[QUOTE]ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq--Last fall, President Bush, citing the violence in Baghdad, said that the U.S. strategy in Iraq was "slowly failing." At that time, though, more Americans were dying in Anbar Province, stronghold of the Sunni insurgency.
Six months ago, American intelligence reports about Anbar were dire. Although the Marines won the firefights, insurgents controlled the population--the classic guerrilla pattern. Among the groups, the extremists called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had achieved dominance. In 2004, AQI briefly held Fallujah, where they whipped teenagers who talked back, bludgeoned women who wore lipstick and beheaded "collaborators"--hapless passersby and truckers. AQI preached a persuasive message: Our way or the grave.
In late 2005, acceptably-trained Iraqi battalions began to join the persistent Americans in Anbar. AQI resorted to suicide attacks and roadside bombs, and avoided direct fights. Sub-tribes began to kill AQI members in retaliation for individual crimes, and discovered that AQI was ruthless, but not tough. Near the Syrian border, an entire tribe joined forces with the Marines and drove AQI from the city of al Qaim.
By the fall of 2006 AQI had become the oppressor, careless in its destructive swath, while the American and Iraqi forces persisted with their mix of force of arms and civil engagement. When an AQI suicide car bomb attacked an Anbar market in November, killing a Marine and nine civilians, the Marine battalion commander and his Iraqi counterpart offered medical care at the local clinic for the entire town, including the first gynecological examinations many local women had seen. This was not an isolated event, and the people noticed.
With a war-weary population buoying them, 25 of the 31 Anbar sub-tribes have pledged to fight the insurgents over the past five months, sending thousands of tribesmen into the police and army. Led by Sheik Abu Sittar, who has called this an "awakening," the tribes believed they were joining the winners.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top general in Iraq, recently persuaded Mr. Maliki to visit Ramadi and meet with the tribes. That was the start of the bargaining. The Iraqi government faces a classic risk-versus-reward calculation. The reward is that the tribes will provide the information, recruits and local policing that shrinks the area where AQI operates. With less area to search, the Iraqi Army can concentrate wherever al Qaeda tries to rest or regroup, eventually drying up the swamp. The risk is that, if the Shiite-dominated government refuses reasonable terms, the tribes use their military muscle to reach a truce with AQI and the province reverts.
[URL=http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110009900] full story [/url]