To be truthful, I haven't followed the news from Iraq as diligently lately as I once did. Part of it has been because of the SUPER-EXCITING Democratic primary. (/snark) But part of it has been the general lack of news itself.
It's true that violence is down, though that is relative; large numbers of Iraqi security forces and civilians are still getting killed with some regularity, with little improvement over, say, 2005. It's even more true that violence against US forces is down. Total deaths this month are set to be one of the lowest of the entire war, no doubt aided by the increasing responsibility of Iraqi forces.
So what's happening? Is it the surge? Without going into more detail and examining the statistics province by province, I would guess that the US strategy has indeed produced some localized successes in reducing violence. Standard counter-insurgency doctrine requires large numbers of occupying forces to maintain order and clamp down on violence, and this has finally been realized in some areas.
But far more important in my mind has been the bribing of Sunni militias and insurgent groups in Al Anbar province, which was previously the hotbed of insurgent activity. This alliance of convenience has held up for quite some time, and depending on how things go, it may yet hold up for a while to come.
The violence that is still going on appears to be more the product of various sectarian militias vying for power; namely Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army and the more powerful SCIRI groups, which are backed by Iran and control much of the Iraqi government. It seems as though these groups are not interested in any lasting compromise, and they may be headed toward a major clash.
And the Sunnis may have been placated for the time being, but there is no indication that any of them recognize the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. The various tribal leaders all have their fiefs, and they're happy as long as no one challenges their authority.
But if Iraq is to become a functioning nation-state with a democratic government, this status quo must be overturned. And if the past five years are any indication, it will not be peaceful. Bush has succeeded in holding Iraq together long enough for the final outcome to become the next president's responsibility, but if things come apart as I suspect they will, he will not escape blame.