violence in Anbar province is by no means over. So far this year 135 troops have died here — 16 percent of all military deaths in Iraq, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.
But from 2004 through 2006, an average of 345 members of coalition forces died each year in Anbar province or about 41 percent of all military deaths.
The decline of violence rests on a widening basis of trust. It's cultivated in handshakes, platters heaped with rice, chicken and lamb, cup after cup of sweet tea and clouds of cigarette smoke.
Anbar is a sprawling western province that includes Ramadi and stretches through mainly desert from near Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Last year, U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officials declared Anbar lost. "The social and political situation has deteriorated to a point" where U.S. and Iraqi troops "are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency," according to a five-page report written in August 2006 by Col. Peter Devlin, a military intelligence officer with the Marine Expeditionary Force.
The Sunni insurgency had sunk roots so deep in Anbar that the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, declared Ramadi its capital.
"These guys were ruthless," said Col. John W. Charlton of Spokane, Wash., the American commander responsible for Ramadi. "They would come in and cut young men's heads off and drag their bodies through the streets."
An important turning point was the founding late last year of the Anbar Awakening Council by the charismatic Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. He united dozens of Sunni tribes against al-Qaida.
Fed up with the violence and eager for revenge against al-Qaida members who killed 10 family members, including his father, Abu Risha persuaded citizens to join the police force. They did — in droves — despite past attacks against recruits.
"Sheiks see themselves as prominent leaders of the community. They recognize you have to have good, intelligent people running things," Charlton said. "(Abu Risha) wasn't saying, 'Do this for me.' He was saying, 'Do this for your family, for your country.'"
There are now 8,000 police officers and 14 police stations in Ramadi, according to the U.S. military. That's compares with fewer than 200 officers in spring 2006.
"Al-Qaida was just reeling," Charlton said. "They lost their capital. They lost all their good areas around there. ... We essentially made a gated community out of a city of 300,000 people."
But al-Qaida struck its own shocking blow — killing Abu Risha last month.
U.S. military leaders called the fatal bombing an inside job, organized by one of Abu Risha's bodyguards. All the alleged perpetrators were rounded up.
The sheik's death could easily have shattered the fragile peace.
Instead, Charlton said, the people declared Abu Risha a martyr. His image now appears on posters in the streets, on walls in offices and on placards in car windshields. A parade was held in his honor on Oct. 23. Schoolgirls, bunches of silk flowers in one hand, waved the yellow flag of the Anbar Awakening, now renamed the Iraqi Awakening.
"People do feel the weight's off," said Ambassador Ryan Crocker. "Al-Qaida simply is gone."
What remains of al-Qaida in the province is a contingent near Lake Tharthar, just north of Ramadi, according to Charlton, who initiated an attack there last week.
In Ramadi, fresh paint spruces up concrete barriers put up by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Shops selling meat, fruit, clothing, candy and cigarettes are open for business alongside crumbling buildings battered by gunfire.
Children play alongside heaps of rubble from demolished buildings. Dozens of workmen wearing coveralls sweep streets, collect garbage and repair power lines. Uniformed police officers direct traffic. The city bustles with life from dawn to well-past sunset.
As U.S. troops walk patrols, they're swarmed by children asking for candy, chocolate or pencils. Basic phrases in Arabic — hello, how are you, what is your name — fly back and forth to the delight of both the children and adults.
Attacks, including those by small-arms fire, explosive devices, have decreased from about 30 a day in January to fewer than one a day now, according to the U.S. military. Last year, during the holy month of Ramadan, there were 442 incidents in the area; this year, there were four, the military said.
What they do not mention is the parade in Ramadi against al-Qaeda where the security forces marched with pride and invited the American military to come watch as well as the other good news provided at that link.
What they do not mention is the Iraqi Army at Besmaya Installation collecting donations for the fire victims in San Diego... yup, the Iraqi's reaching out to help America in a time of need.
They might not bother to report all the good news, but hey, it is the AP, reporting this much of it had to be a very bitter pill to swallow.
Do you wonder why you are only hearing very few politicians cry out for an immediate withdrawal these days and why the Democratic politicians are doing everything in their power to avoid the subject when they can?
The tide has turned in Iraq.
Not just a couple weeks of lessening violence, but a trend over the last few months of a continuing downward spiral of IED killings and assassinations, of local violence and corruption.
The tide has also turned here as the media is being forced to report the good news and the American people are seeing it, support for the surge, for victory has also steadily been on the rise and each and every poll shows it continuing to rise, point by point, week by week and month by month.
America likes to win and Americans find far more patience when they are shown progress and without the spectacular incidents of massive bombings to report, the media is finally reporting the truth, the good the bad and the ugly, instead of just a steady stream of death tolls.
When they report death tolls and anything bad, please notice every news organization jumps on the story but when reports like this come out, or the Time piece about the Ramadi Parade (link at the URL above), or the information about the Iraqi's donating their money to the fire victims of California, no one jumps on it and you have to actively search for it to find it mentioned.
The new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll shows Congress is down to a 75% disapproval rating.
Considering that many politicians have publicly made it clear that their political careers were staked on America's defeat and not success, we can look for those numbers to drop further and further as more and more progress from Iraq gets seen by the American people.
By the way, Hillary? You owe General Petraeus an apology for that "willing suspension of disbelief" comment, when he told you about the lowering violence levels, because as the latest news comes out, it seems that the only person that deserves disbelief is you and your judgment.
That apology should be done as publicly as the venom you spewed at him was.
[Update] Thanks to reader, Robert, there are more updates about this at his site found here.
They were instrumental in routing Al-Qaeda in Iraq and driving them from Anbar province, now our Anbari allies are in the US looking to drum up support [code for financial assistance] for the reconstruction effort in their province, which is already well underway.
And with the exception of the Associated Press, news of the delegation's visit is getting no coverage in the mainstream media and scant attention in the blogospere.
So here's the skinny.
Gotta click over to alphabet Soup for that skinny, only fair since he gave us the headsup!!!!