In Iraq, 2008 carried over much of the beginnings of security improvements that began in late 2007. The decrease in violence, at least relative to the devastation of 2006-2007 is widely seen as enabling President Barack Obama to have the political space needed to call for the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq.

However, even these modest improvements in security have come with a high, but unseen price: Baghdad is encircled by and filled with over 100 miles of concrete walls that have divided the once-cosmopolitan city into ethnically “pure” enclaves, the allegiance of the Sons of Iraq to the U.S.-backed government is tenuous at best (and dependent on the government continuing to pay them), Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki is slowing building his own military force, and the Iraqi military is still highly dependent on U.S. military force for operational and logistical support.

Politically, many analysts argue that the results from the provincial elections indicate a path towards greater political stability in the country. However, several key issues remain unsolved: the continuation of competing sectarian divisions within the various components of government, the status of Kirkuk, disagreements over federalism among various ethnic and sectarian groups, and the development of Iraq’s oil law. The United States has been unable to break the deadlock on all of these issues, despite repeated attempts, and it is unlikely that U.S. influence will result in resolution of any of them in the future. Parliamentary elections slated for late this year could easily ignite tensions just as easily as they could move Iraq forward.

At bottom, Iraq remains a country occupied and at war. While violence has decreased and the government is stronger, fighting continues and the United States remains far too powerful in the country for it to be called independent and sovereign. Although Afghanistan is quickly gaining greater attention by the public, policy experts and grassroots movements, Iraq cannot and must not fall off of the agenda of the peace community. The lessons learned from Iraq should be taken to heart in Afghanistan, and pressure must be maintained to ensure that the partial withdrawals announced by Obama move quickly to complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops.

Legislative Openings

1) Congressional Approval of SOFA: Many analysts argue that the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the United States and Iraq falls outside the bounds of a normal SOFA agreement, raising it to the level of a treaty. Now that Obama’s plan for Iraq is public, and similar to the terms outlined in the SOFA, the Senate should move forward to ratify the SOFA as a treaty, especially as several key leaders in Congress have voiced concern about the size and structure of the forces Obama has proposed. Future funding of war supplementals should be made dependent on having such a treaty in place.

2) Demobilization of the Sons of Iraq: Long-term stability of Iraq depends on the integration and demobilization of the Sons of Iraq (SOI), the locally recruited and primarily Sunni security forces that are armed and supported by the United States at $300 per person each month. Legislation should be put in place for both requiring a plan and funding for integration and demobilization of these forces.

3) Address Refugees: There are approximately 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Jordan, and other neighbors of Iraq, as well as 2.7 million internally displaced persons within Iraq, making it one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. Legislation should include funding for humanitarian assistance and resettlement inside and outside Iraq, when necessary.

4) Reform the Oil Law: The proposed Iraq hydrocarbon law would take the majority of Iraq’s oil out of the hands of the Iraqi government and open it to international oil

Key Dates & Events

March: Obama Administration submits war funding supplemental ($75-82b)
March 19: 6th Anniversary of the War
March: Pentagon Quarterly Report June: Pentagon Quarterly Report

July 31: Iraq votes on SOFA Referendum

Aug 21-Sept 19: Ramadan

September: Pentagon Quarterly Report

Fall: Death toll reaches 4,500 U.S. soldiers Late Fall/Winter: Iraq Parliamentary Elections

December: Pentagon Quarterly Report
Other Events, Dates Unknown:

FY2010: Defense/State Authorizations
FY2010: Defense/State Appropriations (includes $130b for war funding)

Erik Leaver is the Policy Outreach Director for Foreign Policy In Focus and is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Erik Leaver is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the policy outreach director for Foreign Policy In Focus.

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