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|
|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|
View the Op-Chart
(graphic by Amy Unikewicz)
[Stabilization is] difficult to do in Iraq and especially Syria because no one wants the U.S. to put lots of forces on the ground to be doing that and locals will struggle to do it well.
[Trump has] given Iran the moral high ground and that is an exceptionally difficult thing to do given the history and reality of Iran's misdeeds at home and in the region. It's just malpractice on the part of an American president.
The way the Trump administration is moving forward [with its Iran policy] is just so hostile to all aspects of Iran that it’s unlikely to produce any traction with the Iranian people or to encourage divisions within the system.