Victor Davis Hanson

Iraq for most Americans is now a toxic subject - best either ignored or largely evoked to blame someone for something in the past.

Any visitor to Iraq can see that the American military cannot be defeated there, but also is puzzled over exactly how we could win - victory being defined as fostering a stable Iraqi constitutional state analogous to, say, Turkey.

But war is never static. Over the last 90 days, there has been newfound optimism, as Iraqis are at last stepping forward to help Americans secure their country.

I spent last week touring outlying areas of Baghdad and American forward operating bases in Anbar and Diyala provinces, talking to Army and Marine combat teams and listening to Iraqi provincial and security officials.

Whether in various suburbs of Baghdad, or in Baqubah, Ramadi or Taji, there is a familiar narrative of vastly reduced violence. Until recently, the Americans could not find enough interpreters, were rarely warned about landmines and had little support from Iraqi security forces.

But now they are being asked by Iraqis in the "Sunni Triangle" to join them to defeat the very terrorists the locals once championed. Anbar, a province that just months ago was deemed lost by a U.S. military intelligence report, is now in open revolt against al-Qaida.

Why the change?

Officers offered a number of theories. The surge of American troops, and Gen. David Petraeus' risky tactics of going after the terrorists within their enclaves, have put al-Qaida on the run. Likewise, in the past four years, the U.S. military has killed thousands of these terrorists and depleted their ranks.

Sunnis - angry over their loss of power to the historically discriminated-against Shiites - discovered their al-Qaida allies to be worse than their Shiite rivals. We forget that jihadists drew in not merely religious fanatics but also repulsive common criminals and psychopaths who extort, butcher and mutilate innocents.

Iraqis of all tribes and sects are also growing tired of the nihilistic violence that is squandering the opportunity for something better than Saddam's rule. The astronomical spike in oil prices has resulted in windfall profits of billions of dollars for the Iraqi government - and with it the realization that Iraq could someday become a wealthy advanced state.

Iraqis told me that their widely held fear that Americans are going to leave soon has galvanized Sunnis to finally step up to secure their country or face even worse chaos in our absence.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.