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Op-Ed

The State of Iraq: An Update

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As we reach the third anniversary of the start of the war, the confusion on the ground in Iraq seems to have spread to American generals’ public pronouncements. Last Monday, just days after saying that pacification efforts with the Iraqis were going “very, very well,” Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience that Iraq is “a place that is having some real difficulties right now” and that “everything is in place if they want to have a civil war.” Unfortunately, an examination of trends in Iraq backs up General Pace’s later, more sober comments.

The country’s economy continues to disappoint. Although it had a fairly quick recovery in 2003 and early 2004, when gross domestic product was restored to Saddam Hussein-era levels, violence and instability have prevented much further progress. And while subsidies for gasoline and some other goods, which have been costing the Iraqi government about $10 billion a year, or a third of gross domestic product, have been reduced, projections that the country’s economy will grow by 10 percent a year for the rest of the decade look increasingly suspect. Current growth sputters along at less than 5 percent despite sky-high prices for oil exports. Most utilities (except telephones and Internet services) are still performing below Baathist-era levels. Unemployment remains very high.

Politically, Iraqis have been stalemated in forming a new government since the impressive Dec. 15 elections, primarily over issues like ensuring fair distribution of Iraq’s oil revenue and devising ways to reintegrate lower-level former Baathists into society. This political inertia reinforces the widespread Sunni Arab sense of estrangement. And it contributes to remarkably high levels of Sunni Arab approval for violence against coalition troops (almost 90 percent) and even against their own government

Paradoxically, most of what good news there has been this winter is on the security front. American troop fatalities in Iraq have declined relative to last fall’s typical levels. Fatalities among Iraqi security forces have also gone down, as have car bombings. Unfortunately, civilian casualties have been as high as ever and, since the Feb. 22 bombing of the Samarra mosque, sectarian violence is worse than at any time since the invasion.

All that said, according to public opinion polls, more than 60 percent of Iraqis (though very few Sunni Arabs) remain bullish on the future. And Iraqi security forces continue to improve, with far higher percentages having reached the upper half of the four-tier readiness rating system. These statistics may point to the possibility of a troop drawdown strategy for the United States—but while a strategically passable outcome still seems within reach, it is increasingly hard to believe that there are the makings of a major success for American foreign policy in Iraq.

Categories

Feb. 2004

Feb. 2005

Feb. 2006

U.S. Troop Fatalities

21

56

54

Iraqi Security Force Fatalities

65

103

158

Car Bombs (very rough)

10

65

22

Iraqi Civilians Killed by War

280

750

1,000

Estimated Number of Insurgents

5,000

18,000

18,000

Estimated Number of Foreign Terrorists

400

800

1,300

Average Number of Daily Attacks by Insurgents

21

54

75

Top Baathists/Terrorists at Large

35

31

26

Intelligence Tips Received from Iraqis

300

400

4,000

U.S./Other Foreign Troops in Iraq (in thousands)

115/24

155/25

133/20

Iraqi Security Personnel (in thousands)

125

142

232

Iraqi Security Forces in Top Two Tiers of Readiness (in
thousands)

0

10

54

Oil Production (in millions of barrels per day; prewar: 2.5)

2.3

2.1

1.8

Household Fuel Availability (percent of estimated need)

88

84

55

Electricity Production (average megawatts; prewar estimate:
4,000)

4,100

3,600

3,700

Unemployment Rate (percent)

38

33

32

Expected Sunni Arab Share of Iraq’s Future Oil Revenue
(percent)

20

20

5-10

Cumulative U.S. Aid Spent (in billions of dollars)

0.1

5.6

13.4

Iraqis Optimistic About Their Future (percent)

65

65

64

Iraqis Favoring Concrete Timeline for U.S. Withdrawal
(percent)

30

76

87


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(graphic by Amy Unikewicz)


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