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Iraq: a violent, sort-of peace

At the beginning of a new year and the end of the Bush presidency, Iraq has settled into a kind of violent semipeace. The population-protection strategy initiated by Gen. David Petraeus has been a remarkable success on balance. Its logic continues even though American force numbers in Iraq have nearly returned to presurge levels.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his associates have been recently claiming that the groundwork for the surge was laid during their tenure, and that 2007 was not the first time the Pentagon increased forces in Iraq. But they miss the fact that only in the last two years have our troops, in conjunction with the Iraqi security forces, emphasized protection of the Iraqi population. They also ignore the simultaneous effort to bring Sunni volunteers, the so-called Sons of Iraq, into the counterinsurgency. These points are crucial — not only to set the record straight and understand current trends but, more important, to fashion future policy.

While Iraqi security forces have shown huge improvement, other government institutions still flounder. Inflation is in check and the economy is growing, but quality of life for most Iraqis has improved only modestly. On the whole, we feel that the Iraqi government has met seven of the 11 "Iraq index" benchmarks we have laid out, which include steps like establishing provincial election laws, reaching an accord on sharing oil revenue and enacting pension and amnesty laws. (Our system allows a score of 0, 0.5 or 1 for each category, and is dynamic, meaning we can subtract points for backsliding.)

For all the progress in Iraqi politics, including approving the status of forces agreement with the United States, there are still big challenges: agreements on how to share oil among all sectarian groups and provinces; determining the future status of Kirkuk and other places contested by Kurds and Arabs; and the resettlement of 4-million people.

Jason Campbell is a research analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at Brookings. Amy Unikewicz is a graphic designer in South Norwalk, Conn.

Iraqi civilian deaths from war 2,650 3,475 500
Civilians displaced, net rate

(refugees and internally displaced; in thousands)

50 90 0
U.S./Other foreign forces

(in thousands)

138/24 140/18 148/6
Iraqi security forces

(in thousands)

114 323 558
Iraqi security forces in top two readiness tiers

(in thousands)

5 220 380
U.S. troop deaths 137 69 12
Iraqi security force deaths 65 123 27
U.S. active-duty soldiers having served multiple deployments in Iraq/Afghanistan


5 20 31
Trained Iraqi judges 300 1,200 1,180
Number of "Sons of Iraq"

(in thousands)

0 5 100
"Sons of Iraq" paid by Iraqi government

(in thousands)

0 0 54
Electricity production

(average gigawatts; official grid; prewar: 4)

3.2 3.7 5.1
Oil production/exports

(in millions of barrels per day)

2.0/1.3 2.1/1.4 2.4/1.9
Unemployment rate


35 33 30
Political progress achieved

(out of 11 "Iraqi index" criteria)

0 0.5 7

Iraq: a violent, sort-of peace 01/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:04am]
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