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Limping Forward In Iraq

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated May 30, 2006

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Iraq has entered another crucial stage. After five months of political infighting, the country's three main groups—Shiites, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds—have cobbled together an incomplete government that, while far from perfect, is an improvement over the power vacuum that preceded it. Yet hurdles abound: the first order of business is restoring security to Iraq's violent streets. As this Backgrounder explains, that will require firmer control over Iraq's fledgling security forces, curbed corruption among the police (LAT), and strong leadership in the ministries of interior and defense uncompromised by sectarian ties. A second order of business is reaching consensus on outstanding constitutional issues—outlined in this Backgrounder—from the sharing of Iraq's oil revenues to the division of power between Baghdad and regional authorities.

Meanwhile, large swaths of Iraq, including the capital, remain only marginally under government control. Insurgent attacks, including car bombs and other multi-fatality incidents, remain high, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index. And the bloodshed in Baghdad, which has reached a crescendo in recent weeks, prompted the Pentagon to redeploy forces from Kuwait in hopes of bringing order to the city. Yet Iraq's capital remains a tinderbox of sectarian violence that requires more troops, writes CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot. Juan Cole, a University of Michigan Middle East expert, reiterates that the Bush administration cannot allow Baghdad to fall to insurgents.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has promised to employ "maximum force" (LAT) against Iraq's perpetrators of violence, presented a rosy status report on the Iraqi security forces during his recent visit with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He predicted that all of Iraq would be under the control of the Iraqi police and army within eighteen months (Forbes.com). This sets the stage for the expected drawdown of U.S. and British forces in the months ahead. Many military analysts say they are skeptical of the prime minister's optimistic predictions, given the troubles of training Iraqi security forces (NYT).

Uncertainty and violence in Iraq have left their mark on the approval ratings of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, who on May 25 addressed the issue in a surprisingly candid joint press conference. The leaders admitted mistakes were made regarding the execution of the war (de-Baathification and dissolution of the Iraqi army), the treatment of Iraqis (Abu Ghraib), and the use of provocative language (Bush's declaration to "bring it on"). The latest outrage is over an alleged massacre by Marines in Haditha last November that left dozens of unarmed civilians dead (TIME).

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