Yesterday, I spent most of the day with General David Petraeus. We flew on his Blackhawk to Fallujah, a place here the General considers to be a great success story. Widely reported at the time in 2004 after four Blackwater contractors were mutilated, burned, and strung from a bridge here, Fallujah was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of this war. Not long after the contractors were killed, Fallujah became a "no-go zone" for U.S. troops. Then, al Qaeda came to this city and later the people here decided they hated al Qaeda more than the Americans. Today, Iraqis are pretty much policing the town along with U.S. soldiers.
Fallujah, in the Anbar Province, makes up about a third of the country. These days, there is observable peace and prosperity in parts of Fallujah, but not everywhere. Occasionally, even in peaceful sections of Fallajuh, you can spot a face that is not so friendly. Parts of Baghdad are still frightening; fighting in the North and Shiite Militias are still wreaking havoc. These are the factions that are reportedly backed by Iran.
After spending yesterday with Gen. Petraeus, I observed him to be a leader who is approaching the psychology of winning over the Iraqis differently than his predecessors. Gen. Petraeus says he is trying to secure neighborhoods and create a feeling of safety in daily life, as opposed to merely routing out the enemy.
Today, we walked around Baghdad and when we went to a market, I have to say, the people here seemed genuinely glad to have us. When the small children saw us, they warmly swarmed towards us wanting candy. It was reminiscent of the scenes we watched four years ago when the U.S. soldiers first arrived on the ground here, before everything went south.
I also spent lots of time today with a U.S. General in charge of neutralizing the Shiite Militias, who are fighting each other and killing Sunnis for control. I spoke to our soldiers and everyday people in the streets.
It's the average person we don't often hear from in the coverage of the war. They have expressed to me their desire for peace, security and basic services. If the U.S. can facilitate those seemingly basic but elusive things here, maybe all is not lost. The problem, of course, is that the Sunnis and Shiites populations still have hatred for each other. With the Shiites in control, and after 35 years of the Sunnis being the favored group here, the Sunnis are marginalized and in a region of the world with traditions, mindsets and ways of doing business that are dramatically different from ours.
I guess the big question is whether this government can form some kind of functional coalition that successfully brings the Sunnis into the fold. But before they can be elevated to the level of partners or members of a collation government, they would need to get basic services like electricity and water; it is a matter of both necessity and dignity.
However, none of this can be oversimplified by any one group or outside observer. It is all so complicated, with many moving parts. I also feel that domestically, Americans may have become so conditioned, possibly some even invested, in the notion of complete failure here in Iraq that they almost don't want to hear about any progress.
But that hesitancy may not be without merit. There is still much to criticize here. Just this past week, two retired British generals criticized the U.S. over its Iraq policy, calling the strategy "intellectually bankrupt" and even "fatally flawed."
The opinions and reporting differ greatly making it extremely difficult for many people to measure the road ahead. However, I feel positive news should be treated two ways: it should not be overlooked nor should it be overblown for political gain on either side. Sometimes, it should just be heard.
This is Katie Couric signing off from Baghdad.