Iraqi and American security forces scored a significant victory yesterday against al Qaeda in Iraq, killing two of the group's chiefs. The deaths of the Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, during a joint operation by U.S. and Iraqi forces, were in U.S. Commander General Ray Odierno's words, "potentially the most significant blow to al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency." Such operational success demonstrates the growing effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces. As Vice President Biden said yesterday, "Iraqis led this operation, and it was based on intelligence the Iraqi security forces themselves developed following their capture of a senior AQI leader last month." The operation demonstrates the viability of the Obama administration's approach, which emphasizes transitioning responsibility to Iraqis.
Iraq this week entered a new period of political jockeying.With former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s multi-sectarian Iraqiya coalition eking out a slim plurality of the votes over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s nationalist State of Law coalition, each bloc has spent the week vying to bring in new members in order to reach the 163 seats required to form a government.The political maneuvering will most likely intensify in the weeks and months ahead, but the fact that such jockeying has so far been confined to the political arena bodes positively for the Iraqi political system’s stability .Besides the difficult process of forming a government, Iraq faces a slate of long-deferred challenges, such as the status of Kirkuk, Sunni re-integration, and the controversial oil law.But the reality is that these obstacles can only be surmounted by Iraqis themselves. In President Obama’s words, “The future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq.”
This past weekend, Iraqis went to the polls for the first parliamentary elections since 2005. Though results are still taking shape, there are reasons for cautious optimism about the elections themselves. Turnout was strong, particularly among Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities, and though violence did occur, it did not derail the enterprise. Now, the country moves into the more critical government formation period, which experts predict will be characterized by intense jockeying by Iraqi politicians. Though the possible consequences of this stressful maneuvering are a concern, Iraqis and the U.S. have both prepared for it. This is why General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said that U.S. drawdown plans remain “on track.”
This weekend, Iraq will host its first parliamentary elections since the 2005 polls that preceded two years of grim violence and domestic turmoil. Today’s Iraq is different. While tensions are high, and bombings have marred the pre-election and early-polling periods, overall attacks remain at historic lows – one-tenth of their 2006 peak. Iraqis are looking to the greater challenges that come after the elections: forming a government and dealing with Iraq’s persisting problems such as the status of Kirkuk. These are challenges that Iraqis must confront themselves; the U.S. can only play a supporting role.
After a long impasse, Iraqi politics took a significant step forward on Sunday with the Iraqi parliament’s passage of a new election law.Resolution of the election issue underscores how moving forward in Iraq
depends upon political decisions by Iraqi leaders, a point emphasized
by President Obama in his speech at Camp Lejeune, when he stated that
the “the long-term solution in Iraq must be political – not military.” While Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill will continue to prod Iraq’s
political leaders to reconcile, such encouragement will only be
effective as long as it occurs against the backdrop of U.S. withdrawal.
The tragic suicide bombings in Baghdad this weekend demonstrate that Iraq’s underlying political tensions, which went unresolved by President Bush’s surge strategy, must be addressed in order to achieve lasting stability. Many conservatives were quick to declare mission accomplished again following the lull in violence after the “surge.” However, the grievances and disputes that pushed Iraq into civil war and led to massive ethnic cleansing have yet to be comprehensively addressed. While overall violence has decreased since the fall of 2007, the underlying disagreements between Iraq’s three main groups – Shia, Sunni, and Kurds – have persisted. The political structure of the Iraqi state, the distribution of oil revenue, and the status of disputed territories in the north, are all issues the surge was supposed to address but did not. Though the swift creation of an election law agreement following the bombings is a hopeful sign, it remains to be seen whether this tentative progress can be translated into sustained political accommodation and reconciliation.
Yesterday Secretary Gates said the handover of security to Iraqi forces was going smoothly and that the withdrawal of U.S. forces could potentially be accelerated. Gates’ comments indicate that the U.S. is well on its way to removing its combat forces in accordance with the 19 month timeline outlined by President Obama and the Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush.It is now up to Iraq’s political leaders to do theirs. A strategy that progressives have promoted for more than four years – and which have come to have broad bipartisan support – is quietly moving forward
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.
The scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Iraqi cities on Tuesday is a momentous signal of Iraqis’ willingness to step up and Americans’ willingness to step back – and the beginning of the realization of a plan that progressives promoted for years and President Obama carried with him to the White House.