Background: On 23 July, Iraq experienced what reports called its “bloodiest day” in over two years, with 115 casualties from an onslaught of shootings and bombings across 13 cities and towns. The Associated Press reported:
“The attacks come days after the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) declared a new offensive and warned in a statement that the militant group is reorganizing in areas from which it retreated before U.S. troops left the country last December. Al-Qaida has been seeking to re-assert its might in the security vacuum left by the departing Americans, seizing on Baghdad’s fragmented government and the surge of Sunni rebels in neighboring Syria to sow instability across Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials insist that the terror network’s Iraqi wing, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, is nowhere as strong as it was when the nation threatened to fall into civil war between 2006 and 2008, and the Iraqi government is better established.”
In spite of the exceptional number of causalities in this most recent coordinated offensive, this concerning uptick in violence and political unrest has been apparent since the last U.S. troops were pulled out of Iraq in December 2011.
In the seven months post-withdrawal, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has continued to consolidate power. NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports:
“Iraq’s political situation seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis, amid growing fears that Maliki is intent on destroying the opposition and perpetuating his rule. Even some of his political allies are now threatening to bolt, raising concerns about the durability of Iraq’s nascent democratic structure.”
Further complicating matters, Iraq’s border with and proximity to the crisis in Syria adds another layer of problems for the feeble government in Baghdad and the potential risk of political chaos.
Iraq’s security situation also remains tenuous amidst these political concerns and the recent “almost-daily drumbeat of killings.” While the U.S. continues to support Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) by providing training, equipment, and defense contracts, and though the Defense Department stated that they believe the “Iraqi national security forces are prepared to address al Qaeda’s increasingly active terrorist cell in Iraq,” it is clear that AQI continues to pose a significant threat to the country.
The Debate: These events have re-sparked a debate over the future stability of the newly formed government, as well as the security implications both domestically and abroad. Analyses range from expressed confidence in the ISF’s capabilities to the possibility of a resurging al-Qaeda presence, or even, civil war. The following articles represent a range of these perspectives:
- The International Crisis Group published a detailed and balanced Middle East report on the current situation and what can be done by both sides to change what the authors describe as “a badly conceived, deeply flawed political process [that] has turned into a chronic crisis that could bring down the existing political structure.”
- Foreign Affairs magazine asked three experts to answer the question “Is Iraq on Track?” Ned Parker, the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Los Angeles Times correspondent in Iraq from 2007-2011, takes a pessimistic view of the situation in Iraq, arguing that “without impartial, transparent institutions, Iraq will fall victim to authoritarianism or civil war, if not both.”
- In response to Parker, Antony Blinken, Deputy Assistant to the POTUS and National Security Adviser to the Vice President, and Norman Ricklefs, a consultant specializing in Iraqi security-sector reform and government relations both optimistically argue that given Iraq’s historical context, the “progress toward a more normal political existence has been remarkable.”
- Immediately after the 23 July attacks, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Brian Katulis wrote for CNN’s Global Public Square blog that the key to these events will be “how the Iraqi government responds,” and cautions against using the recent events as a argument for why the U.S. should not have left Iraq.
- Brian Bennett of the Los Angeles Times underscores the significance of these events vis-à-vis U.S. national security as AQI has recently threatened to “strike at the heart of the U.S.” and succeeded in building “networks and recruiting efforts in the U.S.”
- Dan Murphy, a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, widens the lens on the “reawakening insurgency” in Iraq and considers the violence within the larger context of regional implications, the Sunni-Shia factor, and the conflict in Syria.