TWAW: "It truly is a blessing, the Iraq that I've returned to."
TOM FOREMAN: Take a look at this: for the first time in years, Iraq is not the number one concern for voters. The economy has overtaken the war as the most important issue, even though more troops have been lost in 2007 than in any other year. In the past few months the news from Iraq has been if not good, at least not as bad as we've been used to. So is Iraq becoming something that's out of sight, out of mind? For a look at what's really going on, CNN's Michael Ware is back in Baghdad after some well-deserved time covering another dangerous event, the World Rugby Championships. And retired Brigadier General David Grange joins us from Chicago. Michael, as we always do, give us the situation on the ground first. Things looking good? Bad? Otherwise?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to say it truly is a blessing, the Iraq that I have returned to, whichever way you look at it. Yes, American and Iraqi lives are still being lost, but they are at levels phenomenally lower than they were a year ago. There is considerably less violence. This is still a war zone. There is still sectarian bloodshed, but at least now, there is something of a lid to that and that has to be celebrated as a success. The question is, a success of what?
Now, clearly the military would like to attribute this to the surge, the increase of 30,000 extra forces here in the capital and of course, the addition of that kind of military might has played a part; but it hasn't achieved the end result that it was advertised that it would, the political reconciliation between the major parties. But what it has done is it's given America time to build the Sunni militias, these "concerned citizens' organizations," these "awakening councils," where we now see America with 67,000 insurgents on the U.S. payroll.
These men that the administration called dead-enders and criminals and Saddamists and rejectionists, America is now paying. They are out there slaughtering al Qaeda and they're out there forcing this Iraqi government, which is Shia-dominated and -- according to U.S. intelligence -- with many ties to Iran, to come to terms with the new American-created reality, and that is that the Sunni must play a part. "We have armed them. We are organizing them. You can no longer ignore them."
FOREMAN: We have been watching this add up for several weeks now, things getting steadily better and yet, look at this poll, because it really is rather shocking. In terms of opposing this war, 68 percent of the people, an all-time high, are against the war now even though things are going much better. General Grange, what do you make of that?
BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it is a bit in vogue now, also, not to approve the war with the political debates that are ongoing. I think the danger here is that there is some momentum with positive results, in this conflict right now and it is not the time to forget about the war and it is not a time to start pulling back too rapidly, because when you have success, when you have some measures of victory, you want to reinforce that to keep the momentum, to keep the enemy off balance and not let them breathe. So now is the time to actually keep the pressure on to really achieve victory.
FOREMAN: There does tend to be a tendency in our business, General, for bad news to trump good news. Do you sense that right now, that the stories moving off of the front pages, because it is not bad news?
GRANGE: Absolutely. I mean, I do think that that's prevalent that bad news is easier to report, more exciting to report, is great for market, the media market. It would be -- the balance is what you want. It is very important now especially to the GIs still in harm's way, to those allies that depend on us that we do show the positive aspects when in fact they do occur, which until this year, it hasn't been too much of.
FOREMAN: Michael, if you still can keep that support alive in this country right now, what do you think the people on the ground there most need to accomplish next, our soldiers and the Iraqis to keep things moving in a positive direction?
WARE: Well, obviously, reconciliation is the main thing, getting these incredibly scarred Sunni and Shia communities to come back together and whilst we might see that on the street level, even perhaps at the neighborhood level, we are not seeing it now, and we are not going to see it at the levels of the upper political stratagem. That is not what's going to happen. What we need to see is this momentum continuing, but for me personally, the blinding frustration of this enormously successful program that America has initiated with the Sunnis by bringing them in, befriending their old enemies, the men who had been shooting at them is that the Sunnis offered this four years ago.
It is almost as if we have now witnessed the end of or coming to the end of a guerrilla war we never had to have. 3,000 American lives and one wonders, did they have to be lost? Either way, now that they are finally doing this, that General Petraeus is doing what others wouldn't, this needs to be consolidated and this Iraqi government, which does not share American agendas needs to know that America is playing tough and it has to get on board and Iran needs to know that suddenly, there is a buffer within Iraq to curb their influence and obviously, this will keep America's Arab allies happy. Essentially more of the same. This is what we need.
FOREMAN: And General Grange, very quickly to you, will this change at all the timetable of America getting out of this war?
GRANGE: Well, I think it would, but again, I would caution to be careful here. By rushing to withdraw too rapidly when you have this type of success, will give you another dip. You know, you get these spikes, these valleys. You don't want that right now, especially when we want to put pressure on Iran like Michael said, when you want to keep things going and show at the grass roots level where things are working in the communities, in the tribes. To the national government, get on with it. Your countrymen are doing it. Now get on with it, because that has to be done.
FOREMAN: And on that, we are done. General Grange, thanks so much. Michael Ware, come join us again.