Refreshing: "Iraq a Remarkably Safer Place" Now Than Before Surge

This is the New York Times, right?

Iraq-based reporter Dexter Filkins conducted an exit interview with Gen. David Petraeus, senior commander in Iraq, "Exiting Iraq, Petraeus Says Gains Are Fragile." While not a victory lap (Petraeus cautions that security gains are fragile), Filkins allowed the general to sketch out the immense progress made since the surge and other counter-terror strategies were instituted in Iraq in the first half of 2007.

...General Petraeus is preparing to leave Iraq a remarkably safer place than it was when he arrived. Violence has plummeted from its apocalyptic peaks, Iraqi leaders are asserting themselves, and streets that once seemed dead are flourishing with life. The worst, for now, has been averted.

And so in the general's exhaustion comes the glimmer of hope, and also a caveat: Iraq has indeed stepped back from self-destruction, General Petraeus said, but the gains are tenuous and unlikely to survive without an American effort that outlasts his tenure. By the time he leaves for the United States next month to assume overall command of American forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, he will have spent a total of 48 months in Iraq since the war began.

Some more words you don't see often in the New York Times:

The surge, clearly, has worked, at least for now: violence, measured in the number of attacks against Americans and Iraqis each week, has dropped by 80 percent in the country since early 2007, according to figures the general provided. Civilian deaths, which peaked at more than 100 a day in late 2006, have also plunged. Car and suicide bombings, which stoked sectarian violence, have fallen from a total of 130 in March 2007 to fewer than 40 last month. In July, fewer Americans were killed in Iraq - 13 - than in any month since the war began.

The result, now visible in the streets, is a calm unlike any the country has seen since the American invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in April 2003. The signs - Iraqi families flooding into parks at sundown, merchants throwing open long-shuttered shops - are stunning to anyone who witnessed the country's implosion in 2005 and 2006.

Filkins, a longtime Iraq correspondent, has not been one of Times Watch's favorite reporters, but his frank assessment about the success of the surge is welcome.