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Iraq: 2010 in Review

On August 31, 2010, seven years after the war in Iraq began, President Obama announced the withdrawal of combat troops and the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The war was technically over with the president’s acknowledgement that US domestic problems, such as the struggling economy and widespread unemployment, were more pressing matters to the country. The announcement came a couple weeks after the State Department stated that it would increase the presence of civilian contractors in 2011.

By this time next year, the United States should have withdrawn all of its troops from Iraq. We can hope that this long, bloody chapter in American military history may be at an end.

Of course, schedules are subject to change.

Iraq: 2010 in ReviewAt present, it is uncertain whether that withdrawal date will actually be honored. Although the war has dialed down, civil unrest and insurgency persist. Civilians and soldiers, both American and Iraqi, are still dying every day. This enduring violence has raised important question about whether U.S. deployment could possibly continue into 2012 and beyond. At every level of the diplomatic and military hierarchy, officials from both countries fear that Iraq is not ready to secure its borders or provide adequate security against terrorist attacks or religious warfare.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – who secured another term in office after a grueling political bout in the wake of the March elections – has quietly acknowledged that his government may need a new agreement with the United States. Publicly, he has ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, stating that Iraqi security forces will be up to the task of confronting any remaining threats to national sovereignty and domestic unity. As al-Maliki told the Wall Street Journal, “The last American soldier will leave Iraq. This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed.” Many observers believe that al-Maliki must ultimately oppose an extension because of his political alliance with anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his obligations to Tehran.

Iraq: 2010 in Review

The U.S. military has consistently drawn down since its combat mission in Iraq ended on August 31. The current mission is focused on training, advising, assisting and equipping Iraqi forces. This posture of distance is designed to put Iraqi troops in charge of combat patrols and other joint operations. Ideally this will allow US troops to step farther away as they prepare to pull out completely by the end of next year.

Looking ahead to 2011, the question remains whether Iraqi troops will be able to handle security without U.S. forces. With that said, the security situation in Iraq has improved. The overall civilian death toll has dropped by half since the United States declared the official end of combat operations in late August, and stayed at the lower levels through the end of the year. One good sign for present and future stability is that the massive, deadly eruptions of violence have subsided. The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq this year as of Thursday totals 60, by far the lowest yearly toll of the war, according to a CNN count.

Recent violence against Christians continues. Since the October 31 attack on a Baghdad church that claimed the lives of some 58 worshippers, strikes in Baghdad and the north have generated great fear in the Christian community and have caused many Iraqi Christians to flee the country.

Iraq’s political stability has also improved since quarreling lawmakers formed a government. A functioning, inclusive parliament may signal political autonomy if Iraqi forces are able to handle internal threats. While al-Maliki has installed a government, and his set his cabinet, complete inclusion remains elusive. To this end, a National Council for Strategic Policies (NCSP) has been proposed to provide institutional reconciliation. Ayad Allawi, whose bloc won the most seats in the last election, is set to chair this body under the deal brokered between him, President Barzani and al-Maliki. The council’s actual function is far less important than the fact that Allawi has set its establishment as the condition for his party’s participation in Maliki’s government. Ideally it would function as a legitimate check on al-Maliki’s power, and appease Sunni supporters of Allawi; himself, a secular Shi’a.

The Kurdish question remains. Politically, they continue to hold their own. After the March elections and al-Maliki’s subsequent appointments, the Kurds still hold the presidency, the foreign ministry and several other ministries. Moreover, they are further represented by the deputy prime minister and the deputy speaker of Parliament. However, they remain at odds with the government over disputed cities, such as Kirkuk and Mosul, and the final hydrocarbon legislation that will provide autonomy to their ability to profit overseas based on their own oil and gas reserves. Because the revenues from oil exports go directly to Iraq’s national budget and are then disbursed to the Kurdistan, as an annual budget allocation of 17 percent of the national budget, nothing has been done to pay MNCs currently operating in Kurdistan. The Kurds want the federal government to pay these companies like it pays the companies operating in other parts of Iraq. Recently, there is reason to believe that these contracts will be honored.

Iraqi Sunnis are similarly pensive about their standing. Represented by Allawi, they have made gains in a more inclusive government. However, in an interview with the Council for Foreign Relations, International Crisis Group expert Joost Hiltermann noted that defense ministry positions will be crucial. He stated that “former insurgents were organized from 2006 on in Awakening Councils, and these people need to be integrated into the Iraqi army and other security forces, or be brought into the public sector. The defense ministry has to play a key role in this, but if it’s under somebody who is not sympathetic to this particular aspiration then it’s not going to happen.” For Iraq’s Sunnis, this will remain a very important issue.

In Iraq, progress is irrefutable. As 2010 winds down, Iraq has witnessed the lowest number of civilian casualties since the 2003 invasion as the threat of terror has receded. The ruling government formed after a free and fair election in March has helped develop a cross-sectarian government. The economy is improving and should continue to do so. American troops that aren’t heading home are no longer engaged in daily combat. By the terms of the current status of forces agreement, all will leave by this time next year.

The question remain: was it worth it. Sadly, I’d argue we already know the answer. 2011 holds much in store.



Reid Smith

Reid Smith has worked as a research associate specializing on U.S. policy in the Middle East and as a political speechwriter. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate associate with the University of Delaware's Department of Political Science and International Relations. He blogs and writes for The American Spectator.