Yesterday Prime Minister Maliki and President Obama confirmed that the United States was on track to withdraw all of its combat forces by August 2010. The meeting between the two comes in the wake of the successful withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities. The transition of responsibility for security from U.S. to Iraqi forces has been relatively smooth. However, the situation in Iraq remains volatile, as bouts of sectarian violence have reemerged. But ultimately it is up to Iraqis to determine their own future. Therefore it is imperative that the withdrawal of U.S. forces continue along the timeline announced by President Obama in February, as outlined in the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement signed by President Bush.
As the United States experiences its own peaceful transition of power, Iraq heads toward provincial elections this week – the first of several critical touchpoints over the next year. This memo takes stock of where the US stands in Iraq and identifies key challenges going forward.
Events this week underline the real legacy of the Bush Administration's actions in Iraq: a country still tormented by bombings, a dysfunctional political system threatened by power plays and instability, and at home a troubling history of high-level executive branch misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the war.
Today, the Iraqi Parliament postponed a scheduled vote on the U.S.-Iraq Security agreement. In order to get broad support in Parliament for the security agreement, Maliki and his allies appear to have given into a Sunni demand to hold a national referendum on the agreement in 2009.
After months of negotiation, speculation, and leaks, the Bush and Maliki Administrations last week presented a draft security pact – and it was promptly attacked by both Sunni and Shiite politicians, including Maliki’s allies. Iraqis are demanding a faster timetable for the withdrawal of American combat forces, but the Bush Administration has balked – although it says it does not want to keep troops in Iraq if they are no longer welcome.
Tomorrow marks a major milestone in Iraq as the Iraqi Government takes responsibility for paying and integrating large numbers of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) - the former Sunni insurgents who began aligning themselves with the U.S. in 2006 and were one of the main reasons for the reduction in violence. There are still significant tension between the Shi'a dominated central government and the SOIs; and, if the government does not continue to pay these fighters or integrate enough of them into the security forces, it could spell trouble.
The news this week highlighted the bankruptcy of the conservative economic approach. America’s economic power – which has direct and important implications on America’s international strength - eroded throughout the Bush administration, as tax cuts in the midst of two wars, out of control spending, and poor economic management resulted in spiraling budget deficits. Yet this week also once again highlighted the total lack of a conservative strategy to deal with foreign policy problems.