After the briefing I asked Colonel Antonia if he'd asked the Sunnis why they had turned against al-Qaeda. "They said it was religious stuff," he said. "AQI demanded that the women wear abayas, no smoking and they preached an extreme version of Islam in the mosque. They'd also spent the winter without food and fuel because of the violence al-Qaeda was causing. One guy said to me, 'We fought against you because you invaded our country and you're infidels. But you treat us with more dignity than al-Qaeda,' and he said they'd continue to work with us. I've been involved in many operations here and this is a first—usually everybody's shooting at us. This is the first time we've had any of them on our side." (In web postings, the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade has denied it is cooperating with the Americans.)Source
Odierno later told me similar anti-al-Qaeda rebellions were happening throughout the country, including some neighborhoods of Baghdad. "Iraqis notice things. They noticed what happened when we began to support the Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda in al-Anbar. And al-Qaeda seems to have overplayed its hand."
Does this mean the US is "winning" the war in Iraq? Of course not. Iraq is a battlefield where "soldiers" from many nations are fighting for their own reasons, while the Iraqis themselves are divided by tribe, clan, ethnicity, religion, and goals for the future. Perhaps the Kurdish region of Iraq has a future, but the Arab parts of Iraq are cursed with the historical tendency of Arabs to cut their own throats while trying to cut the throats of everyone around them. Still, if the tribes of Iraq can agree to eradicate the religious extremists among them--both Sunni and Shia--perhaps even the Arabs can find some peace eventually.