Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - Violence has drastically declined in Iraq, the chief Sunni Muslim political bloc is ready to rejoin the Shiite-led government, and Obama campaign advisers are talking about a more gradual troop pullout plan.

These are among the remarkable developments occurring in Iraq since President Bush implemented the surge strategy -- a bold gambit that has proven all of the defeatists wrong, strengthened Iraq's fledgling democracy and given Iraqi citizens new hope for a better life.

Abandoning a nearly year-long boycott, Sunni leaders will rejoin Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet if their six nominees are approved by the parliament as early as this week, a move that can open the way to further reconciliation in the war-torn country. The government has met many Sunni demands for reform, including an amnesty program that released thousands of Sunni detainees this year. Its leaders were also encouraged by Maliki's tougher offensive against violent Shiite militias, particularly Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Meanwhile, a report from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad last week said Iraq has met 15 of the 18 original benchmarks set by Congress to gauge its progress on political, economic and national security reforms. Still, much work remains to be done in three areas: a workable system to govern the oil industry that allows all Iraqis to share in its revenues, the disarmament of militant militia and insurgent groups, and strengthening the country's police forces.

But perhaps the most stunning political development in the aftermath of the surge's success is a grudging movement within the Obama campaign to recognize that the situation in Iraq has improved. The candidate has given signs that he's ready to scale back his defeatist-driven plans for a complete military pullout should he win the presidency in November.

In recent months, some of Obama's top national security advisers have been circulating strategy papers recommending that a significant "residual" U.S. military force be kept in Iraq to insure its stability as Iraqi government leaders work toward national reconciliation. The leader of this movement is Georgetown University defense analyst

Colin Kahl, coordinator of the Obama campaign's working group on Iraq policy.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.