In October, U.S. deaths in Iraq fell to the lowest monthly total of the war, and Iraqi deaths fell to their lowest monthly totals of the year. The decrease in violence is attributed to the success of the January 2007 surge of U.S. troops to Iraq and to the rejection by Iraqis of the indiscriminate brutality shown by al-Qaida and other terrorist forces.
U.S. Marine Corps Major General John Kelly is Commander of the Multinational Force-West. His territory includes Anbar province, which two years ago was one of most violent places in Iraq. Today it is one of thirteen out of eighteen provinces the U.S. has handed over to provincial Iraqi control. The U.S. troops there now play oversight, training and advisory roles. In a recent press briefing, General Kelly said he was "very optimistic" about reducing U.S. troop levels in Anbar in January 2009.
Elaborating further, General Kelly said U.S. troops are busy helping to return a sense of normalcy to the province. The Marines have started tearing down hundreds of check points throughout Anbar that were once necessary as defensive positions all over the province but are no longer needed. But the most potent sign of change, said General Kelly, is the number of people who have registered to vote in the provincial elections to be held in January. In the 2005 election, he said, only three percent of the eligible population in Anbar registered to vote:
"We just registered about a hundred percent of the eligible voters, pretty close to it, largest number per capita in all of Iraq. The Iraqi security forces planned it, a little help from us, but they executed entirely on their own. Not a single accusation of fraud and not a single security incident."
General Kelly praised the courage, competence and sense of responsibility of the Iraqi army and police. "Months ago, they used to ask us for help. Now they don't ask us for help at all. ... They very much have the fight [bear the full burden of the fight]," he said:
"The only thing they're concerned about is, frankly, Iran. And, you know, they're very vocal about the Iranian activity inside Iraq from kind of a terrorism and kind of an infiltration point of view."
General Kelly said that the Iraqis "are not quick to have us leave," even though they do not want the U.S. to do their fighting for them. "They're very confident," said General Kelly, "that we can ... be friends with Iraq forever and not be here forever. That's the key point."