The State of Iraq: An Update

As 2008 and the Bush presidency conclude, Iraq has settled into a kind of violent semi-peace. The population-protection strategy initiated by Gen. David Petraeus has been a remarkable success on balance. Its logic continues even though American force numbers in Iraq have nearly returned to pre-surge levels.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his associates have been recently claiming that the groundwork for the surge was laid during their tenure, and that 2007 was not the first time the Pentagon increased forces in Iraq. But they miss the fact that only in the last two years have our troops, in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces, emphasized protection of the Iraqi population. They also ignore the simultaneous effort to bring Sunni volunteers, the so-called Sons of Iraq, into the counterinsurgency. These points are crucial — not only to set the record straight and understand current trends but, more important, to fashion future policy.

While Iraqi security forces have shown huge improvement, other government institutions still flounder. Inflation is in check and the economy is growing, but quality of life for most Iraqis has improved only modestly. On the whole, we feel that the Iraqi government has met 7 of the 11 “Iraq index” benchmarks we have laid out, which include steps like establishing provincial election laws, reaching an accord on sharing oil revenue and enacting pension and amnesty laws. (Our system allows a score of 0, 0.5 or 1 for each category, and is dynamic, meaning we can subtract points for backsliding.)

For all the progress in Iraqi politics, including approving the status of forces agreement with the United States that takes effect on Jan. 1, there are still big challenges: agreements on how to share oil among all sectarian groups and provinces; determining the future status of Kirkuk and other places contested by Kurds and Arabs; and the resettlement of four million people.

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