South Baghdad has truly quieted down. There is still some violence reminding us this is not over, but I walked down the street of one neighborhood the other day wearing no body armor or helmet.
I mentioned back in December that I expected US casualties likely would rise in January and February, and unfortunately this is occurring. The same is likely to happen in March. This masks the reality that much progress is being made and Iraq as a whole appears to be settling down, because it is easy to cherry pick facts that make it appear worse than it is. I believe that JAM is cooperating more than is being reported in the news.
The increased US causalities are to be expected due to the rapidly diminishing habitat for al Qaeda. Al Qaeda continues to get hammered south of Baghdad, out in Diyala, up in Salah ad Dinh, Nineveh, and other places, but of course some of them always squirt and escape.
Many al Qaeda have "escaped" to (or are being trapped in? ) Mosul. There are reports that al Qaeda has learned from their mistakes and are treating the people in Mosul better than they have treated people elsewhere; this could make it tougher to root them out of Mosul. But these reports are ambiguous: AQI typically treats people mostly well when they first move in, but the pattern is clear: eventually they go Helter Skelter and start cutting off kids' heads and so forth.
I expect fierce fighting to unfold in Mosul, and I should be there in a few days.
On Monday, I'll talk on the Dennis Miller show, and Tuesday on NPR. Please click here for more information, and to see three "Photos of the Year" (almost), that I shot in Iraq.