Iraq remains a violent country plagued by high unemployment, raw wounds from sectarian conflict, extremist militias aided by Iran, more than four million people still displaced by violence, and very limited government capacity to meet the country’s core needs. There has, however, been major progress this spring on two fronts. Together they give reason for hope that the major improvement in security resulting from the surge of American forces may endure even as the surge itself ends this July.

First, the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki showed real backbone by undertaking major military operations that ultimately reclaimed Iraq’s chief southern city of Basra, the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, and much of the northern city of Mosul. Iraq’s government now controls almost all of the country for the first time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Second, in these recent battles the Iraqi security forces performed far better than previously. While American (and British) combat support and advisory teams remain critical, Iraqis are doing much of the fighting now. Although some units performed badly, as with the Iraqi Army’s inexperienced 52nd Brigade in the Basra operation, the reasons have been identified and addressed. The Pentagon now rates about 55 percent of the Iraqi security forces as “good” or “very good” — and for the first time, such American metrics seem accurate.

On the whole, we feel that the Iraqi government is about halfway to meeting the 11 “Iraq index” benchmarks we have laid out, which include steps like establishing provincial election laws, reaching an oil-revenue sharing accord 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.)

It would be too much to talk of imminent victory in Iraq. But we may at least be able to avert strategic defeat with a careful plan for gradual handoff of more responsibility to the Iraqi government over the coming years.

Category May 2004 May 2005 May 2006 May 2007 May 2008
Iraqi Civilian Deaths from Violence 1,650 1,800 2,700 2,600 550
U.S./Other Foreign Troops in Iraq (thousands) 138/24 138/23 132/20 150/12 150/10
U.S. Troop Deaths 80 79 69 126 19
Iraqi Security Forces (thousands) 136 168 266 349 479
Iraqi Security Force Fatalities 65 259 150 198 110
Sunni Volunteers Working with U.S., Iraqi Forces (thousands) 0 0 0 20 80
Daily Attacks by Insurgents, Militias and Terrorists 70 85 135 200 45
Enemy Weapons Caches Destroyed (per day) 5 7 5 18 30
Proportion of Country Controlled by Iraqi Government (as percentage of population) 0 50 25 70 95
Civilians Displaced by Violence (monthly; in thousands) 25 25 100 80 10
Multiple-Fatality Bombings 9 36 56 42 14
Foreign Qaeda Fighters Entering Iraq (monthly) 75 75 100 100 30
Oil Production (Millions of Barrels/Day; Prewar: up to 2.5) 1.9 2.1 2.1 2.0 2.5
Household Fuel Supply (as percentage of demand) 73 93 82 56 64
Iraq’s Global Rank for Corruption (source: Transparency International) 113 129 137 160 178
Money Going From Baghdad to Average Iraqi Province (in millions of dollars per year) 0 0 25 100 200
Political Progress Achieved (out of 11 “Iraq Index” criteria) 0 0 0 1 5.5

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(graphic by Amy Unikewicz)

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