Is there any reason for hope in Iraq?

"Absolutely," says Hamid Al Bayati, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations. "The fact is that in recent months there has been a tremendous improvement in the security situation in Iraq, proving that things can work well." Al Bayati was in Salt Lake City this week as a guest of Hiram Chodosh, dean of the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law, and professor Chibli Mallat, a Lebanese-born law professor at the university.

Al Bayati is a soft-spoken, articulate voice for the new Iraq. A determined foe of Saddam Hussein, he was imprisoned and tortured by Saddam, and eight of his close family members were murdered by Saddam. Given his position and history, Al Bayati can be expected to accentuate a positive outlook for the future of Iraq. However, even Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., one of Congress' most ardent anti-war proponents, sees signs of progress in Iraq. Murtha, who recently returned from Iraq, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I think the 'surge' is working." Not only has violence dropped significantly in recent months, but Murtha, like other commentators, says he is "most encouraged by changes in the once-volatile Anbar province."

The Iraq situation is a more complicated question than whether the glass is half empty or half full. Rather it resembles the glass gradually filling with water. Since the initial euphoria at the conquest of Baghdad, significant hurdles have been met and overcome. At each hurdle, naysayers speculated, at best, modest success and, at worst, disaster. For example, many were skeptical that a new constitution could be developed. But it was. Also, given the strong threats of violence leading up to Iraq's first popular election in decades, many expected, at best, a poor turnout. In fact, more than 70 percent of eligible Iraqis bravely showed up at the polls. Who can forget the millions of purple thumbs on election day in Iraq?

The biggest hurdle facing Iraq has been sectarian violence and the fear of all out civil war. The central question is: Can the Shiite majority and Sunni minority live together in peace?

As Al Bayati points out, "After the fall of the regime of Saddam, there was a vacuum of power, literally a security vacuum. Terrorists from all over the world joined with the remnants of Saddam's political regime to fight against the Americans and the new Iraqi government, which they considered friendly to America." The objective of this unholy alliance was to bring about sectarian civil war. Virtually all observers believe that the possibility of civil war, if it ever existed, is now extinct. The surge to that extent has worked.

On the ground, British correspondent Bartle Bull recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that "the Baathist Sunnis continued to kill to get back what they used to have, until accepting this past summer that they had suffered an historic defeat in the Battle of Baghdad. Shiite Iraq has arrived to stay, and today the drawing rooms of Baghdad's deal makers are full of Baathists, cap in hand, terrified of the Shiite death squads they inspired and hungry for their slice of the coming oil pie."

On the other hand, "The Wahhabis, mostly foreigners, answering to a higher power and blind to selfish thoughts of wealth and survival, continue to kill but find themselves increasingly unwanted." Bull also notes that this year in Baghdad "over 30 Sunni mosques have been reopened by the government, mostly in the mainly Shiite east of the city."

Al Bayati confirms there is a truce with the dissident militia. "Right now the police and the army are working to stop any militias from having arms."

I asked him what he considered to be the fruits of victory in Iraq. Understandably, he felt that obliterating the Saddam regime with its oppression, torture and mass murder was significant in and of itself. Also important to him, however, is the fact a democratically elected government in Iraq established a beach head of stability in a very complicated region. It is an example of hope to other countries in the region.

Though significant hurdles remain, Al Bayati is enormously grateful to America for its sacrifice in bringing Iraq to the verge of victory. He pleads with us to finish the job, to allow the needed time for the new Iraqi government to complete the solidification of its government. In other words, don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Joe Cannon is editor of the Deseret Morning News.