Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The war against Islamic terrorism in Iraq is still a work in progress, but a few strategic victories in the past few months suggest the forces of freedom may be making some headway there.

American and Iraqi forces have cleared several terrorist-infested areas, including Anbar province. Large swaths of Baghdad have also been made safer as a result of the surge of U.S. troops.

"The level of violence is down in the two areas where the 'surge' is focused, Anbar and Baghdad," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said last week. There have been numerous reports that tribal sheiks in Anbar and elsewhere have begun forming alliances with Iraqi and U.S. military forces for the first time, identifying terrorist locations and weapons caches and the places where Al Qaeda killers have planted roadside bombs.

Perhaps the most important evidence the surge is having an effect is the fact that the terrorist attacks have declined or stopped in the areas where U.S. forces have focused their enforcement efforts.

Since President Bush initiated the surge earlier this year, Al Qaeda has stepped up its attacks in some places. But overall, sectarian killings, total car bombings and suicide attacks have fallen in May and June.

Listen to what New York Times reporter John Burns, who has covered Iraq for the past five years, told PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose last week:

"I think, quite simply, that the United States armed forces here -- and I find this to be very widely agreed amongst Iraqis that I know, of all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds -- the United States armed forces are a very important inhibitor against violence," Burns said.

"I know it's argued by some people (i.e., Democratic war critics) that they provoke the violence. I simply don't believe that to be in the main true. I think it's a much larger truth that where American forces are present, they are inhibiting sectarian violence and they are going after the people, particularly Al Qaeda and the Shiite death squads, who are provoking that violence," Burns added.

There are signs that the surge has produced dividends in other areas of Iraqi governance and society. Recruitment for the Iraqi army and police forces is way up, attracting thousands of Iraqi men, including Sunnis. We are seeing the reappearance of professional soccer leagues in Baghdad, as well as new reconstruction projects in larger numbers.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.