Al-Maliki: Iraq Defeated Terrorism

Iraq's prime minister said yesterday that the government has defeated terrorism in the country, a sign of growing confidence after recent crackdowns against Sunni extremists and Shiite militias.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began the crackdowns to extend the authority of the government over areas in Baghdad and elsewhere that have largely been under the control of armed groups since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"They were intending to besiege Baghdad and control it," al-Maliki said. "But thanks to the will of the tribes, security forces, army and all Iraqis, we defeated them."

He was speaking at ceremonies marking the fifth anniversary of the assassination in 2003 of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a leading opponent of Saddam Hussein who was killed in a truck bombing in Najaf after returning from exile in Iran.

Such attacks plagued Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion, but violence in the country has now fallen to its lowest level in four years. The change has been driven by the 2007 buildup of American forces, the Sunni tribal revolt against Al Qaeda in Iraq and al-Maliki's crackdowns, among other factors.

"Under the national unity government, the Iraqis have achieved national feats ... that are now lighting the course of our march," al-Maliki said.

Bolstered by this confidence, al-Maliki plans to visit the United Arab Emirates today and also Italy and Germany later in the month — apparently hoping that improved security at home will pay dividends in greater international support.

Iraq is also enjoying a surge in oil revenue driven by record crude prices and the highest production levels since Saddam's ouster. The government expects to make a total of $70 billion from oil in 2008 if prices stay high.

Planning to put some of this money to work, the Iraqi government held a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday for a major project to refurbish the main road to the Baghdad airport. The road was once considered one of the most dangerous in the world but has become safer with the decline in violence in the country.