On July 15, U.S. military officials handed Iraq's interior minister a large, gold-colored key to mark the transfer of Camp Cropper, the last prison in Iraq under American control. “Now there is some rule of law,” one Iraqi official gushed at the ceremony.
But just five days later, four prisoners who were leaders of one of Iraq's most violent insurgent groups escaped. Iraqi officials suspect that the newly installed warden drove the detainees — members of an Al Qaeda offshoot called the Islamic State of Iraq — out of Camp Cropper. Naturally, this brazen prison break embarrassed American and Iraqi officials. It also illustrated how political paralysis in Iraq reinforces a dangerous security vacuum. Eager to meet an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. combat troops, American military officials handed over institutions while the Iraqi system remained in disarray.
Today, nearly eight months after the March 7 parliamentary elections, Iraqi leaders still cannot agree on who should lead the country. Both Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his main rival, Ayad Allawi, the former premier whose coalition won the elections by two seats, insist that they have the right to form the next government. As Iraq's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities argue over sharing power and the country's oil wealth, violence is on the rise yet again. On Tuesday, a series of bombings in mainly Shiite areas of Baghdad killed at least 64 people and injured several hundred. It was another sign that militants loyal to Al Qaeda are seeking to exploit the current paralysis to destabilize Iraq.