January 11, 2008 -- AS you read these lines, our troops are in the midst of Operation Phantom Phoenix, a "mini-surge" to squeeze al Qaeda and its fast-dwindling band of allies out of their few remaining safe havens in Iraq.
Iraqi troops fight beside us against a common enemy. Vast swaths of the country enjoy a newborn peace. Commerce thrives again. At the provincial and local levels, the political progress has been remarkable.
As for Operation Phantom Phoenix, our commanders expected terrorist dead-enders to put up a fight. Instead, they ran, leaving behind only booby traps and disgust among the Iraqis they tormented far too long.
Well, they can run, but they can't hide. We dropped 20 tons of bombs on 40 terrorist targets yesterday, including safe houses, weapons caches and IED factories. In a late-afternoon exchange with The Post, Gen. David Petraeus characterized our current ops as "executing aggressively, pursuing tenaciously."
The headlines at home? "Nine American Soldiers Killed." No mention of progress or a fleeing enemy on the front pages. Just dead soldiers.
Determined to elect a Democrat president, the "mainstream" media simply won't accept our success. "Impartial" journalists find a dark cloud in every silver lining in Iraq. And the would-be candidates themselves continue to insist that we should abandon Iraq immediately - as if time had stood still for the past year - while hoping desperately for a catastrophe in Baghdad before November.
These are the pols who insisted that the surge didn't have a chance. And nobody calls 'em on it.
Meanwhile, "Happy Birthday, Surge!"
One year ago, "the surge" kicked off as a forlorn hope, our last chance to get it right.
The odds were against us. Terrorist violence was out of control. Baghdad was a toxic wreck. Militias ruled, with ethnic cleansing rampant. And Iraq's leaders couldn't even agree about which day of the week it was.
We had never applied a coherent military or political policy in Iraq. Dithering leaders, civilian and in uniform, squandered American and Iraqi lives. A unique opportunity to jumpstart change in the Middle East had collapsed amid ideological fantasies, a looting orgy for well-connected contractors and Washington's simple unwillingness to really fight.
Even the new US jefe maximo for Iraq, Petraeus, was a dark horse. He'd just signed off on a counterinsurgency manual suggesting that the key to defeating terrorists is to learn to pronounce Salaam aleikum (Peace be with you) properly.
And then it all went right. Confounding Dems who expected him to preside over a retreat, Petraeus took the fight to the enemy like a rat terrier on meth. Jettisoning all the p.c. dogma, he turned out to be the first true warrior we put in command in Iraq.
Luck turned our way, too - and luck matters in war. Al Qaeda had managed to alienate its erstwhile Sunni Arab allies in record time. Former insurgents decided that the Great Satan America made a better dancing partner than Osama & Co.
Although analysts have missed it completely, the execution of Saddam Hussein helped, too: It took away the rallying figure for Sunni hardliners and made it easier for former insurgents to switch allegiance. The shock of Saddam's hanging jarred Iraq's Sunni Arabs back to reality: Big Daddy with the mustache wasn't coming back.
Meanwhile, the rest of the population was just sick of the violence. The merchant class wanted to get back to business. Tribal sheiks felt betrayed by foreign terrorists. And mashallah! We had veteran commanders on the ground who recognized the shifts underway in Iraqi society and capitalized on them.
Petraeus manifested two stages of military genius: 1) He recognized exactly what had to be done. 2) He didn't imagine he could do it all himself.
Our new man in Baghdad had the wisdom to give subordinate commanders a long leash when they caught a good scent.
Without in any way detracting from Petraeus, the indispensable man, our success this past year rested heavily upon field commanders far from the flagpole having the savvy to realize that the local sheik just needed one last bit of encouragement to jump sides.
Oh, and the left turned out to be dead wrong, as usual. We hadn't created an unlimited supply of terrorists. In fact, the supply turned out to be very finite, to al Qaeda's chagrin. And killing them worked. (One of the great untold stories of 2007 was the number of al Qaeda corpses.)
And our former enemies have been killing them for us.
Iraq still faces massive problems, of course. Thirty years of murderous tyranny under Saddam followed by four years of Coalition fumbling left the country a shambles. But Iraqis want it to get better.
The military situation is well on the way to being under control. Now the question is whether Iraq's leaders, especially those from the newly empowered Shia, can put their country above their personal and parochial interests (something that we don't expect of our own politicians these days).
On our side, the immediate problem is that we lack diplomats as visionary and capable as our soldiers. After almost a century, the Foggy Bottom fops still can't see beyond a world gerrymandered by their European idols at Versailles.
So here we are: The surge worked. It achieved all that we can expect of our military. 2008 will tell us whether the politicians and diplomats, US and Iraqi, can do their part.
And a final note: The Post had over a week's advance warning of Operation Phantom Phoenix, but didn't publish it. We don't share our nation's secrets with our enemies.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Wars Of Blood And Faith."