The Damage Done

With a wave of over a dozen bombings ripping through Baghdad just a week after U.S. troops officially pulled out, new questions are being raised about the country’s ability to stand on its own without U.S. security assistance. Before looking ahead to whether Iraq can withstand a potential new wave of sectarian violence, it’s crucial to take measure of where the country currently stands and the effect of eight years of war on its people and institutions.

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, researchers at the Brookings Institution began the Iraq Index to keep tabs on how the war progressed. As students of counterinsurgency know, it is difficult to find the right metrics to evaluate how a war effort of this type is going. It is also challenging to obtain reliable data even if relevant metrics have been identified. The most important metrics can also change with time; additionally, some can be leading indicators of change, while others tend to lag broader improvements.

In the war’s early days, the general sense of disorder and chaos and the disempowerment of many former Baathists and former soldiers were probably the most important metrics. They augured poorly for the future — while official U.S. data focused more on restoration of infrastructure and other generally positive indicators that though important may not have been quite as crucial as they seemed at the time. Then U.S. attention turned to building up Iraqi security forces, but, alas, progress in their training, numbers, and equipment could not trump the growing sectarian fissures that were widening within the government, Army, police, and country writ large.

Metrics of violence were recognized as the most important indicators by 2006 and 2007, when the country was being ripped apart. The success of the surge was fairly easy to see, as these numbers plummeted in late 2007 and 2008. Since then, however, tracking Iraq’s changes has become harder as progress has slowed and politics have become at least as important as security and quality-of-life indicators.

With U.S. military engagement in Iraq having come to an end, here are 10 key metrics that reveal both the damage wrought by the war and the state of the country that U.S. forces are leaving behind:

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