It’s been seven years since al-Qaida terrorists launched a series of attacks on the United States that resulted in the deaths of nearly three thousand innocent people. In the intervening years, al-Qaida has launched attacks in Bali, London, Madrid, and Saudi Arabia, among other places, killing hundreds of civilians.
After an international coalition led by the U.S. removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq in 2003, al-Qaida, in the words of its number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, viewed Iraq “as the place for the greatest battle ... in this era.” Over the years, al-Qaida caused the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians and coalition troops, instigating a campaign of sectarian violence, and seizing control of territory in Iraq with barbaric ruthlessness.
In January 2007, President George Bush announced an order for a surge of American troops into Iraq to stop the violence perpetrated by al-Qaida and extremist Shiite militias supported by Iran. Since the surge, although al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq remain capable of high-profile attacks, al-Qaida has been significantly weakened and demoralized. Iraqi forces have been strengthened, and, in a majority of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, are taking the lead in the fight for their nation’s security.
The transformation was recently and dramatically on display in Iraq’s Anbar province, which two years ago was one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. Al-Qaida was in control of almost every population center. But, as President Bush says, something remarkable happened:
“Together, local tribes, Iraqi troops, and American forces systematically dismantled al-Qaida control across the province. Today, Anbar is a province transformed. Attacks in the province have dropped by more than 90 percent. Casualties are down dramatically. Virtually every city and town in Anbar now has a mayor and a functioning municipal council. ... Today, Anbar is no longer lost to al-Qaida – it has been reclaimed by the Iraqi people.”
Similar gains are occurring across Iraq, said Mr. Bush. “While the enemy in Iraq [remains] dangerous, we have seized the offensive,” he said, making substantial progress toward realizing America’s goal “to help the Iraqi people build a democratic nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.” And such progress in Iraq, said Mr. Bush, is a crucial step toward the broader goal of proving “that the future of the Middle East belongs not to terror, but to liberty.”