With the U.S. military surge finally at full steam, major offensives are underway against Shiite militias in southern Iraq (LAT) and al-Qaeda-linked Sunni insurgents northeast of the capital (NYT). Most of Baghdad remains pacified, despite pockets of resistance, as evidenced by a June 19 truck bombing (AP) against a Shiite mosque that killed seventy-five. But the surge has been partially successful, says Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, as local markets reopen and traffic jams return. Still, there is skepticism any major progress can be achieved in the short span between now and September, when Gen. David Petraeus will give his assessment of the security situation.
The military operations, of course, are aimed at providing the security conditions necessary for economic activity and political reconciliation to take root. Despite billions of dollars in foreign aid, Iraq ranked second to the bottom of the latest “failed states” index compiled by Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace. But there are scant signs of progress on either front. As this new Backgrounder notes, Iraq’s economy remains anemic—hampered by an underperforming oil sector and an exodus of Iraq’s best and brightest professionals. This Washington Institute report examines Iraq’s growing refugee crisis.
Nor has improved security in Baghdad delivered much progress toward a political compromise among Iraq’s entrenched factions. A number of benchmarks—namely an oil law, constitution reform, and a reversal of Iraq’s de-Baathification laws—remain distant prospects with little chance of being settled anytime soon. Relations among Iraq’s three main groups—Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds—are expected only to grow more prickly as a referendum approaches to resolve the status of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city north of Baghdad whose population is mixed among Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, and Kurds. Some analysts expect the vote, tentatively slated for later this year, will be postponed, given that a citywide census (CSMonitor) is required first.
Meanwhile, splits are forming between the U.S. mission in Baghdad and Congress. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has called for more staff and funds to support the United States’ largest and most expensive embassy in the world but has met some resistance (WashPost) from congressional lawmakers. Fueling the embassy’s call for more resources is a sense among some U.S. officials that their presence in Iraq will be required much longer than anticipated. That runs in the face of the growing chorus from U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy experts pushing for a face-saving withdrawal from Iraq. As CFR’s Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh write in the Washington Post, “Some disasters are irretrievable, and this is one of them.”