Iraq: the raveling

Ever since violence in Iraq receded from its peak in 2007, a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up ominously predicting a return to the bad old days. In the past year, there has been plenty of ammunition for these folks: Iraq’s government formation process set world records for delay, articles warned of a resurgent ...

ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images

Ever since violence in Iraq receded from its peak in 2007, a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up ominously predicting a return to the bad old days. In the past year, there has been plenty of ammunition for these folks: Iraq's government formation process set world records for delay, articles warned of a resurgent al Qaeda in Iraq, and U.S. troops continued to engage in combat operations across the country, the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom notwithstanding.

These are all important data points -- but it's also a selective reading of events. The fact is, there's also some positive news from Iraq these days: According the Iraqi government sources, the country experienced its lowest toll of violence in September since January. The Iraqi ministries reported that 273 Iraqis were killed in September, a dramatic decline from high levels of violence in July and August. The Iraqi government's figures were supported by Iraqi Body Count, which reported 243 casualties in September, and iCasualties.org, which calculated that 174 Iraqis had been killed.

There's even been progress in forming a government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears all but assured to win a second term in office, assuming he can mollify the remaining Kurdish demands to join his coalition. No, the pan-Shia coalition that Maliki will rely on to sweep back into office isn't the way that diplomats would have preferred to see the next Iraqi prime minister elected. But with the United States rapidly losing its military leverage in Iraq, U.S. officials -- and Iraqis themselves -- are better off with a new government in place than a vacuum at the top.

Ever since violence in Iraq receded from its peak in 2007, a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up ominously predicting a return to the bad old days. In the past year, there has been plenty of ammunition for these folks: Iraq’s government formation process set world records for delay, articles warned of a resurgent al Qaeda in Iraq, and U.S. troops continued to engage in combat operations across the country, the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom notwithstanding.

These are all important data points — but it’s also a selective reading of events. The fact is, there’s also some positive news from Iraq these days: According the Iraqi government sources, the country experienced its lowest toll of violence in September since January. The Iraqi ministries reported that 273 Iraqis were killed in September, a dramatic decline from high levels of violence in July and August. The Iraqi government’s figures were supported by Iraqi Body Count, which reported 243 casualties in September, and iCasualties.org, which calculated that 174 Iraqis had been killed.

There’s even been progress in forming a government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears all but assured to win a second term in office, assuming he can mollify the remaining Kurdish demands to join his coalition. No, the pan-Shia coalition that Maliki will rely on to sweep back into office isn’t the way that diplomats would have preferred to see the next Iraqi prime minister elected. But with the United States rapidly losing its military leverage in Iraq, U.S. officials — and Iraqis themselves — are better off with a new government in place than a vacuum at the top.

So, one cheer for Iraq’s growing stability. It has now been three years since the worst of Iraq’s civil war ended, and, while there are plenty of challenges ahead, the country has shown no signs of falling back into chaos. That’s good news, even if it doesn’t make for good headlines.

Tag: Iraq

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.