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Permanent Security Gains In Southern Iraq?

Not many generals have been inclined to portray calm in Iraq as irreversible. But in southern Iraq, where violence has declined so steeply that now U.S. troops come under attack only twice a day, that’s what Maj. Gen. Michael Oates perceives:

“In southern Iraq, it’s my considered opinion that (the progress) is not reversible,” Oates said. The situation is less peaceful in parts of northern Iraq, particularly the city of Mosul, which commanders have called al-Qaeda in Iraq’s last urban stronghold. A suicide car bomber there killed four U.S. servicemembers on Monday in the single deadliest attack on U.S. forces since May.

It’s worth remembering that in March, the Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr fought in Basra, Iraq’s largest southern city, against Iraqi security forces during a very bloody month. (Iran brokered a ceasefire.) Oates clearly wants to send a message that those days are over, and evidently has enough confidence in the assessment to use words that will be thrown back in his face if the violence reflares. Juan Cole wonders if the new stability shouldn’t also be credited to the Iranian influence in the region, as well as the Status of Forces Agreement’s guarantee of a 2011 U.S. withdrawal.

Oates also has a vivid quip illustrating the unexpected turns that counterinsurgency missions demand:

“We’re not going to let an infantry guy sit on a (base) if he can go out there and help with a veterinarian inoculating goats,” Oates said.

“Now it’s not what he signed up to do. I got it. (But) if inoculating somebody’s goat is going to cause (an Iraqi) to connect with their government and not pick up an AK-47, that is security.”

Call it Oates on goats. Inoculations for all, then.

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