'An opinion poll in February that asked Iraqis "How would you say things are going overall these days?" found that 43% said they were going well, up from only 22% in September. Among Shias, the figure rose from 39% to 61%; among Sunnis, it went from a paltry 2% to 16%, but a notable jump all the same. If the poll were conducted today, the answers would be more positive still.
One clear reason for hope is that al-Qaeda's Iraqi branch has taken a big knock. The CIA's director, Michael Hayden, recently said it had suffered a "near-strategic defeat". Serviced mainly by Sunni radicals from the wider Arab world, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (as it calls itself) was responsible for most of the huge car bombs that terrorised Shia communities and provoked their backlash of sectarian cleansing, almost tipping Iraq into full-scale civil war two years ago. Such bombings and sectarian attacks are now scarcer.
Down but not out
But al-Qaeda is certainly not defeated. It is still active in the mixed Sunni-Shia province of Diyala and in the northern city of Mosul and its surrounding Nineveh province. It attacks the tribal leaders of the Sunni Awakening (or Sahwa) movement, for instance in the western province of Anbar, who have been persuaded to throw in their lot with the Americans. Most Sunni Arabs have turned strongly against it.'