Antiriotshwanmohammedafpgetty

The Mosul campaign is a final and critical one, and Marie Colvin, an excellent and seasoned reporter, has very encouraging news:

Operation Lion’s Roar, in which the Iraqi army combined forces with the Americans’ 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, has already resulted in the death of Abu Khalaf, the Al-Qaeda leader, and the capture of more than 1,000 suspects. The group has been reduced to hit-and-run attacks, including one that killed two off-duty policemen yesterday, and sporadic bombings aimed at killing large numbers of officials and civilians.

Last Friday I joined the 2nd Iraqi Division as it supported local police in a house-to-house search for one such bomb after intelligence pointed to a large explosion today.

Even in the district of Zanjali, previously a hotbed of the insurgency, it was possible to accompany an Iraqi colonel on foot through streets of breeze-block houses studded with bullet holes. Hundreds of houses were searched without resistance but no bomb was found, only 60kg of explosives.

The use of female suicide bombers - often the bereaved family members of, er, former suicide bombers - is another sign of the Jihadists' desperation. Then we have the "fragile and reversible" but still encouraging development in Helsinki:

The Helsinki agreement, which was hammered out over meetings in September and April, was signed by 33 politicians from Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish, Turkmen, Communist and other parties.

The document consists of 17 principles, as well as strategies to ensure compliance with those goals. The principles included a commitment to eventually limit arms possession to the government, respect for minority rights and opposition to international and regional influence in Iraq’s internal affairs.

The agreement also included a pledge to integrate the so-called Awakening Councils, and others who have fought against extremists, into state institutions.

We need to add all the usual caveats. This is Iraq. But if someone had told me a year ago that fifteen of eighteen benchmarks had been reached, that all the parties were in negotiation over future politics, that al Qaeda was close to dead at the hands of the US and the Iraqis, and that oil contracts were being handed out amid four-year lows in violence, I wouldn't have believed them.

Of course, this all makes Obama's 16 month withdrawal timetable more and more feasible. It really now is a question of prudence and strategy in how best to withdraw troops. Do you trust McCain to get them all out swiftly and prudently? Or do you trust Obama to get them all out prudently and swiftly? It's a judgment call. And the options are better than they were six months ago.

(Photo: Shwan Mohammed/AFP/Getty.)

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