Good news for a change? http://www.nypost.com/seven/03012007/postopinion/opedcolumnists/battling_for_baghdad_opedcolumnists_ralph_peters.htm NEW TACTICS BRING SIGNS OF PROGRESS March 1, 2007 -- WITH all of the mud-sling ing on Capitol Hill, you could almost forget the gun-slinging in Baghdad. As Democrats, Iraqi insurgents and terrorists all struggle to prevent an American win, it's hard to get an accurate sense of Iraq nowadays. When in doubt, ask a soldier. My best source in Baghdad offered a soberly optimistic assessment at odds with the "Gotcha!" negativity in Washington. He doesn't claim that success is guaranteed. But he believes in his head, heart and soul that we've got a fighting chance. And I believe him. I took the temperature of other officers, as well. They agree unanimously that the administration made terrible mistakes from which we and the Iraqis are still recovering. But not one of these soldiers is ready to quit. Here are the key points I've heard from those I trust: * Of the five additional U.S. brigades headed for Baghdad, only one is in place, with the second starting to arrive. Yet the city is already quieter and safer. The terrorists continue to detonate their bombs - with suicidal fanatics targeting the innocent - but sectarian killings (death-squad hits) have dropped from over 50 each night down to single digits. * The tactic of stationing U.S. units and their Iraqi counterparts down in the Baghdad 'hoods is already paying off. (It should have been used from the outset - instead of hunkering down on massive bases. But better late than never.) The effort has triggered a flood of intelligence tips: When citizens feel safe, they cooperate. And when they help us, our success compounds. * U.S. commanders now have a lot of experience in Iraq. They're not wide-eyed kids at the circus anymore. They understand there are no uniform, easy answers to Iraq's violence and complex allegiances. As a senior officer put it, "Every neighborhood and city is unique, with their own challenges." I'll leave it to The New York Times to betray our military secrets, and just say I'm very impressed by the insight shown by our brigade and battalion commanders these days. * We hear the bad news from the rest of Iraq, such as this week's monstrous car bombing of children at play on a soccer field in Ramadi, but we don't hear that such attacks by al Qaeda operatives have infuriated mainstream Sunni sheiks and their tribes - who increasingly make common cause with us and their government. And winning over the Sunni "middle" is crucial to Iraq's future. * We'll never stop all suicide bombers and car bombers, but our security crackdown has already taken out two major Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) factories. And we took down a huge arms cache late last week. * No one's getting any "Mission Accomplished" banners ready to go, but front-line leaders in Iraq are convinced the situation just isn't as hopeless as politicians back home insist. I don't know a single officer in-country who believes the reporting from Iraq gives an honest, balanced picture. Of course, there are serious worries: * Above all, senior leaders worry that, thanks to political shenanigans back home, they won't be given the time it would take to win. Even with improved tactics, this just isn't easy work. Personally, I continue to believe that 2007 is the year of decision - when the Iraqi government and its security forces have to show their mettle. But 2007 has barely begun. Let's not declare defeat for April Fool's Day. The stakes are so high that Iraq merits this last chance. * The sectarian violence between Sunni Arabs and the Shia that gathered strength after last year's Golden Mosque bombing has "damaged trust between the two sects enormously," as a U.S. official put it. It's possible that the damage is too deep to be repaired - we just don't know. At best, reconstructing a shared national identity is going to be hard. But many gruesome conflicts have ended in national reconciliation. * There's one thing we know won't work: The nutty Pelosi-crat proposal to restrict the mission of U.S. troops to "training Iraqis and defeating al Qaeda." Would our troops have to wait to return fire until they checked the ID cards of their attackers? If they saw a massacre of women and children in progress, would we want them to stand by until they received a legal opinion as to whether the killers were bona fide foreign terrorists? This ain't the NFL, where everybody wears a uniform and plays by the rules. Proposals to limit the freedom of action of our troops reflect domestic politics at their shabbiest - and you and I know it. Our troops need fewer restrictions, not more. THERE are no guarantees of success. The president's troop surge may not be enough to make a decisive difference; in the end, Iraq may collapse all around us. A sectarian bloodbath could be inevitable. But our brave men and women in uniform have new coaches and a new playbook for Iraq. They believe they've got a reasonable chance to cross the goal line - and they've got more at risk than a sports celebrity's salary. Yes, the Iraqis have to pick up the ball - but it would be an immoral act of strategic madness to fumble the ball on purpose. In the end, we may not win. But you can't win if you walk off the field while the game's still under way. The clock may run out on hope for Iraq. But it hasn't yet. Ralph Peters' latest book is "Never Quit The Fight."