In some ways, the surge is working

Though largely dismissed by the Democratic left, America’s “surge” policy is paying attractive dividends. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is in retreat, violence is down and political reconciliation is up.

In a 16-page letter that U.S. soldiers found last October near Baghdad, AQI leader Abu Tariq complained that his 600-man force had dwindled to 20 terrorists.

“We were mistreated, cheated and betrayed by some of our brothers,” he moaned, as Sunnis swapped AQI for the USA. This shift “created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight,” another AQI chief whined in his own missive discovered in November near Samarra. His network, he said, suffered “total collapse.”

Terrorism is collapsing across Iraq. In February 2007, when President Bush ordered 30,000 additional troops into Iraq — as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cheered and Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois jeered — only 8 percent of Baghdad’s neighborhoods were rated secure. That number is now 75 percent. In 2006, coalition troops defused 2,662 terrorist weapons caches. In 2007, they neutralized 6,956. Since June, attacks on U.S. soldiers have slid 60 percent. Meanwhile, sectarian violence fell 90 percent from January to December 2007, sparing Iraqi and U.S. lives alike.

“In a sense, Iraqis have been ‘re-liberated’ from al Qaeda,” says Pete Hegseth, executive director of Vets for Freedom, America’s largest organization of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “This time, I believe they want their country back for good.”

For years, terrorists repeatedly bombed Iraq’s oil pipelines, fouling the ground, forcing inky columns of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and frying the fledgling republic’s oil revenues. Pipelines that the Army Corps of Engineers has shielded helped push Iraq’s December 2007 daily oil output to 2.475 million barrels — 96 percent of pre-war capacity. This year’s daily goal is 3 million barrels, or 16 percent above pre-war levels. Last month, the Iraqi Oil Ministry announced that it was speaking with Royal Dutch Petroleum (A.K.A. Shell) and four international companies about investing in Iraq’s petroleum sector to drag it from the 1970s into the 21st century.

This far-brighter security climate is depriving the Democratic left of its last anti-surge talking point. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told CNN on Feb. 10, “The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure.”

Either Pelosi is self-deluded, or she spoke prematurely. On Wednesday, the Iraqi parliament scored a trifecta. It adopted a $48 billion budget, scheduled provincial elections for Oct. 1 within the context of new rules governing central, regional and local authorities, and passed an amnesty measure that could free thousands of mainly Sunni detainees not accused of serious crimes. Legislators embraced these bills unanimously.

“Today is a wedding for Iraq’s parliament,” said speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani. “We have proved that Iraqis are just one bloc.”

Iraqi lawmakers also recently green-lighted a de-Baathification law that bars some of Saddam Hussein’s former henchmen from public service, but welcomes back many more dismissed functionaries who have clean hands. A new pension law will grant retirement incomes to older ex-Baathists. If not their love, this should buy their peace.

Despite such dramatic security gains and serious political progress, American and allied troops must stay vigilant. AQI remains deadly and jaw-droppingly brutal. While some on the American left vilify the Boy Scouts, recently released videotapes show AQI training 10-year-old lads how to kidnap and slaughter people and blow themselves up with suicide vests. Meanwhile, AQI sent two bomb-equipped women with Down’s syndrome into two Baghdad pet markets on Feb. 1. They exploded these innocent women by remote control, murdering them and 73 other people, wounding 167, and wiping out helpless birds and other animal companions.

This butchery recalled a January 2005 atrocity in which AQI strapped dynamite to a 19-year-old with Down’s syndrome and sent him to mingle among voters. They detonated him to disrupt Election Day.

It is difficult to imagine more barbaric abuse of mentally handicapped human beings since Adolf Hitler used carbon monoxide to exterminate mentally retarded Germans at Wiesbaden’s Hadamar Psychiatric Institute in the early 1940s. Al Qaeda in Iraq forces (and their comrades worldwide) must be destroyed, just as were the Nazis. America’s surge is driving them to similar doom.

(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.murdock(at)gmail.com.)